Time has zipped by, and it’s nearly time for me to step off the APV roller coaster of community dynamics, border free center issues, the threat of bombs and the daily encounters with poverty and a general poor standard of living.
Highlights from this trip include sharing a room with Zarghuna’s mother Farzana, allowing me to hear a Bamiyan woman’s life story. She talked about spending 6 months in Kabul when she was around 12 and the Russians occupied the city with violence and torture. She recalls that women wore short skirts and no scarves. She also remembers a time when she sought shelter in Bamiyan caves to escape fighting in her village. At age 13, she married a “kind and handsome” man. They created a family through the time of the Mujahidin, and then finally fled from their village when the Taliban came. During that flight, the Taliban killed her husband. She told me that as a young woman her only awareness of other countries like America was when she heard about the weapons they were providing to various fighting groups. They created a family through the time of the Mujahidin, and then finally fled from their village when the Taliban came. She told me that as a young woman her only awareness of other countries like America was when she heard about the weapons they were providing to various fighting groups.
Tomorrow Zarghuna will graduate from University and it looks like I’ll be able to attend the ceremony – another Afghan treat! Her graduation robes are proudly hanging in our room. She’s the first person in her family and her village to graduate With Barath Khan, she is the first of the APVs to graduate. I can tell Farzana is brimming with pride for her daughter. I learnt that she was only able to attend school for a month before the Russians invaded and they fled to the caves.
Yesterday we visited Abdul Ghafoor who supports Afghans deported back to Kabul. As you can imagine he’s currently super busy with interviews and greeting deportees. His office is on the 6th floor of a dilapidated building with a spectacular view of snowy mountains and the sprawling metropolis of Kabul; from such a high vantage point the city looks exciting and relatively attractive. The UNAMA report which came out a few days ago highlighted the annual increase of casualties as the war drags on with 3,498 civilians killed and 7,920 wounded in 2016. Ghafoor explained how Afghanistan has become even more dangerous since the rise of ISIS and the increase of Taliban control in Afghanistan. I looked out his window and imagined Kabul (a city originally inhabited by 1.5 million in 2001 but now accommodating 5 million) becoming an independent state within Afghanistan. In many ways, it’s already become that, though it’s far from being a safe oasis with daily attacks in the city, only yesterday there was an attack on the Kabul Supreme Court where 21 were killed and 41 injured. There are still many who find it impossible to scratch a living in the highly competitive city and they instead return to their incredibly unsafe villages in the provinces. Afghans continue to find themselves between a rock and a hard place.
A few days ago, we visited APVs Raz Mohammed, Khalida and their gorgeous son Osmon who was practicing his first steps. Khalida, pregnant again, looks happy and radiant. It’s heartening to see a young family finding joy and hope in such harsh conditions. Again, I reflect and think of Raz when I first met him, a meek and nervous teen with hardly any English, how he has lapped me in learning a new language and taking on big life responsibilities; my western pace is glacial compared to his.
It’s also looking like Barath Khan’s new wife Razia is also pregnant, maybe 3 months. We went to dinner at his house last week where we shared food with his Pashtun family. It was certainly a ‘border free’ gathering as it consisted of a dozen Pashtun men from Paktia (a very harsh and insecure area bordering Pakistan) and us – a group of Hazara men and women, a Singaporean, an English man and a super smiley English woman; I really cannot imagine what Barath’s family thought. Anyway, after dinner the women in our group were ushered away to meet the other women where we had a mini party in Barath Khan’s room. His new bride Razia is gorgeous, very smiley and giggly, I can imagine her and Barath are madly in love, though you wouldn’t know it, as when he entered the room she immediately adopted a coquettish persona where she turned away from him, occasionally glancing at me with a coy smile – apparently it’s a cultural thing. All the women were incredibly beautiful with their glittery clothing and plastic bling jewellry. The gathering turned into a henna party with me, Zarghuna and Farzana having decorative patterns drawn on our hands. We then got a phone call from the men saying they wanted to leave. I immediately tried to imagine the logistics of descending the mountain perch of Barath’s house. We had already struggled to climb up the steep muddy path 2 hours ago, now it had started to rain and both my hands were disabled by the wet henna designs. It was going to be like executing a ski jump in a long floor length dress with no hands…. Ali took one of my arms and Zekerullah the other, and by some miracle I made it to the bottom of the slippery muddy hill in the dark and rain, through open sewers and icy puddles, reaching the waiting taxi with freezing hands, mud encrusted shoes, but henna designs still perfect!!! Deffo one for the VCNV newsletter!!
This is my 8th trip to Kabul and still I’m learning more and more about the ‘Afghan way’ and the fierce collectivism which exists amongst Afghans, the importance of a family or tribe sticking together no matter what, walking through fire for a member of your family. Afghans automatically put ‘the group’ before themselves. I’m guessing that under such extreme insecure conditions the best chance of survival is to stay together. It’s very different to my circle of friends in the UK where it’s a given that you put yourself first, you do what’s best for yourself while (trying) to be conscious of others. This makes the APV even more interesting as they are a kind of synthesis between Afghan culture and many western conflict resolution styles. I can see how this blend has allowed the APV to become strong as they’re adopting the best of both worlds, but it also regularly creates challenges and conflict as their mindsets are constantly challenged, or at least my mindset is constantly challenged.
Added note for Henrietta who asked me about the water situation in Kabul: Kabul water wells which were originally 26m deep but are now 50m, 7 months ago the well which provided water to the APV dried up so the landlord had to drill a deeper one. Much of the water isn’t ‘sweet’ because of the poor sewage system, 70-80% of water in Afghanistan is from snow melt which has drastically declined over the last decade (possibly global warming), and Hakim adds that a Chinese company have won a contract to extract copper from mines just outside of Kabul, when this goes ahead it will reduce water supply into Kabul by 50% – at the moment it looks like the Afghan Government has approved the contract but work has yet to start.
Zarghuna has just come back frozen to the core after 2 hours outside coordinating the duvet project. She says it’s hard as every day 10 or 12 women come and ask for duvets, and it’s extremely difficult to say no when they are crying and desperate.
Ellis and I should be leaving in 2 days (if the airport has reopened post snow). As always, I’m sad to leave my friends, yet I know I’ll quickly adjust to my world of relatively abundant privilege.