Voices for Creative Non Violence UK Newsletter
January 2017
Eyewitness from Kabul

Silas Marner in Kabul

by Henrietta Cullinan

From London to Kabul to Raveloe, we cling to our ‘way of life’ even though it makes us sick, obsessive and lonely. Governments cling to policies that cause harm to ordinary people. In this article, begun while staying in Kabul, Henrietta Cullinan asks what George Elliott’s Silas Marner has to tell us about our own ‘pile of gold’.

I recently travelled to Kabul, where I teamed up with the Afghan Peace Volunteers and Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. I took with me, to read under the covers when I couldn’t sleep, Silas Marner by George Elliott. Marner, estranged from his home town, sets up as a weaver in the small village of Raveloe. Through weaving he accumulates a pile of gold coins which he counts obsessively every night, until one day it is stolen. The plot turns when he adopts a small girl, the daughter of a drug addict, who wanders into his house. He mistakes her gold curls for his gold coins, miraculously returned to him. As he determines to look after the child he has to ask others in the community for help and so his life is transformed.

As a group of women in one Kabul refugee camp recounted their experiences of war, their injuries, the indignities they have suffered since being forced to leave their homes, Kathy Kelly asked at one point, ‘Did you know that the US has just committed 617 billion US dollars to military spending?’ The women implied by their gestures, ‘What do we care?’ One woman said, ‘I wouldn’t know the difference between one side of a dollar and the other, whether a dollar is black or white.’ It was at this moment the image of Silas Marner counting out his pile of gold coins, popped into my head. As well as a literal analogy with the ‘pile of gold coins’ devoted to military spending, there are lessons for us on western governments’ migration policies, that cause suffering amongst refugees. Read more.

25th January 6.45pm
Guiseppe Conlon House
49 Mattison Road, London N4 1BG
Sharing Afghan food and stories from our recent trips to Kabul.
Henrietta Cullinan, Ellis Brooks & Maya Evans give eyewitness accounts, plus projected photos by the esteemed Guy Smallman
15 Years of Guantanamo is No Joke! 15th anniversary vigil
Wednesday 11th January
12-2pm Trafalgar Square, London

Human Rights Day A Call to Care
December 10, 2016
by Kathy Kelly

December 10th marks the U.N. Human Rights Day, celebrating and upholding the indispensable and crucial declaration of universal human rights.On the eve of this event, I visited a refugee camp housing 700 families in Kabul. Conditions in refugee camps can be deplorable, intolerable. Here, the situation is best described as surreal. As I approach the entrance to the camp with my friends Nematullah, Zarghuna and Henrietta, we are overcome by the stench emanating from an open sewer filled with filth. I ask myself, “Can this be real?”

Inside the camp, primitive mud huts are separated by narrow walkways. When the inevitable snow comes, the ground inside and outside the homes will be muddy until the mud freezes.  Plastic has been placed over some of the doors and roofs, in hopes of providing insulation from the coming cold. Mothers in the camp tell us winter months are unbearably hard. Children become sick at the onset of winter and they don’t recover until spring arrives. People burn plastic, boots, clothing, and water bottles for fuel, but when those resources are depleted, they rely solely on heavy blankets to protect them from the cold. 

A single water pump serves all 700 families, and the water isn’t even potable.  It needs to be boiled for twenty minutes before use.

Latrines here are the “traditional type,” simple holes dug in the ground.

Our visit was arranged by Nematullah, an Afghan Peace Volunteer. A friend of his teaches informal language and math classes to children at the camp. Nematullah leaned over and asked me to jot down the rights listed in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. I quickly scribbled food, water, shelter, health care, employment  and security in my notebook. As we listened to the mothers describe their daily lives, we checked off the rights they have been denied.

“Some days we get food from the market if our children work there,” said Nazar Bibi. “They bring back potatoes or turnips. Otherwise we eat bread and tea. Sometimes we have no tea, and sometimes we don’t even have bread.” 

We were told, “If someone becomes sick there is no clinic, no first aid. And we have no hospitals nearby that will help us. We can’t afford to travel to hospitals that might accept us.  (Six hospitals serving “better off” people are within walking distance of the camp, but none of them accept the camp residents, who have no means to pay hospital bills, as patients.)

