by Kathy Kelly
Editor’s Note: American peace activists Kathy Kelly, Jerica Arents and David Smith-Ferri are part of a 3 person delegation currently travelling in Afghanistan. Find more entries from their travelogues on PULSE.
Kabul– Khamad Jan, age 22, remembers that, as a youngster, he was a good student who enjoyed studying. “Now, I can’t seem to think,” he said sadly, looking at the ground. There was a long pause. “War does this to your mind.”
He and his family fled their village when Taliban forces began to attack the area. Bamiyan Province is home to a great number of Hazara families, and Khamad Jan’s is one of them. Traditionally, other Afghan ethnic groups have discriminated against Hazaras, regarding them as descendants of Mongolian tribes and therefore inferior.
During the Taliban attacks, Khamad Jan’s father was captured and killed. As the eldest, Khamad Jan bore responsibility to help provide for his mother, two brothers and two sisters. But he struggled with debilitating depression, so much so that villagers, anxious to help, talked of exorcism. One day, he said he felt ready to give up on life. Fortunately, community members and his friends in a local youth group, the “Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers,” have helped him come to terms with the pain he feels, assuring him that he can find a meaningful future.
Khamad Jan’s village is a particularly hard place in which to build houses, roads or farms. He and his family own a small plot of land which produces potatoes and wheat. The family works hard, but they only grow enough to feed themselves for seven months of the year. For a few months of every year, they must depend heavily on bread and potatoes, a carbo-diet which leads to malnutrition. Like other women in the village, Khamad Jan’s mother and sisters are chronically anemic, suffering from headaches and leg cramps.