“Photos from Afghanistan” from Toby Marion

Picture the way it was —

At the end of 1971 at age 22, Toby Marion went to Afghanistan to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer, where he worked as a high school science teacher trainer in Kapisa Province for two school years, followed by teaching at the faculty of engineering of Kabul University for three semesters. His recently published book published by Peace Corps Writers  “Afghanistan: Crossroads and Kingdoms: My 1970s Peace Corps Service and Recent Afghan History,” is available on Amazon.

Toby gives  talks about his work in the ’70s and the difficult past fifty years of history in Afghanistan. In Kabul, he lived through the 1973 coup d’etat against Afghan King Zaher, the Soviet invasion in 1979, the mujaheddin resistance of the 1980’s which defeated the Soviets, the 1990’s civil war, the American and NATO nation building from 2001 after 911, and the ultimate victory of the Taliban in 2021.

My home and servant Assif  standing in front: Kapisa Province


The Kohestan Valley where I lived


With my parents who visited in 1973 – at a school inspection trip


My still, making moonshine from fermented raw molasses and raisins


On a 26-day hike with three Kabul University colleagues thru the central Hazarajat Mountains in 1974, at 12 or 13,000 ft elevation. I’m on the right


In Puddinatu village on the hike, where we stopped for a night and enjoyed a 34 egg omelette the next morning for our first good meal in days


March celebrating the 1973 coup d’etat of President Daoud, the cousin who deposed King Zaher. The beginning of the end, leading to the Soviet invasion in 1979


Veiled Afghan women in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif at the shrine of Imam Ali


Me, although this is about 15 years ago!

Toby grew up in Whittier, CA and Mamaroneck NY, and has chemical engineering degrees from Cornell and MIT, and a graduate diploma in business administration from Sydney University. After the PC, he spent 24 years with Caltex Oil, now a Chevron subsidiary, in NY, Bahrain, Australia, Dallas, Japan, Thailand and Hong Kong, retiring in 1999.

Following this he worked in consulting in Hong Kong and in 2004 started Golden Gate Wine Co (Hong Kong), a wine distributorship importing California, Oregon and Washington wine to HK and China.

Toby plays tennis and sails, and is currently retired and living in Tiburon CA with his British wife Eileen. They have two children and four grandchildren.


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  • I lived in Afghanistan for the same period, working at the Ministry of Planning to help conduct the country’s first demographic survey in 1971-1972, then returning in 1973 and 1974 to work with the Ministry of Health to survey the health needs of rural villages.

    While Afghanistan’s history is a sad one for those who had to walk it, there are very few outsiders who can tell the story of the country before the Russian invasion. It was a time of peace and progress. Under King Zahir Shah women were able to walk on the streets without covering themselves with a chadri, were able to attend universities and to work. The women we worked with were able to travel to every corner of the country as a part of our interview teams and were the promise of the country’s future.

    Years later, it was the mothers of Russia weary of greeting their sons home in body bags and the courageous men of the mountains
    who shot helicopters from sky, that brought an end to Russian aggression. Hope escalated, only to be thrashed by events that followed.

    Was it our westen hubris that caused us to look back upon the early seventies as years of promise for Afghanistan as it began to follow pathways to modernity? Perhaps. But it is a story the that merits being told. Thanks Mr. Marion, for telling it.

    • Thank you Kevin. Your words are so well written. Who were you employed by in your time in Afghanistan? One of the most rewarding aspects of writing these memoirs was that I knew much less than needed to understand that era, and so had to dig into the history, especially the last fifty years. The struggles between modernism and traditionalism and communist vs. the West were both modern and timeless, reaching back literally millennia.

      It is both tragic and confounding how America can find ways to spend trillions on wars and attempted military solutions to international problems. And at the same time be ineffective and wrong in what we do. What comes out from the recent Afghan story is the resilience and toughness of the Afghanistan peoples and the surprising ways in which we put our soldiers into an unwindable conflict where we were arming, not by design, both sides.

      Is there a way that we could really pursue peace and progress in this world? I believe this would improve national security, while admitting that it’s not simple or straightforward. Our federal budgets are on the order of $750 billion for defense, $70 b for international affairs, much of this for military assistance, and $60 b for Department of State, the majority of which is for administration of foreign affairs and global health programs.

      How about a Department of Peace, which would distribute American aid using American people and products to create allies and trading partners in this world?

  • You peace corps folks went boldly where today “ Angels Fear to Tread”!! No American government official can go without a military convoy and even special forces go only with elaborate security and firepower. You folks were truly amazing!

  • John,

    My point is that there was no reason to feel “bold” when we were there. It was a different kind of place back then. Plus, I was probably too wet behind the ears to perceive a need to be bold, even when it struck me in the face.

    I have for the last fifty-five years carried around a suitcase full slides from those days. Maybe it is time to look at them again.

    Thanks gentlemen.

    • Salaam to Toby & KD for this excellent and nostalgic narrative. Kevin, during future discussions about the Malawi medical transport project, I will share a Facebook contact with you where you can begin to feature your photos from that brief halcyon period in Afghan history.
      Peace, שָׁלוֹם, سلام, мир,

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