We don’t want to send our children to work on the streets. We’re afraid they’ll be hit by a car or blown up by a suicide bomber. But we are desperate for food and fuel and there is no work for men and women here in the camp. Sometimes the children return home and there is no bread for them.  They wake up after midnight, begging for food because they are so hungry, and there is nothing for them.”

“If we had education, perhaps we wouldn’t be here,” said Nazar Bibi. “We want our children to learn, but even government schools cost money. We have no income.” One woman managed to laugh. “We don’t even know what a dollar looks like!  What color is it? Is it black, or white?” said Shukria. “If America sends dollars here, we never see them. No one cares about us.”
Read more

An Afghan Night: Stories from Kabul & sharing Afghan Food
Guantánamo Prison Camp
15 years, 3 presidents, 9 deaths, 800 prisoners, almost no convictions… and no end in sight! The US military prison camp at Guantánamo Bay was opened on 11 January 2002.

As we mark the 15 year anniversary around 60 prisoners remain. Barack Obama did not close Guantánamo and it is unlikely to be a priority for Donald Trump. Guantánamo is one of the most potent symbols of the so-called war on terror and is infamous for torture and indefinite detention. Many of the prisoners who remain are those who suffered the most sustained and brutal forms of torture at Guantánamo and prior to arriving there, in the CIA’s secret dark prisons all over the world.
Portraits from Kabul
by Carolyn Coe

Near a boys’ school in the Karte Sakhi neighborhood, Najiba leads us through the wooden gate to her family’s home. A store of coal is stored in one corner of the courtyard, coal for other families.

Najiba’s older neighbor Fatima comes outside to greet us and leads us to her small room. Carpets cover the floor. The sun has warmed the room, but still Fatima turns on the small propane heater. The heater is started clearly for her guests.

Fatima is 12. She started studying at the Street Kids School three years ago. At that time, she was selling plastic shopping bags. Now she works in other people’s homes, washing clothes and dishes and sweeping the floor. She works by herself from 7 a.m. until the afternoon. Her mother does the same work but in different people’s houses. Fatima says she is not afraid to work alone. She says that her work is important because it is how she can help provide halal food to her family.

While Fatima and her mother work outside the home, Fatima’s older sister stays home to do the household chores and to care for her four youngest siblings.

Sometimes during class Fatima seems distracted. Her teacher, Mahtab, will call her name to regain her attention. When copying a Dari lesson, she stops halfway through and seems surprised when Mahtab points out that it is not complete. I wonder where her mind goes.

Before going to school in the morning, Shazad, age 10, used get up early to work at a bakery, carrying flour and doing other small tasks. From there he’d go to school from 8 until10 a.m., then to the madrasa, and afterwards, back to work at the bakery. Now he sells onions from a wheelbarrow near the Maiwan Hospital in Nowabat. They sell for a little less than 50 Afs. and sometimes that’s all he earns in a day. That’s less than $1 US. Other days he might earn 200 Afs. Shazad describes the work as fun because he likes calling out to people to buy his onions. He says he likes earning money, too.

His brothers and father also work, his brothers selling soup and his father, popcorn.

Shazad has been studying at the Street Kids School for almost a year, learning about the school from his friend and classmate Sahel.

During yesterday’s class, he was the first to volunteer to read a paragraph aloud containing several words with the letter ظ. He and his classmates lowered one arm, then the other, as if they were marching, as they broke down the words into syllables.

 

During particularly stressful moments in 2016,

I had felt that the year was one long, hard Afghan night.

A few evenings ago, my eyes had smarted

from the dense irritant pollutants

that enshroud Kabul streets and invade breaths and dreams in winter.

Mansoor, determined to do well in his college entrance exams next year,

laughed sarcastically at the burnt air which smelled of soot and survival scraps,

holding his hand to his mouth and nose as a mask, saying,

“Of course our lives are shortened by this smoke.”

At least, someone had told me, T.V. ‘commercials’ warn us,

“Stay in, or else…”

Read More from Dr Hakim in Kabul

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