Afghanistan 21-LookListenLocal amplifies Afghan voices and experiences as the the United States and its NATO allies leave the country. The project will include new videos, photos and written stories by Afghans. This is the first in a series of articles about the lives of the Afghans who participated in Community Supported Film’s 2010 documentary filmmaking training and production of The Fruit of Our Labor-Afghan Perspectives in Film.
By Jamaluddin Aram, for Community Supported Film
[Ed. Note 07/21: The subject’s last name and image have been removed due to the worsening security situation in Afghanistan.]
On the outskirts of Kabul, a farmer is sitting cross-legged on a barren field talking to the camera. Behind him his brother is digging a water channel. “If the rain comes, we sow,” the man says, his blue tunic gray with dust, “if it fails, we wait.” In the distance, unmelted snow shows on the rugged mountains smoothed by the midday haze. Somewhere there is water, and the man has hope.
It’s 2010. And that is a scene from a short film called Water Ways that Majid, a poet and journalist from Ghazni, is making as part of his documentary filmmaking training provided by Community Support Film. From where he comes, water shortage is an issue and it has to do with the Taliban who are no longer nocturnal motorcyclists but walk on the streets in broad daylight, a reality Obama doesn’t like. He is committed to sending them back into the night. There are 90,000 soldiers on the ground to just do that. Some of them are counting the days until their tour ends to go home. Some count the months toward 2014 when they will hand over the security responsibilities to the Afghan forces. But time in Afghanistan doesn’t fly. It crawls.
For Afghans, however, it is different. Time is running out very quickly and a collective panic is settling in. Drought hits. Crops fail. Security is worsening. Farmers and university graduates alike aim to cross the borders, leave the land, enter the ocean and allow fate and the swell to take them to unknown shores.
Afghanistan is draining of its young minds fast, but she gets a new president who has fixed failed states on paper, and he thinks he can do it in practice too. He starts with the inequality in Bagram prison where most of the detainees awaiting terrorism charges are Taliban fighterts. Ninety-eight percent of the prisoners are of one ethnic group (Pashtuns), he says in an interview. If it is an ethnically diverse land, he seems to suggest, it should be reflected behind its bars. Same goes for the night raids.
Soon the failed state begins to fall apart and fighting spreads all over the country. Like the opium trade, American-paved highways become a source of revenue for the Taliban. They stop cargo trucks and passenger buses, select travellers as they wish and behead them by the roadside; those they let go have to pay. They even tax farmers to use water for irrigation.
Majid researches and reports all this while also uncovering the widespread corruption in the government. Then he starts receiving calls. Some are from Afghan members of parliament. Some are from unknown callers who reject the allegations and demand Majid to quit reporting or he might not be aboveground to receive their next call.
The man on the other end of the line can be anyone. He can be Majid’s cousin who has joined the Taliban.
This 800-billion-dollar-unfinished-twenty-year-war has destroyed families beyond words. According to usnews.com, 2,442 U.S. troops have been killed, in addition to a few thousand U.S. private security contractors whose deaths the Pentagon does not track.
An estimated 70,000 Afghans have lost their lives. But no one–not even Majid, the poet and journalist–seems to be keeping count any longer. Not that Afghan deaths don’t matter, but because somewhere in the Persian Gulf an American diplomat is shaking hands with a Taliban leader and it’s being televised. Majid knows in his bones that come September when the last international soldier leaves Afghanistan, those hands will come knocking on his door.
So Majid takes his family, leaves his house in the village, and moves to Ghazni City where it is safer. Then one day one of his colleagues is gunned down on his way to the mosque in the city.
Now it is July 2021. Majid is still reporting, but at the rate things are unfolding around him, he is not too hopeful that when the rain finally comes, there will be a farmer waiting for it, and a filmmaker to document it.
Jamaluddin Aram is a documentary filmmaker, producer, and short story writer from Kabul, Afghanistan. His stories have appeared in Numero Cinq, Blood and Bourbon, The Write Launch, and Cagibi. Aram’s short story “This Hard Easy Life” was a finalist for RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers in 2020. Aram has a bachelor’s degree in English and history from Union College in Schenectady, New York. He lives in Toronto. Aram was translator and subsequent coordinator of Community Supported Film’s 2010-12 documentary filmmaking training and mentoring program in Afghanistan. The training culminated in the production of The Fruit of Our Labor – Afghan Perspectives in Film, ten short films by and about Afghans that included Water Ways by Majid.