Published internationally in July 2003 as Kabul: The Bradt Mini Guide.
First published in Kabul in September 2002 as a pamphlet.
Naser Barotali has been selling The Survival Guide to Kabul for two months. With his income he supports his younger brother and his blind grandfather. He is an orphan. This is his story.
I was born in a district of west Kabul called Barhgre Ali Mardan in 1987. My younger brother Nasieer was born two years after me.
We grew up in a very difficult time. The different mujhaddien commanders were fighting for control of the city and there was a lot of bombing and fighting in our area. Our lives were very hard, but then one day when I was about eight years old a large rocket exploded near our house.
My father ran out to see what had happened and that was the last time we saw him alive. A gunman in the street shot him with a friend of his who had gone with him.
After that our lives became very sad and difficult. My father was no longer around to earn a living to keep us alive and my mother was devastated by the grief. A year later she too died. Her death was due to a broken heart.
After that my brother and I had to fend for ourselves until my grandfather came to get us. He took us from our family home as the fighting was getting worse and the bombs were falling all around us. Together we fled to Jalalabad where lived in a camp for displaced people. I was about eight or nine then, I canít quite remember exactly how old I was, but I remember being sad and scared.
There were thousands of people in the camp, all of them had moved to escape the fighting. By now Kabul was a death zone.†
After three years in the camp in Jalalabad (I canít remember its name), one of my paternal uncles came for my brother and me and said he could find work for us at a carpet factory in Pakistan. As there was no one in our family who could care for my brother and I we left for Peshawar.
We lived with my uncle in Haji Camp, a community of Afghan refugees in Peshawar town, but our lives were very sad and very hard there. Every morning we would have to get up at 4am to go to work at the carpet factory. Our day would end at 9pm. Sometimes I was so tired I would fall asleep. When that happened the factory owner on beat me on the head with a metal hook used for weaving the carpets. The good thing is that we were fed.
We had hot meals, rice, potatoes and meat sometimes. The factory owner would also give us his childrenís second-hand clothes. At least we had food. In my two years in the carpet factory I made 5 large carpets and my brother made 12 smaller ones. In all that time we were never once paid, as we were considered apprentices. We wanted to run away, but we didnít dare because we were told that the child snatchers would catch us and take us to a KharGhar (Forced Labour Camp) where we would never see our relatives again.
My brother and I were very unhappy. The conditions in the factory were very bad. Hot in summer, cold in winter and we were beaten. Every day we would pray for my grandfather to come and get us and take us away back to Afghanistan. Finally one of my aunts told my grandfather how miserable we were and he came and rescued us last year.
After so many years we all came home to Kabul. We live in the same district, as before in west Kabul, we have no heating, water or electricity. My brother and I both work now selling newspapers and we support my grandfather who is unemployed. He is blind and cannot work.† It takes me about 40 minutes every day to come to work in the city centre where I sell newspapers. Every morning I get ten newspapers from the paper seller and then at the end of the day I pay him. Usually I make 40,000-50,000 Afghanis a day (US$1.00) then I pay him the 30,000 Afghanis (70c) for the papers.
My profit was so small we could barely survive.
Two months ago I heard that Dominic (Medley) was giving out Survival Guides to us street sellers. He was already a customer of mine, so I hurried over to ask for some guides so I could sell them too. Now I get five guides a day and I sell them for between 60,000 to 70,000 Afghanis each. The good thing about the guide is I get to keep all the profit. I use the money to buy extra food for my family. Usually I buy oil, sugar and flour.
Most days I have tea and Nan (bread) for breakfast, potatoes and rice for lunch and potatoes and rice for dinner. I never usually get meat.
I cannot read or write and I have never been to school. I go to mosque, but I am illiterate. I donít know what to expect for the future. I do not think I will have an easy life. My parents are dead, my grandfather is old and my brother and I are the only ones to care for him.
I am sad for my life and sad for my future. Thereís no one to care for us. My life is just standing and selling newspapers. My future is bad.
The money I get from selling the newspaper is not enough, so I am happy to sell the guide and Dominic is the best guy in Kabul. I donít know if he is the best guy in Afghanistan because I donít know the other provinces, but I can say heís the best in Kabul.
The Survival Guide to Kabul©