National Geographic : 2009 Jan
• PHOTO JOURNAL | ALISON WRIGHT Portrait of Survival I had just left Tibet and was in Laos, working on a photography book about children around the world, when on January 2, 2000, my life nearly ended. On a remote jungle road, the bus I was riding was sheared in half by a logging truck. I sat right at the point of impact. Suffering massive internal injuries, collapsed lungs, a shredded arm, a broken back, and multiple other fractures, I waited more than 14 hours before receiving any real medical care. I feel blessed that I made it out alive. But as my healing progressed, I wanted my life back. My desire to continue making pictures inspired me not only to learn how to walk again, but also to endure more than 20 surgeries during the ongoing years of my recovery. Now here I am, against all odds, living what feels like a postscript to a life that almost wasn't. I am grateful to be healthy enough to travel the world photo- graphing again. It was especially rewarding to return to the Tibetan people who have taught me so much about inner strength over the two decades I have photographed them. On one recent trip, I was driving in the remote eastern region of the Tibetan Plateau when I saw this young girl, part of a crowd returning from a horse festival. It was pouring rain, so I brought her into a nearby school to take her photograph. She was so small that the light from the window barely reached her; I had to stand her on a desk. Even at the age of four, she had a face that seemed to express the underlying sadness of a culture that has been so challenged. Yet she had a look of resilience and tenacity beyond her years. Hers may be the last generation of ethnic Tibetans to survive. I've dipped more than a toe into the other side of my mortality. I have seen how connected we truly are. It's a daily touchstone for me as I continue to traverse the globe to photograph endan- gered cultures. It has also inspired me to start the nonprofit Faces of Hope Fund, to provide education and health care for communi- ties in Afghanistan and other parts of Asia. Now with every person I have the privilege to photograph, I'm reminded that we are all in this together---companions in the pilgrimage of life. Alison Wright's memoir, Learning to Breathe, is published by Hudson Street Press. For more on the Faces of Hope Fund, go to alisonwright.com.