July, 2003

One has chosen a peculiar line of work when there are so many opportunities in the middle of the day to break down and start crying.  Not that there is anything so obvious to cry about.  The rains have made Kabul green.  I just keep seeing those magical conifer and cypress trees everywhere.  People are smiling.  There is nightlife.  Everyday, people are lusting after and embracing new freedoms. I feel the happiness in the kids voices from the street as I sit in the office and work.  There are signs of new money everywhere.  The number of beggars on the street has been hugely and visibly reduced.  I am working again with a good number of women from last year, and many of them are out of that tension and shell- shockedness of the life they used to live.  Several of them are softer, less paranoid.  I click the camera with far more freedom, not having to cajole them out from behind their burkas or head scarves.  Life was just utter terror under the Taliban and it has taken time for everyone to open back up.  

But everybody still has a story...everybody.  The lady who makes me lunch everyday looks like she's 50, but she's 35.  Very attractive (or once was). Tiny bones, very pretty face, all benign and sweet.  I knew she had a story and I finally asked her today -- her husband was jailed by the Talebs for three years.  He is essentially catatonic now.  She described him as "weak".  I only imagined under what conditions he had lived in a Taleb jail, what water he had drunk, what food he had eaten.  She had 7 kids to take care of.  Her oldest, a milky-eyed, bulbous lipped 16 year old flower, came with her to work everyday to help her out.  She's MUCH better off now with her $60 or so a month job (!), but good God, can I comprehend what this women went through just three years ago?  Needless to say, she'll be getting tipped regularly by me to supplement her absurd income, though I keep getting warned not to "spoil" these Afghans.

And there was this other women that came to me.  She wasn't a big fat Hazara matron or anaggressive Panjshiri.  She looked very Farsiwan and just smiled with her eyes glowing such natural full kindness.  It wasn't that kind of stupid innocent smile the very uneducated women give -- it was something else. She was tiny and she had a skinny dark haired girl with her that looked 7 but was really 10 (these people just don't eat enough!!!).  The kid was obviously bright because often, before I would start screaming, "where is my notebook! where is my pen?!", she would just point it out to me and save me the trouble. I kept this child's mother waiting longer than anybody else in the room. Often, I am surrounded by a semi-circle of remarkably cooperative, but to some extent, still jostling women, who want their pieces distributed, so they can leave.  She waited till the very end, but never stopped smiling with those strangely kind eyes.  When I asked her what her situation was, it was like, of course, her husband had been dead for 9 years and the kid was all she had. She was luckier than most, though, at least having a father to take her in.  She also mentioned something about the kid only eating bread, A dull, dead, pleasureless life, yet she still had that sweet glow emanating from her. Amazing. Needless to say she's going to be getting some extremely high rates for her zanjirdouzi as well (if I want to run this as a business, I better stop asking questions).  Maybe I'll sponser her kid and put the kid through computer and English school so she can become a translator at the UN?  She isn't marriageable afterall- no father means subhuman in this cesspool of chauvinistic fallacies.

Story #3 -- Sunita - the lovely production assistant that the tailor has worked with for years.  Sunita is a ripe old 21 years of age but refuses to get married.  Why?  Because her sister is married to a nasty alcholic, drug addict Pashtun monster who beats her, doesn't buy her anything, doesn't take care of the family, doesn't come home for days, and, with the help of his 5 scary hairy bothers, has threatened to kill the sister if she leaves.  So in essence, Sunita's sister is a prisoner who gets raped and impregnated on a regular basis. It's all about brute force here -- Sunita's family can't fight back because it's two little brothers on their side against five big scary ones on the other.

Story #4 -- Mina "Social".  The year old admin assistant who convinced the non-profit/guesthouse to hire her by lying about her age.  Quite vocal for an Afghan girl, strangely fearless if any of her stories of coming to Afghanistan right after the fall of the Taliban are true, very functional in English and computers (the golden key to everything here), and highly suspect.  Apparently, Afghans kids are capable of behaving similarly to Persian youth in Iran – doing whatever they want (sex, drugs, and rock and roll) while paying lip service to whatever the conservative adult society wants to hear. I can just see voluptuous Mina leaving her father's home in the mornings, carrying her bright lipsticks and high heeled lavender mules in a separate bag. Then changing at work and transforming herself into this very un-Afghan looking girl.  Something fishy.

On another note -- I found a GREAT jeweler today.  His family has been in the biz for 100+ years.  He has SUCH a beautiful, trustworthy face.  His sons look like porcelain dolls.  He didn't promise me that he could do anything, which to me is a sign of integrity.  He also showed me samples of high quality traditionally crafted stuff that they had made.  I am so giddy today -- I thought I would have to spend forever looking for this man.  The only problem is that these guys can't handle quantities.  How do I duplicate him?  He told me everybody else like him is dead.  I might need to go to Turkmenistan.