A group of men sit in a small hut made of clay and mud in one of the city's many informal refugee camps. The hut is pretty crowded, someone stares curiously at what is going on and others keep sewing typical Afghan clothes. Children tiptoe to steal a glimpse of the inside and quickly disappear when an elder spots them. It goes without saying that the camp has no running water and no sewage system. It is hot and flies are all over the place.
We came here because your countries bombed our land
“We came here because your countries bombed our land,” says the man that the small venue elected spokesperson. They all come from Helmand, the famous Taliban heartland in the south of Afghanistan. “We live here since ten years,” he says. Ten years. This is what often happens when you run away from war: You know when you leave, but you do not know when and if you will ever go back.
“Of course we dream to go back to our land, but we also need security to do so,” he says. Afghanistan is one of those places where war has never been short. US troops, sixteen years back, invaded the country, chasing the ghost of Al-Qaeda, and that very same war is still going on and disrupting lives.
Afghanistan is one of those places where war has never been short (Others)
One of the things war does is impose its violence on you. It doesn’t matter if you were living your usual life, sowing seeds or grazing sheep. Violence does not ask your permission to destroy your life, it just does it. Suddenly, one day, while you are living your usual countryside life, some random armed group pops up and starts imposing its rules on you, and you accept it. You do so out of fear, out of a quick pro and con evaluation: "I am a peaceful man, I want to mind my business, is refusing worth dying over?"
It is easy for those who are not there to say "revolt, fight back". Revolting against an armed power exercising its monopoly of violence on you, is one of those things which seems kind of easy when you are not the one doing it.
This is a war though, and it does not seek permission. You won’t get away just abiding by someone’s law, especially if that someone has enemies. One day your rulers’ enemy attacks. Jet fighters fly where you were used to seeing birds, and in seconds there is nothing left of your life except you. Your house, your fields, the small dusty roads of the village--all gone. There is nothing left, maybe some of your sheep, if you are lucky.
You look around, you visualise your small village in the countryside. Where pomegranates used to be as sweet as sugar, there are now piles of smoking rubbles. You try to make sense of the tragedy, you cry and you call to god, whatever god you believe in. No matter how hard you try, the reality is that war does not ask your permission to destroy your life. It just does it and it sucks.
Suddenly, you realise that along with other survivors you do not know what to do.
"Maybe it is over. It was just a one-off attack," you speculate. You spend all the night with the elders discussing what to do, but there is no solution. Then, that armed group comes back at dawn and you realise all at once that what happened was not a one-off tragedy. The others, whoever they are, will bomb again in an endless cycle of destruction. It’s done, war invaded your space, and it does not matter if you just wanted to keep looking after your sheep and your crop.
You do not get to decide.
Your conservation instinct often prevails: “A wretched life is anyway better than a cruel death,” you think. With these words in your mind, your private personal odyssey begins. You leave everything behind and you go.
Where do you go? You try to reach a city, the biggest city. ‘“The government will help us,” you think. You have a few chances in front of you: You can try to reach a refugee camp and live in a tent. You can become a beggar on the street of a city, knocking at fancy cars’ windows for coins. You can also live in an informal refugee camp on the city's outskirts. You can also end up in the hands of organised crime; Criminal networks build their empires exploiting people like you. Whatever you do, the outcome is pretty much the same: Your wait begins, because you did not leave your house by choice.
It does not matter how good you are at adapting, the melancholy of your previous life will not abandon you. The desire to go back, one day, where the pomegranates were as sweet as sugar, will always accompany you.
“Some of us sell pomegranates to make a living here, but these are small, not good,” says the village council’s spokesperson.
This is not one peson's particular story, but the story of millions of people at the same time. According to the most recent UN survey, 65.5 million people are currently displaced worldwide. It is a record in human history, but nothing we should be proud of; 25.5 million of them are refugees, 40.3 million are internally displaced people and 2.8 million are asylum seekers.
In Afghanistan, in the first five and a half months of 2017, as many as 136,000 people have been displaced and 2,200 civilians got killed or injured during the ongoing conflict. Year by year, it is not getting any better. “In 2010 in this hospital we were able to do also civilian traumas below fourteen. Now it is not an option anymore,” says Giorgia Novello, medical coordinator for the Emergency hospital in Kabul. “In all our projects, the number of war wounded has increased.”
The men in the hut kept discussing politics and society’s problem. They sit in a circle, exactly as they would have done in their villages if only the war would not have forced them to leave.