Living in Kabul
As I write a huge explosion startles us; it is hard to tell how close it is, and many of our community are out taking exams at the University or working at the Borderfree Center. We scramble to begin calling them, and go online to find out details. Twitter feeds tell us that a suicide bomber has targeted a foreign force convoy several districts away; four civilians were killed and seven injured (read Washington Post story). This is the reality of life in Afghanistan where an estimated 42 children are killed each week. Sometimes the explosions are “sticky bombs” stuck to the bottom of a car, and other times they are small Improvised Explosive Devices‘ (IED.) Fortunately, for today, we are all safe.
Yesterday and today have been spent with the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APV.) We have talked often during the monthly Global Days of Listening, and they share their struggles and hopes to build a new reality, grounded in nonviolence. Community life is not easy for them; the majority of their lives have been lived under fear from the US’s longest running war, and they have grown up distrusting other ethnic groups and Internationals, especially Americans. Their willingness to reach out to other ethnic groups, and to us, and to try and overcome a lifetime of enmity, continues to amaze me.
Over the next several weeks, I will be meeting with each one individually. They have gone through some real difficulties, having to continually move for safety; at one recent point, after a suicide bomber attack close to their home, several became very depressed and hopeless…The conversation I had with them at that time brought me to tears as they wept, “Why are we trying so hard? Is this really worth it?” Their cries solidified my resolve to come, to listen, to share, to let them know they are not alone, and that you all will hear their stories, and their huge efforts to make this work.
Because of the fragility of life, they operate under what is lightly termed “the Afghan wedding syndrome.” Significant, life-changing events like weddings, are only prepared a day in advance. Important events like the opening of the Center are planned a couple of hours before. We are on Afghan time where a knock on the door means its time to go.
Life is simple in our community houses. To take a shower I fill a half gallon plastic pitcher at a big hose-filled container outside. Then I go into a room in the house with a hole in the concrete floor, soap up, and rinse with the water from the pitcher. I am delighted that I can bathe and wash my hair with only one pitcher—a habit I will continue in San Francisco!
I just finished washing my clothes and bed linens by hand in the garden. Doing laundry gives Kathy and I a great chance to make plans for the upcoming week. I used the rinse water to shower the tomatoes, squash, abundant red roses, crawling vines of purple morning glories and tall yellow sunflowers in the garden. The clay soil is so hard that each drop of water is immediately absorbed.
Meals are all eaten on pillows surrounding a piece of oil cloth on the floor. There is always delicious flat bread, fresh from the baker for every meal, and chai (tea). Two to three people share a bowl of rice with tomatoes and onions, red kidney and garbanzo beans with tomatoes, onions and garlic, vegetable and bean soups, etc; I love the sharing of communal bowls. Occasionally, fruit like delicious white apricots which I’d never had, finish the meal, and we sit sipping chai while cleaning, and rolling up the cloth with any remaining bread tucked inside for later.
Only the extremely wealthy have refrigerators, so we only prepare enough for each meal. None but the well-off have stoves; all cooking is done in a pot or a pressure cooker over a two foot high gas cylinder; it reminds me of a large version of a personal camping stove. Ceiling fans are sometimes available to provide a bit of relief from the relentless heat, but when power is out even that small luxury is unavailable. We sit with crossed legs on the floor to eat, and sleep on cotton stuffed mattresses on the carpet. My only challenge is the latrine, holes in the floor of a concrete room; I wish I had done more squatting exercises in advance!
Even with our simple living we are well taken care of by comparison to those in the rural areas who comprise 80% of the population in Afghanistan. An estimated 65% of the population is under 25 with limited opportunity for advanced education or meaningful employment, so their lives are subsistence living.
During the interviews I am conducting with each APV, the boys have all noted the challenge of learning to cook, clean, do laundry, and share all household tasks. To be a part of this experiment in inter-ethnic nonviolent community living all must participate equally. Culturally, the women do all of these tasks, so it is a significant change, and when the boys return to their villages they are not allowed to continue these new found capabilities. We are challenging the youth to be leaders in changing norms, where women are significantly subservient, but these lessons must be taught slowly without appearing to judge their family traditions—a delicate balance.
Community living will not be appropriate for all, and the youth are being asked to make a living contract in order to be part of this experiment. Some will find the changes too radical, and may choose to leave. Those who stay will certainly be well grounded in a new value system founded on nonviolence at all levels. They will hopefully show both other Afghans, as well as the larger International community, that it is possible for historically separated ethnic groups to live together in peace. I am very glad to be here to support their efforts.
Saturday/Sunday, August 9/10, 2014