Here in Kabul, last week, at the Afghan Peace Volunteer (APV) community home that hosts me, I watched Abdulhai and visiting activist Aaron Hughes work out ways to secure the greenhouse which they had partially assembled that morning. Warmed by the effort and with the sun beaming down on all of us, they sat on the garden ledge in their shirtsleeves although it is a quite cold winter here, talking about the greenhouse perched on an uneven garden plot before them.
I had watched Aaron, Abdulhai, Ron and Hakim maneuver the partly assembled greenhouse from a neighbor's storage area, over a fence, and onto the garden plot. Aaron is 6 ft. 5 inches tall. His strength and height helped the process considerably.
Aaron and I first met in 2005, shortly after he returned from deployment to Iraq with the Illinois National Guard. The U.S. military had assigned him to drive trucks from Kuwaiti supply depots to Forward Operating Bases across Iraq. At the end of his deployment, convinced he couldn't endure another stint with the military, after seeing how futile, dehumanizing and destructive the U.S. occupation of Iraq had been, he took an option to come home, and decided, beyond committing to work organizing with Iraq Veterans Against the War, to become an artist, to create beauty. At age 33, he feels plenty of energy both for artwork and antiwar organizing efforts.
Aaron came to Afghanistan to present a particular project, related to prisoners in Guantanamo, called "Tea," and to join the Afghan Peace Volunteers in various efforts to teach and create art. His construction skills became a greatly needed bonus as the greenhouse took shape.
Every day has been filled with learning exchanges. Tea creates an occasion for community, for having conversations together. Aaron taught children at the Borderfree Center to make potato prints using halved potatoes and acrylic paint. Several teachers at the school have learned sketching and print making skills from him. And Aaron says he's been learning, too.
Ali describes the plight of five "day laborers" the APVs have gotten to know. Their names are Mohammed Dawoud, Ali Reza, Jalaladeen, Mirajadeen, and Qurban. The men wait all day, at Pul-e-Surkh intersection, where a bridge spans a putrid, dried up riverbed, hoping for a single day's work even if at days' end they take home just two or three dollars. Many shiver outdoors for hours, unemployed and desperate.
Especially during winter months, when construction shuts down, work is scarce. If chosen to work for part or all of a day, a laborer has no choice but to settle for extremely low wages. Hundreds of other laborers would take the rate being offered, so there is no point in bargaining for more. Day laborers live in miserable homes, always at a loss for resources to feed their families. When hired for temporary work, it will likely involve hauling heavy materials all day, back straining labor which some project managers might not impose on animals, since the animals would be more expensive to replace.
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