By Noor Wali Saeed Shinwarai
Noor Wali Sayeed Shinwarai writes for Killid, an independent Afghan media group in partnership with IPS. By distributing the testimonies of survivors of war through print and radio, Killid strives for greater public awareness about people’s hopes and claims for justice, reconciliation and peace.
For this testimony, Shinwarai interviewed Farid Ahmad, who was a child when his father was badly injured in a rocket attack, forcing Farid to become the breadwinner for the family.
“When I was born, the country was in the control of Russians. Then the parties (mujaheddin groups) got power and nobody could go out of the house. The war among the parties was going on every day. Unarmed civilians were being killed. Kabul city looked like a graveyard,” said Farid Ahmad.
He was 10 years old when his father was seriously injured. Schools had been closed for a long time because of the war between fighters of Shura-e-Nezar (the group led by Ahmad Shah Massoud) and Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum. The war, which started in 1993, was called the “hard war” in Kabul. Rockets fell through the day and night. One fell on a factory building in Qasaba where Farid’s father, Marjan, was at work as a welder.
“My father was not a political person, he was just a welder,” said Farid. “He got such serious wounds that no clinic or doctor in Qasaba would treat him. My father had become blind,” he added.
The family lost their sole breadwinner, and no relative offered to look after them. “The people in our tribe help in hard times but my uncles in Laghman did not help us, nor did our aunts in Jalalabad ask about us,” he said.
The family starved for nine days. Every night they went to bed hungry. There was no money to buy food or candles. “We spent night after night in the dark,” he recalled.
It was not easy to flee Kabul either, because everywhere warlords had set up barriers, which could be crossed only on paying a toll. Anyone caught sneaking across would be beaten or killed.
But early on the tenth day there was good news. The war stopped for 24 hours. Rival sides had agreed to a ceasefire. The family loaded their few belongings in an old truck, and left Kabul for Jalalabad. “My brothers and sisters were all younger than me. My father, who had not gotten any treatment, was lying on the floor of the truck. We got to Jalalabad with difficulty,” he recalled.
In Jalalabad, the 10-year-old took his father to the public hospital, and his siblings to the house of an aunt. He went to the city’s Hesar Sahahi refugee camp where many thousands of families were sheltering in tents. In a corner of the camp, Farid made a make-shift shelter out of waste. The family was brought to live there. “The weather was hot in the day. There was no water. We would eat once a day, ” said Farid. “My father slowly recovered, but not his eye sight.”
The camp would be their home until 1996, when the Taliban pushed the mujaheddin out of Kabul.
“Believe me we, didn’t know what Eid was – we could never afford to celebrate.” Farid remembers the one time his younger brothers found a handful of henna, traditionally used for body decorations to mark the celebration of the end of Ramadan, which traditionally involves lavish dispays of food and festivities.
A school was opened in the camp, allowing his brothers and sisters to get an education. Meanwhile, Farid worked as a day labourer, leaving early in the morning, day after day to find work.
Signs of hope
Like so many others, Farid, though still a teenager, had become the breadwinner of the family. He said there were times when he wanted to cry and scream loudly out of frustration but he was careful not to upset his parents. “My father was enduring the pain of blindness. Everything was dark for him. I felt that I, too, should endure the pain and go to work.”
In 1996, the family moved back to Kabul, but life did not get any better. “Untill 2002, when the Taliban fell and Karzai assumed power, nobody in the family knew whether we would have tears for dinner or vegetables,” he said.
Things have gradually improved over the last decade. Farid has found work with a non-governmental organisation. His brothers have reached university. “One can read and write four languages – Dari, Pashto, English and French,” he said, proudly. “I had not seen a smile on my mother’s face for years. Now she smiles, and my father has reconciled to being blind.”
Three years ago Farid, who had saved enough money, got married. “God has lit the candles in our house once again. My daughter is one and a half years old, and my son is one month old.
My father put his hand on his face and named him Sulaiman.”
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