by Kathy Kelly
October 21, 2010
Kabul-- Khamad Jan, age 22, remembers that, as a youngster, he was a good student who enjoyed studying. “Now, I can’t seem to think,” he said sadly, looking at the ground. There was a long pause. “War does this to your mind.”
He and his family fled their village when Taliban forces began to attack the area. Bamiyan Province is home to a great number of Hazara families, and Khamad Jan's is one of them. Traditionally, other Afghan ethnic groups have discriminated against Hazaras, regarding them as descendants of Mongolian tribes and therefore inferior.
During the Taliban attacks, Khamad Jan’s father was captured and killed. As the eldest, Khamad Jan bore responsibility to help provide for his mother, two brothers and two sisters. But he struggled with debilitating depression, so much so that villagers, anxious to help, talked of exorcism. One day, he said he felt ready to give up on life. Fortunately, community members and his friends in a local youth group, the "Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers," have helped him come to terms with the pain he feels, assuring him that he can find a meaningful future.
Khamad Jan’s village is a particularly hard place in which to build houses, roads or farms. He and his family own a small plot of land which produces potatoes and wheat. The family works hard, but they only grow enough to feed themselves for seven months of the year. For a few months of every year, they must depend heavily on bread and potatoes, a carbo-diet which leads to malnutrition. Like other women in the village, Khamad Jan’s mother and sisters are chronically anemic, suffering from headaches and leg cramps.
Assisted by an interest-free loan from a private corporation called Zenda, Khamad Jan has taken the risk of starting a small business producing potato crisps.
Bamiyan Diaries Day 3 “You’re Not Alone”
by Kathy Kelly
October 24, 2010
A week ago, at the small guest house where friends and I stayed while visiting Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers (AYPV) in Bamiyan, eight of us huddled around one cell phone to participate in a conference call organized by Fellowship of Reconciliation members in the United States. The call was part of an ongoing effort to foster a connection between the AYPV and volunteers at the Rachel Corrie Center in Gaza. The Gazan center was started by Cindy and Craig Corrie, whose daughter, Rachel, had tried to stop an Israeli bulldozer driver from destroying the home of a Gazan family that had befriended her. The bulldozer driver crushed her to death.
I had asked the call planners to notify a close friend of mine who volunteers at the Center, hoping he might be included in the call. My friend -- I’ll call him Firas – had extended courageous hospitality to Audrey Stewart and me when we crossed into Gaza during the last four days of the Israeli Operation Cast Lead assault which was waged against Gazans for 22 days, beginning in December 2009.
Firas, whose home has been bombed four times in the past several years, has tried hard to cope with living in a land under siege. He has survived periodic bombings and the tragic loss of close friends. When we were with him in Gaza, he took us to visit patients who had been wounded by tank-fired white phosphorous weapons. We sat with villagers, in ransacked homes, whose family members had been burnt to death. On our last day with him in Gaza, Firas described having been with Rachel Corrie on the day she died. Filled with anguish by the memory, he put his head in his hands and cried.
Planting the Seeds
by Kathy Kelly
October 30, 2010
Nur Agha Akbari and his family live in Kabul, on an unpaved, pitted street lined by mud brick homes. When we visited him this week, his oldest son, age 13, led us to a sitting room inside their rented two-story apartment, furnished with simple mats and pillows. The youngster smiled shyly as he served us tea. Then his father entered the room.
Mr. Akbari is a robust, energetic, well educated man from a respected, academic Afghan family. In the late 1970s, Nur had gone to study agriculture in the UK and remained there, becoming an organic farmer. His four brothers had instead remained in Afghanistan, or else returned there after studies abroad. His two eldest brothers had trained in the Soviet Union – one as an engineer, one as a nuclear scientist – and had received early warning of the likelihood of what came to be the 1979 Soviet invasion. They spoke out publicly about their fears as the invasion grew more and more imminent.
On December 27 of that year, Soviet troops occupied major government, media and military buildings in Kabul, initiating a nine-year war between a nationalist/fundamentalist resistance (the “Mujahideen”) and the Soviet occupiers. Soviet officials fired Nur’s oldest brother from his cancer research work at Kabul University and blacklisted him. He found himself unable to work, and soon joined the resistance. Nur doesn’t know much about what happened to him then, but he was among thousands of people bulldozed into mass graves after capture and execution by the Soviets. All told Nur knows very little about the fates of his three older brothers, all killed in the war. But their tragedy would largely shape his life.
Nur had arranged for his surviving, younger, brother to join him in the UK. But Nur would lie awake at night, thinking about the children and the wives of his slain brothers. Concerned that his nephews and nieces were now fending for themselves in Afghanistan’s war zones, fatherless and penniless, he resolved to return home.