Archive for August, 2007

Fifteen years in jail for love
Globe and Mail 08/18/2007 By Graeme Smith
 "Have you ever heard The saddest story in this prison?"

In the crumbling cell blocks of Sarpoza prison, on the western edge of Kandahar city, the question seems impossible to contemplate. This is a place full of terrible stories, some true and others bred in the imagination of men who survive on little but gruel.

But the deputy warden, Nadi Gul Khan, has something specific in mind.

He looks over at his friend, Mohammed Nader, who nods in agreement. Mr. Nader, thuggish and meaty, serves as an informal boss in Sarpoza’s national-security wing. A prisoner from a wealthy family, he has connections that give him influence in the worst corner of the prison, reserved for accused murderers, kidnappers and Taliban insurgents.

Many of the convicts here languish in dark cells where chunks of masonry fall from the ceiling as they sleep. Mr. Nader has a better room, with a bed, a television, and windows that look out on a garden.
His cell is swept clean, his dishes washed, and his tea carefully poured by a little man named Abib Rahman.

"Yes, it’s true," Mr. Nader declares, solemnly. "My tea boy has the saddest story."

Tea boys often suffer in places like this, where the role can require working as a sexual servant for other inmates. Maybe that is why the deputy warden feels it necessary to add: "It involves a girl," he says. "It’s a love story."

The prison boss summons Mr. Rahman, and he scurries into the room like a hobbit.

Everybody else lounges on cushions, but the young man with downcast eyes takes a spot on the floor.

"Tell your story," the deputy warden says.

Mr. Rahman obeys, and begins, in a soft voice, the unravelling of a tale that starts a decade ago with a child fleeing the slums to find his fortune, and the love that lured him into prison.

He introduces himself as the 22-year-old son of Mir Alam, of the Amirhil tribe, which makes him an ethnic Pashtun like most others here in southern Afghanistan but without any connections to the powerful tribes that hold sway in this region.

He lived in the slums of Kabul until he was 12 years old, he says, when his family sent him to Kandahar in search of work. The Taliban ruled the city in those days, and jobs were scarce.
A rich landowner from Panjwai took pity on the child. The farmer promised to pay Mr. Rahman the equivalent of $50 a month, he says, in exchange for menial work in his fields of wheat and grapes southwest of the city.

The boy moved into the farmer’s house and spent his days watering the crops, driving a tractor, and tinkering with the irrigation pumps.

A year passed. Mr. Rahman started to feel accepted by the family; the daughters didn’t cover their faces in his presence. He felt grateful for the work and the shelter, he says, but he grew worried about the fact that he hadn’t yet been paid.

"He was like my father," Mr. Rahman says. "It was hard to talk to him about the money."

When Mr. Rahman did broach the subject, the farmer was apologetic, saying he had little extra money. But he did have another kind of wealth: His daughters, which are worth about $5,000 each in southern Afghanistan, where brides are regularly purchased with cash, land, or cattle.

The farmer said he noticed that Mr. Rahman had grown friendly with one of his daughters. He calculated that it would take the boy eight years to earn the bride-price by working the land, after which he would give permission for them to marry.

"She was a year younger than me," he says, remembering her with a shy smile. "We were children together, we knew each other. We were very happy."

Afghans usually keep their families hidden from strangers. Mr. Rahman declines to say his sweetheart’s name, or describe her. He says only this: "She is beautiful."

More years passed. The girl started wearing a burka, the concealing blue shroud, after she reached puberty. Sweating in the fields added ropy muscles to the young man’s frame. He grew a light-brown beard.
The teenagers were no longer allowed to meet in private, because of local traditions, but one night the girl visited the young man in secret. She begged him to take her away from her father’s house, he says. She claimed that her mother had given her blessings, and she wanted to escape with him to Kabul. She never gave him details about why she wanted to get away from her father.

Horrified, the young man refused. He could not betray the man who had protected him like a parent, he says, and Pashtun tradition forbids marriage against a father’s wishes.

Still, he says, the daughter persisted. She would often find ways of getting him alone, sometimes only for a minute, to repeat her request.

His willpower started to break when he was 20 years old, he says.

Eight years had passed and the farmer showed no interest in a wedding.

The daughter visited him again one evening, with a variation on her usual plea. This time she brought a bundle of money, 30,000 Pakistani Rupees, or about $520. She had stolen the cash from her father, she said, and she wanted him to buy a motorcycle.

He picked out a red Chinese motorbike a few days later, paid cash, and stashed away the leftover money for their journey. Still, he hesitated. He told the farmer he’d purchased the bike with gift money from his family in Kabul, and the old man seemed pleased, sending him on errands along the dirt tracks that wind like brown streams around the green Panjwai valley.

Two months later, he finally worked up the nerve. The daughter packed a few dresses in a bag; he didn’t own anything except the clothes he was wearing. They drove away at night, up the bumpy paths in Panjwai, onto the paved roads that lead through Kandahar. The city teems with traffic by day, but the streets are empty by late evening and noise of their little bike’s engine would have echoed down the rows of shuttered shops.

