Letter from Kabul

afghan peace vols mayaMaya Evans, Coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence UK wrote to us from Kabul where she is currently leading a small delegation of women UK peace activists. Maya spoke in an Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre Speakers Series talk after her first visit to Kabul two years ago. The delegation are staying in the Afghan Peace Volunteers house.

Christmas Greetings from Kabul, probably the least Christmassy location
on the planet, other than the mini icing rich christmas cake Mary D has
just cracked out there are no signs of seasonal festivity. We’re having
a stay at home day as some of our good friends have advised us tnot to
be out on Christmas day. We’re taking ultra cautious security measures
to safeguard our young friends and ourselves. The only walking we do is
from our front door to the door of a waiting taxi. We only take short
journeys and usually to the peace centre. When in the taxi we say
nothing and usually cover our faces with scarves. What a curious group
we must be, three mature women in the back of a taxi with covered faces
being escorted by young men, usually wearing a Martin Luther King T
Shirt and with a swagger of confidence unusual in these parts. It’s
definitely to our advantage that culturally women are not expected to
speak and being buried under scarves is also fairly normal. We speak in
a whisper in the hall area of our home which adjoins our neighbours. It
makes me think about Anne Frank and her life.

The call to prayer booms out over the rooftops, children play football in the lane on the
other side of the wall to our yard, a man somewhere near beats a piece
of metal, the children upstairs run up and down their balcony squealing
with delight. Someone lights a fire and smoke belches out of a mud
chimney opposite. In the bubble of our compound the Persian charm of the
city almost makes you forget that we’re in a war zone and one of the
most desperate countries in the world.

Yesterday we visited OPAWC, the Organisation to Promote Afghan Women’s
Capabilities, a grassroots organisation who teach women in Kabul basic
literacy, numeracy and handicraft so that they have an opportunity to
gain economic independence and education. The office is located in
district 5, very close to the notorious Charman e Barbrak refugee camp,
the largest in Kabul and a no go zone for foreigners. The area was also
decimated by a local war lord during the civil war where hundreds of people
were massacred,  As a result the area has many widows who attend the
centre. The director of the OPAWC is Latifa Ahmadi, she formed the group
with some of her friends when they were teenagers living in Pakistan.
Latifa and her friends were moved by the plight of Afghan refugees so
initially set up a school and then a health clinic, the organisation
expanded to establish orphanages around the country but due to the
economic recession and a drying up in funding the organisation has
slimmed down to just a health clinic for women in Farah province and
their centre of education in Kabul. Without a doubt Latifa is one of the
most inspiring women I have ever met. Her political analysis is
alongside that of Malalai Joya, whom she once worked with, and her
conviction is equal to Angela Davis. She paints a grim picture of what
life is like for women today, billions of dollars spent on basic
security for women and still the majority of women in Afghanistan are
without access to education, healthcare and the right to not be abused.
She describes the women in government as being symbolic and the country
is being driven by a car which has two steering wheels installed by
American John Kerry (that’s independent democracy for you). She almost
starts to laughing at the ridiculousness of the political situation in
her country. Despite her feelings of desperation she still has hope in
the Afghan people, the majority of whom are young and clued up about
the endemic corruption which grips the country. As we leave Latifa
warns us that travelling around the city isn’t safe and as foreigners we
shouldn’t be making such a trip.

The three of us had actually made a risk assessment the night before and
concluded it would just be bad luck if we got caught up in an attack,
and the most likely thing to happen was the taxi breaking down or
getting lost. Much to our amusement, though slight alarm, both things
actually happened. Thankfully the taxi driver managed to resuscitate the
passenger laden car after we pulled to a halt on a busy road not far from
Charman e barbrak. Then the inevitable getting lost moment came: our pre
planning meant we had Latifa’s number at hand and she directed the
driver to her office. The way home was wildly exciting though Mary D
nearly had a cow as we inched slowly through traffic which paralleled a
busy bizarre. The hustle bustle of an Afghan market is one of the most
exciting cites to behold, old beaten up carts with carefully arranged
towers of the sweetest oranges from Jalalabad, pomegranates from
Kandahar, giant Gulpees (cauliflowers) perhaps four times the size of a
standard British colly. Men sitting on the side of the road drinking tea
from fine Persian style teacups, horses pulling carts, greasy bolany
stalls (like a fried pancake with a potato and leek filling), people
weaving in and out of traffic. The energy is thrilling.

Some of the Afghan peace volunteers have just arrived after a day on
their communal organic garden – they really are living the non violent
community dream. Signing off for now as the light is now fading fast and
it’s a non electricity day. In order to send this email I have to locate
my sweet spot in the yard whereby the 1.5G dongle just about picks up
signal, sporadically.

Much love to y’all, much love, Maya xxxxx

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