While travelling from Mazar-e-sharif to Jawzjan province, I was thinking back to some of those case studies we prepared on drought affected people in 2011. Northern Afghanistan by then was severely affected by natural calamities that made infinite numbers of families vulnerable and consequently internally displaced.
Memories still remain, I recall Shah Zada in her late 30s from Jawzjan Province said shedding her tears, “My husband is 63 years old and is unable to do labour job. Due to drought no one gives him work, we have no food to eat but due to Ramadan, we fast therefore children don’t insist for food. They sleep empty stomach but I have nothing to give them when they wake up in the middle of the night. Inshallah we don’t suffer again.”
Next month is Ramadan and I was wondering what would be the response this time as we are distributing cash to the most vulnerable people who are affected by drought. Nevertheless, I was lucky enough to observe the entire process of cash distribution in the villages.
When most women enjoy the retirement life, lapping their grandchildren, dreaming of going to Haj (pilgrimage to Macca Madina) to offer prayers to Allah, we came across Bika Mama waiting for her turn to collect cash from MPAISA project. It was a hot day when the temperature was soaring way above 40 degree, dust and dirt could merely open our eyes. Women waiting in burkhas and veils with a hope of getting something in return could clearly be noticed through appealing faces.
Seeing a gold earring on her ears, I have decided to interview Bika Mama who is 62 years old. In that blistering heat wave under the shade of a temporary built shed, I was sweating and almost suffocating to breathe but she managed to give a big grin despite the biggest tragedy she faced in her life. “It hurts when I think of how my life twisted from bad to worst. I am a mother of 10 children but Allah took away all my five sons. I couldn’t afford to give proper cure for my ailing sons who died one after another,” wiping her sweat with her white Burkha, she narrates her agony.
Bika Mama is from a women headed household from Qezil Ayaq Village, Kwaja-Du-Koh district of Jawzjan Province. Her husband died as they were not able to give medication with no proper diagnosis of his stomach ache. Today she is survived with 5 daughters.
“He died 15 years ago, his death made me poor, destitute and vulnerable woman. My brother in law wanted to marry me to capture the house in which we are living. But I was bold enough to say NO.”
She had no other option left than to marry her eldest daughter with a man who was ready to pay the amount that was enough to buy a house for them. “Though son in law would take place of a son but eventually he ruined our life by gambling and became a burden for the family.”
“To raise my daughter I sold all my fortune, first I sold portion of the house where we lived, a tractor that my late husband used for farming, one cow and 2 donkeys and 24 sheep.” Bika Mama is benefitted from ActionAid Afghanistan project named Building safety nets and support improvement of agriculture productivity in northern parts of Afghanistan (BSA). Her vulnerable situation never gave her an opportunity to upgrade her living. BSA project gave her 10 chickens plus training on poultry farming and raw materials to weave carpet. But she was bound to sell nine chickens to buy food as she is also severally affected by drought. Today her eye sight is weak to weave the carpet or else she was making 2000 Afs per square meter. “I used to take five to six months to weave five meters carpet that money was sufficient enough to meet basic expenditure for couple of months.”
With a hope of decent living for her second daughter, she has engaged her with a man from the same village, “I had never worn gold ornament before, thus I bought gold earrings and necklace with the money that I took from Qaleen (dowry). I have already told my daughters that after my death, they can divide my ornament equally and keep it as a souvenir from my side.” With a sly smile, she innocently tells me, “If I knew that you will take my photo, I would have worn my necklace as well.” I was moved with her statement, her pain that she went through was beyond the reach to empathy, her desire to wear a gold ornament may sound weird and unrealistic to many but I can internalize her feelings as the way she paved social security not only for herself but for her daughters too
Although still needing food, Bika Mama finds herself lucky to be a member of REFLECT circles in her village, “I always encourage women in the village to be the member in REFLECT circles where we not only discuss on women’s issues but also try to solve emerging issues collectively in the best possible ways. Presently we are discussing on the use of mobile phone. Now we know how efficient it is to communicate through mobile phone. Amazing!!!”
Expecting from a brute son in law proved to be difficult for Bika Mama who complained for food shortage as her prime concern. Her tragic experience in life touched ActionAid Afghanistan. She is one of the beneficiaries who received 2000Afs per month to meet the emergency food. “I am already in debt of 32000Afs (USD). With this money, I will buy food for my children. Inshallah this year during Ramandan, we need not sleep starving. I have been longing to eat good food including meat. We can celebrate by eating good Kabuli Pulaw (special delicacy made of rice, mixed with dry fruits, vegetables and meat). Allah listened to us.”