FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Jobless Kabul and the Works of War


by



Kabul

Last week, here in Kabul, the Afghan Peace Volunteers welcomed activist Carmen Trotta, from New York, who has lived in close community with impoverished people in his city for the past 25 years, serving meals, sharing housing, and offering hospitality to the best of his ability.  Put simply and in its own words, his community, founded by Dorothy Day, exists to practice “the works of mercy” and to “end the works of war.” We wanted to hear Carmen’s first impressions of traveling the streets of Kabul on his way from the airport to the working class neighborhood where he’ll be staying as the APVs’ welcome guest.

He said it was the first time he’d seen the streets of any city so crowded with people who have no work. 

Carmen had noticed men sitting in wheelbarrows, on curb sides, and along sidewalks, unemployed, some of them waiting for a day labor opportunity that might or might not come. Dr. Hakim, the APV’s mentor, quoted Carmen the relevant statistics: the CIA World Fact Book uses research from 2008 to put Afghanistan’s unemployment rate at 35 percent – just under the figure of 36 percent of Afghans living beneath the poverty level.  That’s the CIA’s unemployment figure – Catherine James, writing in The Asian Review this past March, noted that “the Afghan Chamber of Commerce puts it at 40 percent, the World Bank measures it at 56 percent and Afghanistan’s labor leaders put it at a shocking 86 percent.”

Overall statistics for Afghanistan are grim. A recent article in the UK’s Independent reported that one million children under five are acutely malnourished, 54 percent of girls do not go to school and war has displaced 630,000 Afghans within their own country. Relentlessly, the fighting continues. Now, on average, 40 children are maimed or killed in fighting every week.

Rustom Ali, a cobbler – a shoemaker, born here in Kabul – visited with me the day after Carmen’s arrival, and explained more about employment in his city, and the prospects for Afghans surviving this latest decade out of a near-half-century of near-constant foreign invasion.  He had to find time out of a 12-hour workday to meet with me.

Rustom mends shoes, or waits for shoes to mend, seven days a week, from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m., at the roadside. His “shop” consists of a box containing equipment and a primitive, portable overhead shelter. He sits on a ledge, under the blazing sun, (or in freezing cold during Afghanistan’s harsh winter).

Each day he earns about 250 Afghanis, equivalent to roughly $4.50 in U.S. money.  Dependent on him for food and shelter are his wife Fatima, his daughter Narghis (age 7), and 5-year-old Mehdi, his son; Rustom’s father also lives with them and has no work. Each day, the price of bread to feed the family is 100 Afghanis ($1.76).  Beyond supplying bread, rice, beans and oil, he must also pay for rent and gas. He will never be able to save money at this rate, despite his fierce yearning for a better future for his two children.

Twenty years ago, Rustom had hoped for a far different life for himself.  He had travelled to Iran and, although Iranians generally discriminated against Afghans, he was able to go to school, where he was an excellent student, always working part time as a cobbler. He enjoyed sports, and also liked learning English in his spare time. He showed me two notebooks he had begun then, filled with details about his family history and reflections about his life.

One day, when he was 18 years old and still living in Iran, a car carrying flowers to a wedding hit him as he crossed an intersection, catapulting him into the air.  He landed on his head.  After 48 days in hospital and then three more months spent recovering at home, he was finally able to walk and speak again.  His speech and memory are still affected by the accident.

Rustom hired a lawyer, hoping a judge would compel the driver who caused the accident to pay some reparations.  But the driver was a native to Iran and Rustom was an Afghan.  “I endured great pain and permanent brain damage because of the accident,” he said, “But being treated as though I wasn’t a human being,” – the reaction of the Iranian court – “it was more painful.  Every day I could see this kind of discrimination against Afghans in Iran.”  And so he took his chances and returned to Kabul.

When I asked Rustom about his greatest hopes for his own children, he said that he and his wife teach them, every day, never to discriminate against others the way he was discriminated against in Iran.  He had been sorely hurt when the courts there refused to see him, a foreigner, as a human being.

Abdulhai, an Afghan Peace Volunteer, translated between me and Rustom, having developed a friendship with Rustom since they first sat and talked several months ago. Abdulhai had confessed to Rustom that he was struggling with loneliness and sadness.  Rustom offered comfort and encouragement. He has great hopes for Abdulhai, who has, in his view, a future much brighter than so many here, given his enrolment in school and his interest in learning new skills.  Rustom said that after four years sitting daily in the same place waiting to repair shoes, Abdulhai was the first person to engage him in a genuine conversation.

Dehumanization is central to war. Rustom Ali’s and Abdulhai’s friendship defies dehumanizing forces in their impoverished society, so battered by war makers predatory ventures.

This morning, Carmen and Faiz, another APV member, took a long, early morning walk through a main street in the neighborhood where we live.  By now, Carmen is recognizing faces and names.  He knows the bakers who’ve stopped their work to share a cup of tea with him.  Sayyaf, who lost both legs during civil war in Kabul and survives by selling glasses and mousetraps from a somewhat ramshackle cart, waved to Carmen with a broad smile and offered him a cup of tea.

As the U.S. cobbles together justifications for its ongoing, foolhardy war in Afghanistan, glimmers of hope persist in small communities like Carmen’s in New York and the APVs in Kabul.  They agitate against war.  They believe that doing the works of mercy helps us set aside the works of war.  And, they’re renewed, consistently, by solidarity with others longing to form humane relations and, as Carmen’s community puts it, “build a new world within the shell of the old.”

Kathy KellyKathy@vcnv.orgwrites for PeaceVoice and co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org).

KATHY KELLY co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence and has worked closely with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. She is the author of Other Lands Have Dreams published by CounterPunch / AK Press. She can be reached at: Kathy@vcnv.org  This article was first published on Telesur English.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
Nicholas Buccola
What’s the Matter with What Ted Said?
Aidan O'Brien
Thank Allah for Western Democracy, Despondency and Defeat
Joseph Natoli
The Politics of Crazy and Stupid
Sher Ali Khan
Empirocracy
Nauman Sadiq
A House Divided: Turkey’s Failed Coup Plot
Franklin Lamb
A Roadmap for Lebanon to Grant Civil Rights for Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
Colin Todhunter
Power and the Bomb: Conducting International Relations with the Threat of Mass Murder
Michael Barker
UK Labour’s Rightwing Select Corporate Lobbyist to Oppose Jeremy Corbyn
Graham Peebles
Brexit, Trump and Lots of Anger
Anhvinh Doanvo
Civilian Deaths, Iraq, Syria, ISIS and Drones
Christopher Brauchli
Kansas and the Phantom Voters
Peter Lee
Gavin Long’s Manifesto and the Politics of “Terrorism”
Missy Comley Beattie
An Alarmingly Ignorant Fuck
Robert Koehler
Volatile America
Adam Vogal
Why Black Lives Matter To Me
Raouf Halaby
It Is Not Plagiarism, Y’all
Rev. Jeff Hood
Deliver Us From Babel
Frances Madeson
Juvenile Life Without Parole, Captured in ‘Natural Life’
Charles R. Larson
Review: Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail