FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

In Kabul, Widows and Orphans Move Up

Kabul

Yesterday, four young Afghan Peace Volunteer members, Zainab, Umalbanin, Abdulhai, and Ali, guided Martha and me along narrow, primitive roads and crumbling stairs, ascending a mountain slope on the outskirts of Kabul. The icy, rutted roads twisted and turned.  I asked if we could pause as my heart was hammering and I needed to catch my breath. Looking down, we saw a breathtaking view of Kabul. Above us, women in bright clothing were navigating the treacherous roads with heavy water containers on their heads or shoulders. I marveled at their strength and tenacity. “Yes, they make this trip every morning,” Umalbanin said, as she helped me regain my balance after I had slipped on the ice.

About ten minutes later, we arrived at the home of Khoreb, a widow who helped us realize why so many widows and orphans live in the highest ranges of the mountain. Landlords rent one-room homes at the cheapest rates when they are at this isolating height; many of the homes are poorly constructed and have no pipes for running water. This means the occupants, most often women, must fetch water from the bottom of the hill each and every morning. A year ago, piped water began to reach some of the homes, but that only meant the landlords charged higher rent, so women had to move higher up the mountain for housing they can afford. It only made their daily water-carrying longer and more arduous.

Khoreb’s home, like that of each family we visited, was neatly kept. She had formerly shared the one-room dwelling with only her daughter. But when the one-room house next door was rendered unlivable by water damage from a storm, the family of eight that lived there had nowhere to go. On Khoreb’s invitation, they now live in her room.

Throughout our visit, she and her daughters cracked open almond nuts, and they didn’t throw away the shells: they saved them to feed them into a small heater; the nut shells are needed as fuel. They didn’t snack on the almonds; the almonds were shelled for eventual sale in the market place. Cracking and selling almonds is their main source of income. The women have no brothers, sons, or husbands to help them.

None of the families we visited could afford coal or wood to heat their homes. Most of them scavenge for plastic and paper to burn in their small heaters. Overnight, temperatures in Kabul are ranging from the mid-teens to zero degrees.

Homes on the mountainside are poorly constructed. The families we visited told us that when it snows overnight, they awake to find piles of snow inside their homes. Throughout the winter, they are almost always cold and hungry.

The Afghan Peace Volunteers told the families that they are working together with women tailors (from around their working class neighborhood in Kabul) to produce duvets, heavy blankets stuffed with wool which provide protection against the deadly Afghan winter. Each of 30 seamstresses produces four duvets every two days. Internationals have donated materials and the seamstresses’ modest wages, and the duvets are then distributed free of charge to the poor.

The APVs have received many suggestions about families in need. Rather than issue a general invitation for people to come and get duvets, which would likely lead to terrific confusion, they have instead fanned out in teams of two to four, to visit families and learn about their situations. We were on the mountain as one of these teams.

Zainab gently asked Khoreb how she manages to get food. Khoreb tells her that they don’t have enough to eat, but they try to sell as many almonds as possible and sometimes they can wash and iron clothes for their neighbors. Umalbanin met with her aunt on the road, who quickly ushered us into her home and then introduced us to several of her neighbors, all of them women with no husband or breadwinner on which they could depend.

Yet the community up here seems agreed – we heard it mentioned at some point during each visit – that their greatest need and greatest hope is to somehow give their children an education.

“The main problem for our family is that the children can’t go to school,” said Fatima, who can afford to send one child to school, but only one. The others have to help support the family. Three of the smaller children work making carpets every day, so that there will be money to feed all of them. “We feel sorry for this, but they must help us find money to buy bread.”

My young friend (and APV volunteer) Abdulhai told me about a family he had visited a few days earlier for the Duvet Project, a family whose 17 year old daughter is his own age. The girl didn’t tell Abdulhai that she and her mother were both beggars. The neighbors told him after his visit; with the reestablishment of the opium trade, her father had become a drug addict and has now gone back to Iran. Now the mother and grandmother have nothing and must go to the mosque and other places to beg. “I asked her if she is willing to study,” Abdulhai said, “and she told me she wants to be part of classes at the APV home.”

Moving up in the world generally means gaining a foothold on a ladder, on a steep upward slope, in some system built on the idea that the terror of poverty and the dream of extreme wealth are all that can motivate people to share their labor and inventiveness with each other. These systems in turn foster the idea that those who already have so much are entitled to get even more. The women I visited today are moving on up; single desperate mothers with children moving up the slope into a cold vacuum, fleeing the streets and daily business of a city that can’t feed or use them. Decades of war in Afghanistan have forced these women upward. They don’t know how they will ever get back down.

