This is the second part of Raha’s essay; click here for part one.
Barchi is the only place in Kabul with a high number of girls in school and universities, as well as women working in shops around the city. While walking in Barchi that day, I noticed many signs on the walls advertising these shops, including beauty salons where women would pass on their knowledge about beauty and makeup to students. Women are also running businesses from their homes. They bake bread and make homemade yogurt and handicrafts. Their income assists with the family’s expenses, including the cost of schooling. Many men still work in the streets, running transportation or pushing a karachi, which is a trolley, selling clothes, vegetables, dried fruits, and other items.
Life in Barchi is hard, but interesting. The day starts at 4 a.m. and ends after midnight for both men and women. Many men wake early so they can travel to faraway markets for work, while women begin their housework and students head off for classes. With a population of more than one and a half million people, Barchi has become a very civilized and multicultural suburb, not only because its people are outward looking, but also because of its social life and educational development. The people might be poor, but it is still a great place to live. I sometimes jokingly think that maybe people in Barchi are born with an equality gene!
After walking almost twenty minutes, I reached my friend’s house. When his wife Shakila opened the door, she shouted to Khalil that I had arrived. We hugged and then I greeted my friend Khalil by putting my hand out chastely, which is the tradition in Afghanistan in a friendship between a male and female. Men and women who are not related don’t normally shake hands because sharia law says that you can only shake hands with mahrams—close family members like a father, brother, or grandfather.
They escorted me into the welcoming room that many Afghan homes have for their guests; it was lined with Afghan mattresses and pillows and colorful flowers. Khalil and I sat on a mattress near the stove, while Shakila prepared tea for us. In Afghanistan, when guests arrive, the first thing they are served is tea and chocolate, or some sort of candy. When Shakila returned carrying a tray of tea and chocolate, we talked about life in Dasht-e-Barchi. Shakila had lived more than twenty years in Iran and was complaining about the pollution in Kabul. “In winter I cannot go out because the streets are full of mud and smoke,” she said. “This endangers my health, especially my eyes and lungs.”
Khalil was saying almost the same thing. As we spoke, I noticed myself in the mirror on the opposite wall and saw how dirty and dusty my face and clothes looked. When we were finished, I said I needed to freshen up and Shakila took me out to the yard and gave me water and soap. As I washed my face and hands, I saw drops of dirty black water in the sink. Shakila was right about the pollution in Kabul.
When I returned to the guest room, Khalil carried in the lunch table, Shakila brought a tray of food and drinks, and we all set the table. As we sat around, Khalil cooked okra and Shakila cooked spaghetti, which I liked the most. With both spaghetti and okra on my white flowery plate, Khalil offered me the bowl of yogurt, which their relative from Ghazni had given them, and some fruit salad. After passing the tandori bread, we started eating.
My friends asked me about my life in Darullaman, where Kahlil’s father is also living. I told them I didn’t have any complaints, except that living alone is very strange and difficult for me. They both laughed and Khalil suggested that maybe I needed to marry. When Shakila laughingly agreed with him, I said “Uhaaaa, why not?” We all laughed. Though we didn’t speak of it; in truth we know from previous conversations that we all share the same feelings about marriage. Most of the time, marriage can limit us in doing the things we want to do. Soon it was time to go and we said our goodbyes, hoping to see each other again.
On the way home, I asked a stranger walking near me in the street if he was sending his girls to school. “Dear daughter,” he said nicely, “I send them because I don’t want them to be blind like me. People with no education are blind. I want them to improve their lives. Our time is passed now. I want to let them enjoy the new world.” His response made me happy, but he was not finished. “I am uneducated, but I want to tell you that you too must go to university and help our forgotten people.”
His words made me feel so emotional that I could not control my tears. “Padar jan,” I said, “I am already a university student and I will try my best to help our people.” I left the man with tears of happiness, feeling again how good these people were. I came away thinking that Barchi is a land of civilization, love, and hope.
Photo by Robert K.