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The Killid Group

"I'll buy a new car one day"

Written by Maryam Akbari
Saturday, 10 September 2011 11:37

"I'll buy a new car one day" A street boy in Kabul talks about his life and dreams.
Shah Wali's grimy face lights up with a happy grin when I ask him if he will tell me about his life.
Only 10 years old, he could be any one of the boys at street corners and traffic lights in Kabul. Boys like him weave in and out of the city's chaotic traffic holding up a tin of spandi smoke, hoping someone will give them some money. Spand is a herb and children tend to burn its seed in cans as the smoke is supposed to cleanse and to ward off evil spirits.
Shah Wali says he's a student of class two at a government school but he cannot recall the school's name.
"I have been working as a spandi for some time. Before this I polished shoes; I made more money but the police would not let me be. They took away my shoe- box with the brushes and polish. I begged them to give it back to me, they wouldn't listen." He goes silent for a few seconds, and then he's back again in the present. "Now I earn 100 Afs (on a good day)," he says.

Does he have a family?
My father transports heavy loads of rice and flour on his head in the whole-sale market, he says. He sweats blood for the family, he adds theatrically.
The family has 11 members. Both his older brothers work, he says. One is a painter and the other sells bananas on a hand-cart.
"I have three sisters and five brothers and we live in a rented house in Qala-Wahed district; my sisters are at home and help my mother with housework."
This is summer time in Kabul. It is hot in the sun, but Shah Wali is clad in thick winter clothes. "I do not have any other clothes," he says. As he talks he blows into the burning coal to keep the spand smoking.

When does he go to school?

After work, he replies. From 5 am to noon he's a spandi. Shah Wali would like to study, and to become a teacher. But that is his dream. For now he has more practical plans. "I like to paint, maybe I'll become a painter like my brother when I become a man," he says softly. Then more assertively, as if it is a promise he has made to himself, he adds, "I will stop spand burning. I earn very little money. I will become a painter."
Shah Wali stops talking to go back to work at the busy intersection. He picks his way through a steady stream of cars and small trucks that slow down at the traffic light, for a few minutes, before speeding off.

What does he eat?
Breakfast, every morning, is bought from one of the food carts on the roadside. Lunch is with his family. "My mother makes potato soup every single day," he complains. "I am not going to eat potato anymore. I would love kofta (meat balls)," he adds wistfully, "but she doesn't cook it."
One day, he tells me, he will buy a fancy new car, and take his family and friends for picnics.

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