Tag Archives: Borderfree

Afghan Street Kid Habib Says: “Food comes from the land.”

by Dr Hakim in Kabul

Habib ( left ) having a conversation with the Food Bank Coordinator, Ghulam Hussein,
while sitting on a wheelbarrow of his monthly food gifts

I asked 15 year old Habib what he thought

basic human needs were,

and he replied without hesitation,

“First water, then food!”

Habib working in the streets

Habib’s sensible and thoughtful nature was forged

in the streets.

His voice was pre-pubertal then, baby-like, not innocent, but pure,

resounding along Pul-e-Surkh road,

with a half-smile and full-tedium,

“Hey, take your weight, take your weight!”

In front of him was his family’s livelihood tool,

a weighing scale.

His eyes were level with the skinny legs of passers-by,

and when he got hungry while ‘at work’,

he would “buy half a piece of bread”

and munch away.

If his younger brother, Sami or Abdullah, was with him,

he would first say, “Bukhurid! Eat!”

Habib with his mother

 I did not know his story,

like the many pedestrians who walked by,

till his mother came with a shrapnel chest wound still unhealed

from the “wind of a bomb”, she said, that killed her husband,

Habib’s late father, breadwinner, Uzbek, Afghan, laborer, pillar.

His father was selling oranges

from a wooden cart which he pushed and pushed daily,

calling out for customers like his sons did,

not expecting charity, or death.

She said sincerely but with invisible distress,

“Thank you for bringing him here to study.

I hope, someday, he’ll become something…”

 

 

Habib in his tent home, with a pressure cooker, a gas cylinder, and two pots.

“Hunger is difficult,” Habib said, and to solve it?

“I want to go to school, and when I grow up,

I want to be a doctor…

and get out of this poverty.”

He was seated in his tarpaulin tent ‘home’

which had cooking utensils and a squeaking parakeet in the corner.

His grandma was the anchor,

 a washerwoman, resourceful, a survivor.

When Habib left, she was shaking her head

and complaining about how a ‘foster’ uncle

had stormed into their hardly livable space,

and ‘snatched’ Habib and one of his three younger brothers away,

from their panicky and depressed mother,

to Faryab Province in the north, “far away in the mountains” the mother bemoaned.

Habib and his younger brother bringing their monthly food gifts home. Habib was holding on to his weighing scale.

The doctor prescribed IV saline infusions plus ‘medicines’ for a month,

to tide Habib’s mother through

Ismael, another street kids, loads a sack of rice on Habib’s back on another occasion

maternal sorrow,

not caring that love’s anxiety is not assuaged by salt or drugs.

“What could we have done?” the mothers asked.

I could imagine Habib’s unwilling falsetto

remotely resisting from a ‘madrassah’ ( religious school ),

missing his mother and grandmother,

Habib attends class

enveloping the squabbling and fighting

waged by those who are hungry not for food,

but for power and territory and dollars.

I saw his childhood slipping out of the physician’s coat

into the robes of a ‘mullah’,

Habib expressing ideas in class

his heart receding from change and ambition

into fate.

Fate? “We’ll still deliver Habib’s portion of food

to his ‘tent’ family,” the street kids teachers decided,

tempering destiny,

signifying solidarity with Habib,

“You are not here, but we are with you.”

In war zones, it may be

lighter on our sentiments

not to expect ‘return’, for life to sort of ‘move on’.

But, Habib turned up again,

and I tried to look beyond his older features and voice,

to understand the intervening emotions.

 

“The daily lessons were too routine…

and there was unrest and violence,

so I called my mom,

and said I wanted to come back,

please.”

Habib in the Borderfree Library

 He was a fraction more distracted,

but I could sense that the affections of home

were renewing his energies.

“My mother is grateful for your support,”

Habib said, “I’ll be coming to classes from now on.”

His reading and writing improved,

he found friends from other ethnic groups,

Habib, outside his tent home

and occasionally,

the street kids would have their momentary fun,

releasing their feelings

Inside Habib’s home

through their young bodies,

without plans,

searching for happiness.

