The wheelbarrow workers
We’ll wait for the duvets
Ramazon under the Red Bridge in 2013, when he was in good health, and a representative of the workers
See video from 2013 : We are all Afghan labourers
Ramazon at our recent duvet distribution
For us, we were distributing duvets to a few, of thousands.
For the labourers, at two separate, teeming, modern ‘slave markets’,
it was another wait,
like their daily wait to be ‘indentured’.
“I was waiting on Red Bridge.
I used to lead about 40 Red Bridge labourers in 2004,
to ensure they took their turns.”
This is the global poverty trade,
in spite of which the workers still keep their dignity.
“A car hit me.
My back snapped.
Doctors said my leg was not broken, just dislocated.
Yes, I’m sorry I limp. I walk slowly now,” Ramazon attempts a smile.
Today, no thanks to
14 years of booming business by the
U.S./NATO/Afghan and Taliban industry,
there are more than 300 labourers every freezing winter morning,
at just ONE bridge.
Ramazon is no longer able to be their representative,
they get picked up only once or twice a week,
while the President and CEO of an Afghan narco-state fight over which of
their cronies get which Ministries in the Cabinet,
how much foreign money,
to divide along their elite waistlines,
while Obama stated without his trademark ‘make no mistake’
how the U.S. helped Afghans “complete the first
democratic transfer of power in their country’s history.”
“I’ve lost a lot of weight? Yes,”
Ramazon looked at me,
as if I was his favourite nephew.
Can I get one too?
outside the door where the duvets were distributed
Waste water flowing from a pipe into the alley
Squatting in the crowd
That ‘look’ kept looking at me, their pollution-stung eyes
saying more than I could hear,
“If you people mean what you say,
we won’t say a word,
you have our names,
and our father’s names…
‘God forgive them in their deaths’…
“Two warm Afghan duvets
for our families of sixes and sevens.
Our children collect plastic,
our wives burn whatever.”
They look from everywhere towards us,
“Do you understand?”
A desperate uncle says “My name is on the list!”
It’s really not,
his dust-caked sons, and quiet daughters, and wife
are cold in his slum-home.
“You would believe me if you saw my family here!”
They would be looking too.
Some ladies came in their husband’s place
a mother with her daughter
How do I sit, stand in front of them?
What graphs of militarized economic growth dare I show?
The foreign-petrol driven Toyota that had
emaciated Ramazon’s body and spirit
seemed rude and useless
before the wheelbarrows
that carried flour, oil, wood, soap,
air fresheners, anything you say sir!
Oranges in 14 kilo bags,
all to someone else’s house,
and one huge kilo of sugar tucked in at the wheelbarrow’s side!
“Only two kilometers away?”
Under their neck scarves
and through their soot-stained perspiration,
“That’s what they all say.
They don’t mean what they say.”
They seemed like refugees in their own land, as in Palestine
For a ‘how-could-this-be’ moment,
from the duvet truck,
I thought they looked like Palestinian refugees,
filling the narrow alley,
appearing from nowhere,
fleeing for help,
or so they heard,
amidst Helmand news of two dozen killed at yet another wedding.
In Kabul ‘civili-zation’ turned into a ‘militari-zation’,
a son of a commander fought fatally with
a son of a Member of Parliament,
“But, maybe it’s true someone is distributing blankets,
Never mind our chance for work this week,
we’ll go, and wait,
maybe Fereshta, and Ali, will be warm tonight
maybe…oh! Look at the crowd!”
Our volunteer, Ghulam, on the way to a distribution point,
spoke reassuringly on his phone,
“The suicide bombing was at another bridge, mom!”
On arrival, my new inner eye no longer saw
the young peace volunteers as naïve do-gooders,
they were postured to face a war
worse than bullets, and bombs.
Ramazon, thin framed, bandaged foot,
looked like he was near his end.
Mina makes way for a labourer to come through the door
Mina leads the old lady to the duvets
“I have no one.”
Mina breathed in deeply before opening the door,
to read off the list of prepared names,
cringing each time a hopeful labourer offered the wrong ‘father’s name’.
She cringed again
when the area representative, in a non-labourer coat,
sauntered in importantly and said,
“I’m not opposing your good work,
but, you should have informed me!”
The labourers outside breathed deeply.
Mina breathed imperceptibly, replied as if she had done this for decades.
She continued reading, keeping her voice steady,
noticing the stares from the street,
this time not at her gender,
but beyond her to the synthetic wool covers.
She had already spotted an ancient, trembling lady at the door,
with a walking stick,
thank goodness there were absentees,
Mina took the lady’s free hand towards the duvets.
She was too weak to shoulder even one four-kilo duvet.
She sat down, raised her hands to ‘heaven’,
where an American aerostat, a Gorgon eye,
was spying on her insurgency,
and she shivered, her cataract eyes accompanying
her panting words, “I have no one.”
Ramazon limps on his bandaged foot
As Ramazon collected his duvets,
he cupped his palms with gratitude,
I force myself
to look fully at him,
at our system of wages,
I can turn my emptiness
away from helplessness
into a simpler lifestyle,
I can imagine standing with the workers
bearing the weight of economic battle,
and cursing it with
every two duvets.
I wanted to hear them fully,
to appreciate their ‘look’ at the ruling class,
“Tremble like us, at sharing among humans!
You’re fouling up big time,
you’re the ones no one is waiting for,
driving the fancy car,
straight at Ramazon.
My name will be called next
The look from everywhere
Just two Afghan duvets