Interviewing beggars in Kabul
In addition to other evils that hit Kabul since fundamentalists entered that mournful city, was the manifold increase in the number of beggars. This was another "gift" from the empty-headed Taliban and Jehadis. The number of beggars in Kabul is so high that residents there have begun to call their beloved city "the city of beggars." In late August of 1999, one of RAWA's members spoke to a number of beggars and following are a few extracts from those interviews.
Shakeela, Daughter of Ahmad Ali
Original residence: Shakar Dara (Shomali)
Present residence: Zor Abad (forceville)
Father's Occupation: Formerly a peasant
Shakeela's father was shot to death by Taliban thugs for no apparent reason, while he was working on his land. She lost one uncle in a Taliban bombardment, and another is in critical condition in a hospital. Her family was forced to migrate to Kabul during one of the Taliban's first attacks, in the spring of 1999. Her family house was destroyed. After the death of her father, Shakeela's paternal uncle sent her mother away to live with her own family. He won't allow Shakeela or her brothers and sisters to see their mother or maternal family again. Despite that, her maternal uncle pays for clothing for Shakeela and her siblings because her paternal uncle, whose only source of income is from pushing trolleys, is extremely poor. Shakeela must find her own food by begging. Her daily income ranges from 15 to 50 thousand Afghanis (45,000Afg.=1US$). The breakfast that Shakeela earns for her family consists of bread with dry berries or sometimes bread and tea without sugar. For lunch and dinner, Shakeela and her siblings eat boiled potatoes and onions. These are leftovers that Shakeela gathers from vegetable vendors. The last meat and fruit Shakeela ate was sent to her by relatives during Eid (the Muslim equivalent of Christmas). Her health is quite bad. She is weak, thin and complains of stomach aches. Although illiterate, Shakeela is alert and smart. Her clothes are torn and dirty, and she wears a ragged black shawl. She wears patchy boots on her feet. Her most vivid memories are her father's death, her family's forced migration, her separation from her mother and her own marriage. With tears in her eyes, Shakeela raises her hands and curses the Taliban.
Said Kamaal, son of Mir Amanullah
Original residence: Isatalif (Shomali)
Present residence: Zor Abad
Number of family members: Six
Father's occupation: Initially a teacher, then a hand trolley pusher.
Said Kamaal was forced to migrate to Kabul when a rocket hit his house and killed his father, one brother and a sister. He is less than 11 years old and accompanies his younger brother to beg. Their mother begs from dawn to evening in the city mosques. The daily income for Kamaal's family ranges from 10 to 20 thousand Afghanis. For breakfast, they eat dry bread, tea without sugar and potato soup (potatoes and water without cooking oil or onion). For lunch and dinner, Said and his family eat boiled bones that a relative sends them. His family spends 3,000 Afghanis once a month for fruit, which barely buys four bananas or two apples. His family must also pay rent and Said's brother, who works as a carpet weaver in Pakistan, sends the money. That brother was separated from the family early on, and Said does not know him. Said looks weak and ill and has a number of skin infections on his face and hands. His most vivid memory is of the missile hitting his home and killing his father and two siblings. One of the happiest days of Said's life was when he made more money begging than usual. When he was asked if he hopes that peace will return to his country, Said responded indifferently that "even if the peace returns, it doesn't make any difference because we already have lost our father, brother, sister and livelihood."
Mahroof, son of Zahoor, 13 years old
Original residence: Istalif (Shomali)
Present residence: Zor Abad
Number of family members: Five
Mahroof's father was killed in a Taliban bombardment of his village. His mother begs in city mosques. Mahroof looks strong but has skin infections. He is illiterate. His daily food consists of boiled potatoes and rice. Mahroof takes his five-year-old brother along and teaches him how to beg. When his mother leaves the house to go begging, she locks Mahroof's younger brothers inside and returns just once during the day for lunch.
Basira, daughter of Zekria
Original residence: Kohistan (Shomali)
Present residence: Zor Abad
Number of family members: Seven
After the Taliban invaded the region where Basira lived, they forced her father to provide their nightly meals. When Basira's father said he could not afford the expense, the Taliban told him to borrow from neighbors and supply the food or he would be punished. This threat forced Basira's family to migrate. When they reached Kabul, her father contracted a liver problem and could not work. He was forced to send his children out to beg. Basira is illiterate. He will never forget the Taliban's atrocities. At the end of the interview, while crying, she added, "In the beginning, when I wanted to beg my voice would stick in my throat, and when I asked for alms, my hands and feet would start to shake. Now that I have begged so many times, it is not that way anymore."
Latifa, daughter of Hamid Ullah
Original residence: Parwan (Shomali)
Present residence: First section- Khairkhana
Latifa and her family left their home after a Taliban attack. Latifa's brother was beaten so harshly by the Taliban that he still suffers leg pain, but can't afford treatment. Latifa's father worked pushing trolleys, but was killed in a traffic accident. In the beginning, Latifa's brother begged, but as the pain in his legs increased he could not continue. Latifa now must do her brother's job. Her younger brother and sister also beg.
She said, "I have to beg because when I look at my sick brother and my baby sister, I get very sad, and I try harder to make something for them. When my father was alive he could bring us food, but now there is no one. My father had borrowed money from relatives and could not repay it before he died. After his death, the lenders came to our house and because we were unable to repay they argued a lot. The fact that I have to beg, and also the untimely death of my father, gives me great grief. Sometimes when I go to people's doors for begging, their treatment is very bad. They curse us and send us away. In the beginning, I couldn't ask for money or food, but now I remind myself that my brother and sister are waiting for me, and I ask very loudly. I spend my days begging and can't sleep at night. When I remember my day and the treatment I received, I cry."
Safaa, son of Baraat
Occupation: Begging for oil and garbage
Original residence: Sarai Khwaja (Shomali)
Present residence: Sarandoi Blocks
Although illiterate and covered with skin infections, Safaa looks intelligent and strong. His father is a trolley pusher with a daily income of 30 thousand Afghanis. Safaa's income ranges from 20 to 30 thousand Afghanis. He earns this by selling the oil he gets by begging. His daily food is boiled potatoes, rice or sometimes bread with Gor (a sweet made from sugarcane). Previously, Safaa's family owned land, but because of war they could not cultivate it and his family was forced to migrate. Safaa and his beggar friends must wander the general market in Taimany from morning to evening and beg for oil.
All of the above child beggars endure insults and threats, and sometimes beatings from oil owners. Most of these children are aged between 6 and 12, and more than half are girls.
All of them regret not being able to go to school. Attending school would mean death for their families, as these children are the sole breadwinners for their families.
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