When recently Habib didn’t turn up to collect his food rations,

Habib with his ration of rice & oil

Ghulam and I got on our bikes to his ‘tent’ house.

“We’re vacating our space

as the landlord wants to refurbish his yard.”

The ‘tent’ which housed six persons was emptied.

The next day, Habib collected his food gifts from Ghulam,

“Food comes from the land.

Allah ( God ) owns the land.”

But Habib has no land,

because the ‘strongmen’ confiscate or claim the land,

leaving none to the farmers,

that is, leaving the people food-less,

and more than half of all Afghan children stunted.

“I’ve found some temp work

with a telephone company…

of course I’ll go to school.

I was third in class last year!”

Habib said with a jaded spark drawn across his eyebrows.

As if petitioning the world for throwing away 33% of all its meals,

he added, “We shouldn’t waste food.”

Street kids, plastic sweet wrappers and refugee camps

by Maya Evans

Street kids in class, photo by Maya Evans
Street kids in class, photo by Maya Evans

We’ve just got back from seeing the street kids who came for their weekly lessons at the Borderfree Non-Violence Peace Centre.

Nassim doing a pre class handstand, photo by Maya Evans
Nassim doing a pre class handstand, photo by Maya Evans

The street kids were all on fine form today, I managed to do a head count and there’s currently 23 on the programme, part of the APV’s economic justice and education equality thrust.

I got to interview Habib (which means love), the boy I wrote about last year. Since then he’s been to Farah province after his uncle told him “lets go”. As usual 12 year old Habib wears a worried face, as if he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, probably not far from that as he’s still the main bread winner of the family, a stress for any grown man let alone a pre adolescent.

Habib, photo by Maya Evans
Habib, photo by Maya Evans

Habib has recently changed occupation, his weighing scales were not bringing in enough money so he’s moved onto shining shoes which earns him around 100 Afghanis per day, which is about £1.15

His weighing scales have been handed down to his 9 year old brother Samim who also works the streets. I asked him about his time in Farah province, one of the more volatile provinces in Afghanistan; known for it’s production of opium, prevalence of addicts and presence of Talibs. Habib shrugs and says “What’s there to like about Farah, there’s just fighting.” He expands a little and says there’s nothing much in Farah, no city, no health facilities, just countryside, and more importantly to Habib, nowhere to study. I ask him what he likes about Kabul, immediately he says

APV Zarghuna teaching street kids, photo by Maya Evans
APV Zarghuna teaching street kids, photo by Maya Evans

“study”, a testimony to the success of the APV’s project as his once a week lesson at the Border Free Centre is the only schooling he receives. I ask after his mother Maryam and his 5 brothers and sisters, again he shrugs and says “fine”, they still live in the same place, a piece of tarp stretched from the side of a building which creates one living space for the 8 members of the family.

Habib talks about his average day, work will normally start around 9 in the morning and end at 8pm. At the moment it’s getting dark at 5 and even teenage members of the APV tend not to be out later than 7 as the streets are so unsafe. He says his day is tiring as there aren’t many places to work so he must walk around a lot which is quite tiring. His biggest worry is security and the danger of being caught up in an attack. He describes how one day there was a bomb in Pul-e-Sulh, a shopping area not far from the peace centre, his mother was gripped with fear so walked the streets for hours, looking for him so as to take him home.

The memory of meeting his mother Maryam last year came back to me, she quietly wept under her burka as she described how her husband died in a sectarian suicide attack on a Shia mosque 4 years ago. I ask him if he still wants to become a doctor, he immediately answers “yes”.

Gul Jumu'ah, photo by Maya Evans
Gul Jumu’ah, photo by Maya Evans

Next I interviewed Gul Jumu’ah (meaning flower Friday), she doesn’t know her age but looks around 10. She partly caught my eye because of her already apparent stunning beauty, and then her shy smile which possesses a quiet inner joy. There are only 5 girls on the project, I’m guessing there are generally less girls working the streets as usually girls and women are expected to stay indoors and run the house. GulJumu’ah is Pashtoon and lives in Chara Kumba refugee camp. She looks timidly at me as I beam the biggest smile I can muster. Today she was dressed in a raggedy pink spangly dress which hangs off her thin frame. She sits crossed legged on the floor looking nervous, I suspect it’s the first time anyone has ever asked to speak with her, least of all a foreigner.

