A few days ago, I got a phone call from Alberto at the Red Cross Orthopaedic Centre here. Alberto has been in Afghanistan about 12 or more years. I think he is Italian. I have never met him that I recall, but I am told he is serious about his work. I would imagine that he has seen alot of things change, and a lot of things hardly change at all.
Alberto wanted to refer to us a girl and her mother. The mother is paralysed and wheelchair bound. The girl is about 17 or so. She is studying in the 10th grade at a school here. Her father died when she was 2 months old, killed in the fighting. The mother is cared for 100% by the girl, who I suppose leaves her each day as she goes to class. They survive on Red Cross assistance and zakat, the Islamic requirement to give alms to the poor. They presently live in a room at the mother’s brother’s house. His patience and tolerance are wearing thin.
Alberto called me because the girl is getting increasingly frequent, serious death threats. He didn’t know what it was about, but he considered it beyond his remit. He has been trying to assist the mother with her degenerative paralysis; death threats are not his area.
I asked our program manager to go see the girl. When Karima returned, she filled in the gaps. She told me that the girl’s other uncle – her dead father’s brother – wants the girl to get married to a man of his choosing – possibly to settle some debt, or seal some bargain. She refuses. So he threatens to kidnap and forcibly marry her, or kill her. He lives somewhere in Western Pakistan: it is not like we can go and visit him.
I heard the story and felt what I have so often felt here: this sense of hopelessness, this inability to change what is wrong, to help people with their ordinary sorrows and griefs.
We talked some more, and then I wondered aloud to Karima how they had arrived at the Red Cross centre from C District, which is a long way away. I wasn’t really questioning the integrity of the story, though I do often hear great fictions here. Red Cross assessments are thorough and reliable. It was more an idle wondering as to how this girl and her mother got around. You can’t push someone in a wheelchair through the streets here.
In response, Karima told me that the mother is so frail and thin, that the girl, in order to move her about, simply lifts her in to a taxi. They leave the wheelchair at home. On arrival to their destination, the girl carries her mother again, till a chair can be found. This Karima had seen with her own eyes.
I thanked Karima and told her to leave it with me. After several hours work on other things, the only thing I could think of doing was giving the girl and her mother some money. There is a fund here, which many of the expats contribute to, for times such as this. We just put money in every now and again, and then when something arises, we can apply for a few hundred dollars. Sometimes it buys food, sometimes rent, sometimes medicines. Sometimes it is abused, and sometimes misspent. But sometimes, a few hundred dollars at the right time, while not solving everything, can help a great deal.
I asked Rachel for some money from the fund, and after a few more phone calls, we had secured it.
So today Karima went and got the girl, and after some more talking, gave her the money. We know there is no solution to the danger of her being kidnapped, or forced into marriage, or being killed. I know well that it is no long term solution. But some money towards rent might help the uncle remain sympathetic towards the girl and her mother – his sister. Maybe it might also buy some things to get them through the winter.
We talked about it afterwards. We will stay in touch with them. If the threats remain just threats, then in a year or two, the girl may find a job, or get married. Meanwhile, it is just an Afghan story: common, intractable and sad, and there is not much that can be done.