“Love letters from Kabul – on basic needs”

A fairer life for all

Dear friends and fellow human beings,

9th November, 2012 ( Gregorian calendar )

20th Aqrab, 1391 ( Afghan calendar )

From Abdulhai

Our staple is nAAn ( bread) .

But my family’s small plots of wheat and potatoes don’t provide enough food to last through the year for our family of seven ( my mother, three brothers and two sisters ).

Abdulhai 7 years ago, reaping wheat.

We grind our wheat into flour at the water mill, for my mum to make about 4 to 5 months’ worth of nAAn. This year, my oldest brother Khamad had sold some of our potatoes for the usual mere fifteen U.S. cents per kilogram ( about seven U.S. cents per pound ). Some of us call potatoes the ‘apples of the land’, but why do we pay corrupt officials more than the farmers…?

I was maybe five, and we were all fleeing ( most of us with tattered shoes or sandals ) across the cold, snowy mountains away from the fighting and killing. We were frightened and tired, and hungry. I thought we were going to die.

When my uncle had found some nAAn, my mother asked for a little of it, and I know she wasn’t asking for herself. She was thinking of us.

My uncle didn’t share the nAAn.

I felt very bad for my mother. I don’t want my mother to feel so desperate again.

‘nAAn’ is not our only basic need. Love is also a basic need. People need to know that there are others who care about their survival.

From Samia

We need food, water, clothes and shoes, and a safe place to live.

My family left our home province of Laghman to come to Kabul 5 years ago. There was fighting going on. And my father and mother thought they could take better care of the family in Kabul.

Watch Samia speak about hunger in Afghanistan at http://youtu.be/0RohY4J4mLw

My mother’s main worry is whether we will be safe and have enough food. We spend an hour daily to get drinking water from a hand-pump operated well near our rented room. Yes, sometimes, we do get diarrhea.

When we don’t have enough food, we know that we’ll just have to eat less, and make do.

If others don’t have enough? We ought to help them if we can.

From Hakim

In today’s world, 18,000 people die from hunger every day, which means death by emaciation every 5 seconds.

Have we become incapable of imagining how the next dying child would feel?

Unconsciously looking out for the food needs of Abdulhai’s family became such a subliminal stress that it threw me off once in being unfairly harsh on my impoverished friend, Khamad, Abdulhai’s oldest brother. 

Khamad with a typical all carbohydrate Bamiyan meal of rice, bread and potatoes

Abdulhai’s family was short of basic necessities. Khamad, who became the young bread-winner of the family after his father was killed, had used some extra cash earned from his own vegetable plot to buy himself a coat for the harsh winter ahead. I felt angry and asked Khamad unthinkingly, ‘Why did you buy a coat when your family needs cash for food?’ Khamad had stared into the distance blankly, his eyes wet with confusion.

I shouldn’t have asked. I should have realized that keeping warm is also a necessity, and that Khamad hardly ever spends on himself anyway.

The inequalities of our ‘modern’ world began to shake me, that we buy, buy, buy and eat, eat and eat while, with hardly a sound, many fellow human beings have a hard time.

I appreciate my parents’ words over the dinner table when I was young, “Please finish the rice on your plate; there are those who would die for the last grain.” Yes, mom and dad, living life to the full also means no longer being content with food ONLY for ourselves. There should be minimum amounts of food for all, just like minimum wages. “People need to know that there are others who care about their survival.”

Last week, while nine of us peace volunteers were packed in a Kabul taxi, we had a conversation about how some Afghans will resort to violent politics and crime just to have money for food in their homes.

I thought, “nAAn is peace. Peace is nAAn.”                                                                                                                                    


Abdulhai, Samia and Hakim

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