30 May 2009

Magpies chattering among the red geraniums

Doing my last grocery shopping trip before I leave Kabul for the summer, I was reminded of one regular occurrence that I won’t miss: armies of children, as well as girls and women with babies, begging. They wisely position themselves in front of stores that cater to outsiders, mostly Westerners but sometimes Indians, Filipinos and other Asians. Sometimes they have a cover, like packages of gum to sell, but few of the people who give money want or expect any gum in return. And once you give to anyone, the words spreads and the recipient is replaced in multiples. Women, often with their face fully covered, and young girls tap on your arm or the window of the vehicle in which you are sitting, repeatedly whispering things like, “Mister, one dollar,” while pointing to the small mouth cradled in their arms.

“It’s not as bad as India,” said a friend, a British national, who spent several years in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

“That’s true,” I said. “You don’t see as many limbless people or children pointing to open wounds while their other hand tugs on your belt loops.”

Kabul and the dusty villages in the rural provinces are home to more than one million disabled Afghans, reported the BBC News yesterday. The story focused on the opening of a 200-unit housing complex, the first of its kind for disabled Afghans, and supported by an on-site health clinic, school and mosque.

“A committee was created to decide who should get the homes and it ruled that they should go to badly-disabled, married people who are already resident in Kabul.” The $4 million project was funded by the United Arab Emirates.

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