They passed under the arched eastern gates of the city and took the northern fork in the road, puttering across the darkened scrublands.

Two hours later they reached Qalat, where truckers often stop on their way to Kabul, and hit a police roadblock.

It was September of 2005, and police were watching the highways carefully in hopes of preventing any disruption of the upcoming parliamentary elections. As usual in this country, the police also used the checkpoints to enrich themselves. Officers told Mr. Rahman it was forbidden to travel by motorcycle to Kabul because the road was too dangerous; instead, they would give him two seats in a shared taxi and hold his bike for safekeeping.

The young man had little experience with such situations, and didn’t argue with the officers’ logic. The young couple squeezed into an overcrowded taxi, a yellow-and-white Japanese sedan, and reached the capital city the next morning.

A cold welcome awaited them in Kabul. Mr. Rahman had not seen his hometown since boyhood, and his parents had died while he was away.

His three brothers were still living at home with their wives and children, a total of 16 people crowded into a modest five-room compound in the city’s western slums.

The family was scandalized by his attempt to elope. He introduced the 19-year-old as his future wife, and his brother exploded in rage.

"My brother said, ‘You don’t have a wife! Who is this woman?’ " Mr. Rahman says.

His brothers sent word to the Panjwai farmer that they had located his daughter. The landowner arrived quickly, all smiles, ate lunch with the family and spent a night in their home. In the morning he declared himself satisfied with the Rahman family and gave his consent for a wedding, on the condition that his daughter return home so they could prepare for the celebration.

The daughter wept at this news, Mr. Rahman says, because she didn’t want to go back.

"I knew he was dishonest, but there was nothing I could do," he says. "I tried to argue with him, but I’m not so strong."

Mr. Rahman watched his bride loaded into a car, and saw it disappear into the ramshackle slums. He was penniless, with nothing to show for his labour. His brothers tried to console him: As a healthy young man with no debts, they said, his prospects were good. The regime of President Hamid Karzai had brought prosperity to the capital; surely he could start again in the new Afghanistan.

The young man says he knew that returning to Kandahar wasn’t a good idea. By promising a wedding, the farmer had taken back his daughter with a face-saving untruth, and everybody involved knew it. Asking the farmer to make good on his promise would only invite trouble.

But Mr. Rahman was in love. He caught a southbound bus a week later, and showed his naivety by stopping in Qalat to inquire with the local police about his motorcycle. In the course of his explanations about the missing bike, Mr. Rahman mentioned the name of his former employer. One of the officers phoned the farmer, Mr. Rahman says, and moments later he found himself under arrest.

He spent the following months shuffled from jail to jail, from Qalat to the secret police headquarters in Kandahar, and onwards to the crumbling prison on the west side of the city.

He told his story countless times to police interrogators, he says.

The formal charge laid against him was kidnapping, but a prosecutor who listened to his story seemed sympathetic and predicted he would be set free within a month.

The poor and powerless often fare badly in Kandahar’s justice system, however. Mr. Rahman says the farmer used his tribal connections to influence the case, and he was sentenced to 15 years in jail.

The young man goes silent. The prison cell is quiet for a moment, except for the clicking of the deputy warden’s prayer beads. Birds sing in the garden. The prison boss stretches his heavy limbs and settles himself back on his bed with a chuckle at his tea boy’s misfortune.

Mr. Rahman stares down at his dirty feet. He is asked whether he regrets coming back to chase after his love, and he looks up with a glance that suggests he couldn’t have done anything else.

"Everything turned out the way I expected," he says. 


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We often mistake love as generally just being romantic and never really appreciating the other kinds of love that do exist.

This love is the love that everybody needs to survive. It is that feeling of being cared for and nurtured. Some people would describe this as the type of love parents have for their children. This is so important: high on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs; and studies have even proven that people have died of a "broken heart" (there have been no explanations for their deaths other than that).

This is a love between yourself and someone that is totally honest, open and comfortable. You really only have this kind of bond with a few people. You might know a lot of people and be "friendly" with them in a group situation but they are not the best friends I am talking about here.
I have a theory that you can not truely be best friends with a member of the opposite sex. Down the line romance will always come up from either party and feelings will be misinterpreted and mistaken. When this happens, the friendship will change and possibly never be the same again.

(The much anticipated love!) Most people experience this type of love many times in their life. It is when you see that person for the first time and he/she makes your knees go weak or gives you butterflies in your stomach.i.e. "Love at first sight”. Most people don’t even love the person they think they are in love with…they fall in love with the idea if being in love. This is more of a lustful kind of love, it wears off after a while and hopefully leads to…

This is the sincere love, the love that lasts forever. This kind of love comes when you have found the person you are destined to be with. Nothing can destroy unconditional love. It is like when you have an argument or disagree about something with that person and you realize that it doesn’t bother you because the love you have for him/her overcomes everything.

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