My four young friends, bright and compassionate, who educate themselves daily about the simple, dedicated life – the yearning for, and the laborious struggle for, a better world – are moving on up these mountains to comfort and aid the desperate, the widowed women and their children, who have been abandoned there. They are discovering that the promised land of adulthood, and the corrupt and dangerous city which the U.S./NATO coalition have done so much to build, is an unequal, violent world they need to resist, step by step.

Kathy Kelly co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence. She is the author of Other Lands Have Dreams (CounterPunch / AK Press) and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. She can be reached at: Kathy@vcnv.org.

More articles by:

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 

March 26, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
How ISIS’s Brutal Project in the Middle East was Finally Overthrown
Joshua Frank
To Celebrate or to Not? The Mueller Question
George Ochenski
The Fox in the Henhouse: Bernhardt at Interior
Thomas Klikauer
Corporate Bullshit
Chelli Stanley
Detectives on Smollett Case Have Troubling Backgrounds
William deBuys
12 Ways to Make Sense of the Border Mess
Robert Fisk
Ardern’s Response to Christchurch has Put Other Leaders to Shame, But Not for Its Compassion Alone
Binoy Kampmark
Disinviting Jordan Peterson: the Faculty of Divinity, Cambridge and Approved Ideas
James C. Kennedy
The Poisonous History of Neo-Classical Economics
Jenna Orkin
Quentin Crisp’s Posthumous Book, the Sequel
Elizabeth Keyes
My Russia Hot-Air Balloon
March 25, 2019
Jonathan Cook
Three Lessons for the Left from the Mueller Inquiry
Dave Lindorff
The TSA’s Role as Journalist Harasser and Media ‘Watchdog’
Tanya Golash-Boza – Michael Golash
Epifanio Camacho: a Militant Farmworker Brushed Out of History
Robert Fisk
Don’t Believe the Hype: Here’s Why ISIS Hasn’t Been Defeated
Jack Rasmus
The Capitulation of Jerome Powell and the Fed
Lawrence Davidson
Israel’s Moves to the Right
John Feffer
After Trump
James Ridgeway
Good Agent, Bad Agent: Robert Mueller and 9/11
Dean Baker
The Importance of Kicking Up: Changing Market Structures So the Rich Don’t Get All the Money
Lawrence Wittner
What Democratic Socialism Is and Is Not
Thomas Knapp
Suppressing Discussion Doesn’t Solve the Problem. It is the Problem.
Stephen Cooper
“I’m a Nine-Star General Now”: an Interview with Black Uhuru’s Duckie Simpson
Andrew Moss
Immigration and the Democratic Hopefuls
Weekend Edition
March 22, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
The Ghost of Fascism in the Post-Truth Era
Gabriel Rockhill
Spectacular Violence as a Weapon of War Against the Yellow Vests
H. Bruce Franklin
Trump vs. McCain: an American Horror Story
Paul Street
A Pox on the Houses of Trump and McCain, Huxleyan Media, and the Myth of “The Vietnam War”
Andrew Levine
Why Not Impeach?
Bruce E. Levine
Right-Wing Psychiatry, Love-Me Liberals and the Anti-Authoritarian Left
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Darn That (American) Dream
Charles Pierson
Rick Perry, the Saudis and a Dangerous Nuclear Deal
Moshe Adler
American Workers Should Want to Transfer Technology to China
David Rosen
Trafficking or Commercial Sex? What Recent Exposés Reveal
Nick Pemberton
The Real Parallels Between Donald Trump and George Orwell
Binoy Kampmark
Reading Manifestos: Restricting Brenton Tarrant’s The Great Replacement
Brian Cloughley
NATO’s Expensive Anniversaries
Ron Jacobs
Donald Cox: Tale of a Panther
Joseph Grosso
New York’s Hudson Yards: The Revanchist City Lives On
REZA FIYOUZAT
Is It Really So Shocking?
Bob Lord
There’s Plenty of Wealth to Go Around, But It Doesn’t
John W. Whitehead
The Growing Epidemic of Cops Shooting Family Dogs
Jeff Cohen
Let’s Not Restore or Mythologize Obama 
Christy Rodgers
Achieving Escape Velocity
Monika Zgustova
The Masculinity of the Future
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail