from a journal written when I spent five weeks in Kabul during the summer of 2005 consulting with an Afghan company that was developing an educational TV network
Just when I thought it can’t get any wilder, today I took a trip into one of the poorest sections of
We ended up at a dead end street that climbed one of the several mountains that thrust maybe 1,500 feet up from the valley that comprises greater
The store, which had a few packs of cookies, the ubiquitous 2 litre Pepsi and other colorful soft drink bottles, some neatly displayed plates of lentils, rice and greens, and a few household items like bleach, soap and tissues. The owner was proud to have me take pictures. The homes were cockeyed mud shacks of among the worst you could imagine. A spigot ran with water and kids played in it. The sum total of visible recreation. No soccer fields, no basketball hoops, swings.
It was on the edge of a sprawling cemetery with headstones of all shapes, from finely carved to a raw piece of field stone. There were thousands. Hardly a tree, or patch of green; just piles of dry dusty rocks with dusty paths threading between them. Green flags flew above some of the graves. Poorer ones had just a slash of green paint, which I learned are memorials to fallen soldiers of the wars- martyr’s graves which you see everywhere.
Ayoob said we had to walk from there to his cousins’ house. We struck off through the cemetery. A group of kids tagged, along, mostly boys, but some jaunty girls too, wanting nothing more than to stare, be smiled at and have their picture taken. They were quiet and polite. We climbed up a path into a group of houses that blended together in a multi-story jumble. Quite steep and rutted and impassable except by foot. Knots of tough-looking characters hid from the bright sun on the corners and in doorways; not menacing, just curious.
This was becoming the classic third-world back alley slum, I’d see in news stories about the poor and starving of Africa and India, and I was a bit concerned how far in we would hike and how bad it would get. A small stream of raw sewage ran down a narrow trench in the middle of the path, fed by pipes from each house. It was lined with old plastic bags and it was as difficult to maneuver, like an uphill mountain path, though houses clung to both sides.
Even tinier alleys zipped off and around the “sewer” path. At times we had to jump from rock to rock to avoid the sewer. The smell was pure outhouse. Yes, it had become a model of the kind of 3rd world poverty you see in documentaries made only by people braver than me—or so I thought. But here I was right in the middle, surrounded by gaggles of kids and stared at by strange, shadowy figures in doorways. I trusted that Ayoob, our driver and another of his friends weren’t leading me into some sort of ambush. My video camera rolled continually.
Finally after a couple of breaks to catch our breaths from the up hill climb, Ayoob motioned me into a patio-like area saying it was his cousin’s house. The house was mud and straw, brown—we had stepped though a time warp of 2,000 years. But it was swept clean and we walked through a dark doorway. Entering a side room was a pleasant shock. A stunning, spotless red Persian carpet was on the floor. The walls were a soft, freshly painted ochre, and comfortable red cushions hugged the wall. The ceiling had visible round wooden beams, again a soft ochre color. It was actually a design that you might pay thousands of dollars to create in the West.
Coming in from the hot sun, the thick stone/mud walls made it cool. We were much higher than the
One gentleman already seated on the floor. He was a relative, but also introduced by Ayoob as a former teacher and Dean of the Faculty at
We had a long talk, which I video taped, about his experiences during the Taliban reign of terror, when he ran a secret school. The school room where he taught a handful of neighborhood girls from the neighborhood to read and do math was behind a hidden door in this house. The Taliban had come regularly and tried to arrest him, but could never find any evidence that he actually had a school.
He told me this slum was populated by people from the
Today, it continues to be a terrible slum. There are no medical facilities or stores. Water and everything else has to be carried up the steep, rocky paths. There is very little fuel to cook with. There are no schools or transportation. Many of the people are hungry. Most workers sell things on the street making a few cents a day for the barest amount of food and clothing. One blessing is municipal electricity, but it fluctuates and is only on for a few hours a day at best.
The people from the
In that alone the
The Panshiri then fought the fanatic followers of Gulbadin Hekmatyr, the bloody Afghan despot who made his home in
For years, the
When it decided to invade
TheTalibs, knowing the culture and land, ran circles around the
It should not be lost on any American that
It is of the utmost sadness that this community in
Despite this, they were overjoyed that an American would trek up to visit their desperate village. They wanted to send a message to
They are grateful that
The Afghans are willing to fight these forces, but they are certain it will not be against Americans. They only ask that Americans help their children and their war-injured, and help bring their people, who fought together with and did so much for America, to return just a little of the favor they so desperately need. I hope this message gets across to
They graciously invited me to share their meal and celebration, were proud to be photographed and interviewed. I thanked them for sharing the meal and the joy of their children’s engagement and walked back down the steep paths, in a daze, a parade of children following, still wanting their pictures taken. We passed a dozen children carrying water up the hill, in cast-off yellow jugs of brake fluid, side stepping the open sewers, climbing up the scattered rock steps.
And beautiful children they all were, indeed. If any one in