MARYAM OF POL-E-SOKHTA; A WOMAN SMOKING HER LIFE17 / September 2016 | 1 Comment
It is a couple of days that evening when I return home, in Shahid Mazari roundabout, which is one of the most crowded areas of Kabul, I see a woman who pretends to clean glasses of luxurious cars in a bid to get some pennies. Kabul see this cleaning trend recently as a widely practiced method of raising money among street children who work for their families through various means available on the streets. But it seems weird and abnormal when you see that an aged woman stands in front of cars and starts cleaning the front-glasses and mirrors to get a couple of Afghanis (Afghanistan currency).
Poverty, unemployment, and upsetting life are terms you could loudly hear when entering public spheres in different parts of the capital city of Afghanistan. In post-2014, many say that Kabul is a clear example where people are dealing with harsh life. Helpless street children, hopeless men, women, and young beggar girls, hundreds of day labourers in crowded areas of the city who are waiting from dawn to dusk for someone to hire them to work in exchange for little money. This is the least you can witness every single day out of home and into the streets of Kabul.
But it is rare to see that women without Burqa (the traditional Afghanistan cover for women) indirectly start begging for money and struggling for their lives. That’s where Maryam’s story (a women I witness many evenings in Shahid Mazari roundabout) in West of Kabul, starts a horrifying story that might exist for thousands of almost three million drug addicted Afghans in different parts of the country.
When life starts ruination
You might have heard the bridge named Pol-e-Sokhta, a smoky, stinky, and over polluted place in West of Kabul. It has been for years that many people especially youth have ruined, smoked and buried their hopes and lives under this smelly bridge.
In other parts of the world, bridge is a symbol of rescue, connectivity and building relationships; however, in the Western Kabul, the bridge is a symbol of destruction and death. Pol-e-Sokhta (Burnt Bridge) is like a nightmare for people crossing it every day and for those taking refuge under it.
In recent years, not only youth, children, and aged men are dying and ruining their lives under this bridge, but also girls and mothers are the victims of drugs settling under this bridgef. At nights, Pol-e-Sokhta turns to a cinema showing addicts smoking and burning their lives. One of the victims is a 26-year-old Maryam, who had a normal life, family, husband, and hopes, six years ago. Nonetheless, now her only companions are drug addicts and people who give her some money or curse and insult her begging hands.
An end to a life
Being curious to know about her life, I managed to make her talk about her life story. I was curious to know what has happened to her family and why does she refuge under Pol-e-Sokhta. Worried that her identity be disclosed, with a fear clearly visible in her eyes and voice, Maryam agrees to talk about her life and agree being photographed.
Seven years ago, Maryam got married to a border police personnel in Mir Bacha Kot district of Kabul, the place where she was born. She begins her happy married life in a poor family. Her name among drug addicts is Sediqa.
Though she says she is illiterate, she is very thoughtful when she talks and sounds like an educated woman who has a lot of depth.
Her brother-in-law is the reason behind her addiction to drugs. Seven years ago, when her father in-law gives her a separate room to live with her husband, her brother-in-law from whom her husband borrowed 200,000 Afghani for his wedding, uses the room for smoking drugs. If her brother-in-law is prevented from using the room for his drugs, he would demand his money. This is why Maryam tolerates this situation for a year.
A year after her marriage, Maryam gives birth to a child and since she is alone, her husband sometimes takes leave from work. But very soon he starts using drugs along with his brother. Maryam, suffering from an illness caused by childbirth, is addicted to drugs too. When her husband does not have the money to treat her, instead of medication he gives her opium.
Exactly a year and a half after her marriage, she is addicted to drugs and joins her husband and brother-in-law. Maybe her newborn baby from the very beginning is also addicted to drugs as he is fed milk contaminated with opium.
Three other drug addicts now share the room, which was supposed to be a shelter of hope and happiness for Maryam. They smoke in the presence of the baby child. Maryam, who was using opium to treat an illness caused by childbirth is now using heroin to improve healing of her bone pain.
After getting involved in drugs, Maryam’s husband quits his job, borrows money, buys drugs, and smokes all the time. Since he is not able to pay back the money he borrowed, he decides to leave the house at night. That night marks the darkest night in Maryam’s life.
Maryam’s dark world
Maryam gets addicted to drugs as a result of repeated coaxing from her husband and eventually accompanies her husband and brother-in-law. She had never predicted her current situation. When telling the story of her life, Maryam does not cry or weep, but you can feel her pain and sorrow in every pause she makes between her talks.
After leaving their house in a dark night, Maryam, her husband and her child refuge under Pol-e-Sokhta, a place full of fears and nightmares. After two years of living under Pol-e-Sokhta, when addicts are taken to treatment and rehabilitation centers, Maryam’s husband, to get rid of addiction, leaves his wife and child behind, without even informing them.
After a period of time, state institutions start collecting addicted women for treatment. A number of women were forcibly taken to treatment centers, among them is Maryam. The treatment center that Maryam is admitted, refuses to accept Maryam’s child. Along with Maryam, there are several other women who have left their children under the bridge. They request the hospital officials to let them go and return back with their children. Maryam is back to Pol-e-Sokhta. She searches for her baby boy, but can never find him. Talking about the loss of her child, Maryam is very saddened and hurt. She does not know whether her child is alive or dead. It has been four years since her son is missing. She talks about her first five days stay in the treatment center. From her words it is clear that she was treated very well.
It is for six years Maryam is using drugs. Now her only concern is finding money to buy drugs and food. She does not care about people insulting her or her life being ruined and smoked. All she needs is money to buy drugs, get high, and forget about her pains and sorrows.
Maryam of Pol-e-Sokhta like many other Maryams of this land is the victim of poverty and failure of the government and our people who have not worked efficiently for the betterment and improvement of this terrifying situation. She neither thinks about her future, nor is she optimistic about it. Like many other drug addicts she is waiting for the end, her death.
Winter is not that far and Maryam has only a bag, a torn old cloth, and a wallet with no money. Perhaps she, like many others might lose her life on a cold autumn or winter night, in a corner under the bridge.
However, there are wealthy families and individuals from her hometown who might not think about Maryam, perhaps even for a second, unless a miracle happens and someone helps Maryam gain strength to rebuild her dreams.