The blurred background atmosphere behind Mansoor’s silhouette seemed to want to drive itself into our lungs.
The Afghan Ministry of Public Health estimates that in Kabul alone, 3000 people die from air pollution-related illnesses in one year.
I could hardly make out the two pedestrians 70 metres away, at about 10 a.m. on a Kabul morning
During particularly stressful moments in 2016,
I had felt that the year was one long, hard Afghan night.
A few evenings ago, my eyes had smarted
from the dense irritant pollutants
that enshroud Kabul streets and invade breaths and dreams in winter.
Mansoor, determined to do well in his college entrance exams next year,
laughed sarcastically at the burnt air which smelled of soot and survival scraps,
holding his hand to his mouth and nose as a mask, saying,
“Of course our lives are shortened by this smoke.”
At least, someone had told me, T.V. ‘commercials’ warn us,
“Stay in, or else…”
I dashed back to my room, already coughing reflexively,
feeling like the human masses have been cornered into prisons within prisons,
elaborately presided over by an Afghan President,
his CEO and the U.S./NATO/UN corporate machine,
watched by an unquestioning, approving world.
Lifting the smog,
humanity’s pressing revolution
concretizes participatory self-governance,
and like mothers to their children’s needs,
Inham ( left ), an Afghan street kid who works polishing boots,
and his brother, collecting his monthly gift of rice
Inham on New Year’s Eve. Inham is carrying his boot polishing haversack
and the slippers meant for his customers as he polishes their shoes.
Because Inham had told me he wanted to do better in school,
I was wondering about his unusual silence in class.
I approached him, and told him it was alright.
He was already doing well, in school and at home.
His eyes turned red, and he muttered,
“I was so busy…( busy with what ‘capital’
exacts from an under-aged bread-winner working in forgotten alleys).”
“Also,” Inham looked down and far,
“one student paid the teacher a bribe
and got better grades.”
When I found him in the streets today, he was at a video game console.
“My brother may beat me up if he knew this,
but I have a right to some fun once in a while, don’t I?”
Inham, what do you wish for in 2017?
“Er….I’ll try to get first position in school.”
I’ll give him the notebook he thought he wouldn’t get
because he couldn’t get ‘higher’ grades.
The world of lies around Inham whispers the error
that tests indicate ‘success’ or ‘intelligence’,
and that it’s acceptable ‘progress’
for economic and education systems to enslave the masses.
It’s not okay at all.
It was a year of grief for Ali ( extreme right and smiling ), as he had lost his older brother who was a soldier killed in the war raging across Afghanistan. Here, Ali and other Afghan Peace Volunteer community members install a greenhouse before winter set in.
Ali is coordinating the winter duvet project over this new year. Recently, Zek ( centre in photo ) and I had gone to visit some potential seamstresses for the project. We walked past Karte Sakhi Mosque, where there was a suicide bomb attack two months ago in which at least 14 were killed. Around the Mosque is an overflowing stone graveyard. Ali, Zek and I had heard the blasts from our yard a few kilometres away, the blasts we’ve gotten numb to, but that still impose a traumatic burden on us.
One of the saddest presumptions is
that war is necessary,
as if Ali’s brother needed to lose his life for Afghan or U.S. or my security.
Dehumanized and devalued by both ‘terrorists and anti-terrorists’ alike,
the people keep bleeding,
emptying their grief to deaf ears and cursory eyes too digitalized to pause,
and too commoditized to imagine or create.
We consume and consume the environment and the media,
and overlook what glares at us,
what implicates us,
what should help us realize that
we can’t go on exploiting Mother Earth or one another.
Inequality is drowning Mansoor, Inham and Ali.
It is killing love.
In our healing, to liberate ourselves,
we are learning, in our daily choices everywhere
and despite whatever,
to look at every grave as our own.