Gul Jumu’ah is painfully shy, she looks down and plays with her dress, her hands are weathered and filthy, she only occasionally looks up to flash a shy smile. I find out that her work involves trawling the streets for plastic to burn for fuel, this morning she collected 2 sacks of plastic. She’s been living in the refugee camp for the last 3 years, before then she lived in Sangin, Helmand province, the area of Afghanistan where British troops were based and the fighting has been most fierce. She says that her family left Helmand 3 years ago after her father was killed. She has 5 brothers but 2 of them have died in the war and 1 of her 5 sisters has also passed away. Her older brother was a cobbler but his equipment was stolen so now he can’t work. Her only memory of Sangin is war, I try to press her for more detail but again she just says “war”. The last year at the border free centre is her first experience of education, she says learning is important to her and when she’s older she’d like to become a teacher and help people. I want to know more about Gul Jamma but can sense a deep sadness which I feel is not my place to disturb. I ask her about toys, her only doll, she has black hair and wears a scarf but doesn’t help with housework.

Since being in Kabul we’ve heard whispered horror stories, one being the trafficking of young Afghans to the Middle East, mainly for slavery and even body parts, the rumours say that street children are particularly vulnerable.

This morning Obama announced that the war with Afghanistan has come to a “responsible end”.

At the end of today’s lesson we brought out a box of Quality Street chocolates which the kids excitedly gobbled down. Some of the wrappers were carelessly discarded on the floor by many of the children. I noticed Gul Jumu’ah discretely bend down and collect the wrappers, no doubt to be added to her fuel stash.

Habib, Noor Rahman & Raul, photo by Maya Evans
Habib, Noor Rahman & Raul, photo by Maya Evans

Noor Rahman, a chubby 12 year old in a filthy yellow hoddie plays with his mobile phone, he’s the kind of kid who could probably fix up anything, you name it, he can get it. He complains to Hakim that the phone company charges him 1 Afghani every time he connects to the internet, Hakim laughs and advises him to disconnect his internet service.

Raul bumps his sack of rice down the stairs, photo by Maya Evans
Raul bumps his sack of rice down the stairs, photo by Maya Evans

The teenage members of the APV then called each of the kids out of the room to collect their monthly subsidy of food, a sack of rice and a large bottle of oil. Raul, who looks around 8 drags his sack out of the centre, he expertly bumps it down the stairs and then hikes it over a shoulder while grabbing his bottle of oil and swiftly making off.

Gul Jumu'ah at the bottom of the stairs
Gul Jumu’ah at the bottom of the stairs

Gul Jumu’ah looks up at me from the bottom of the stairs and flashes me a smile, my heart melts, she then skips out of the centre to meet her brother who has come to help her with the rice and oil.

Although physically we’ve done very little today I feel quite tired. At the moment  a “dramatic sunset”  is forming outside our living room window. From where I’m sat (in the corner of the room), I can only see the razor wire on our neighbour’s wall and a few yellowing clouds. Khamed Jan has just lit a fire, the room is slightly smokey. The familiar call to prayer has just started up, the quality and emotion of the Imam’s voice is almost enough to make me want to convert, I guess that’s the idea.

The sun is forming a dramatic sunset which I’m almost tempted to photograph, Zahidi is talking about her memories from the Russian war, of waiting for hours in the freezing snow to get 2 loaves of bread to feed 6 members of her family. Her life has included many years as a refugee in Pakistan and then Iran. At 30 she is already considered too old to marry and her slight limp (maybe from Polio) also counts against her marrying chances. She says living in the community has massively changed her life, that it’s taught her how to speak with and trust people. Zarghuna says that meeting internationals  and other members of the group makes her love many people like they’re family.

This is my fourth year in Kabul, without a doubt I love these people as family.