#2 Life in Afghanistan :: Nuria

I walk across the dusty mosque grounds crossing from one side of the market to the other, keeping my head down so as to avoid looking into the eyes of men. The sun beats down, temperatures above 50C, sweat pouring off every inch of my body. Longing for the comfort of home, daydreaming about the cool water that would hit my lips and the magazine that would act as a fan.

A tug on my sleeve pulls me out of my daydream. I hear the words carried by a feminine child-like voice “Paisa, Paisa”; “money, money”. I pull my arm away, and like each time before it breaks my heart to do so. They tell me it’s impossible to help everyone and we are wise to say no to beggars, I know it to hold some truth, but still my compassion causes my heart to break each time.

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She tugs again “Paisa! Paisa!”. I let her hold on to my sleeve and bring my eyes up to meet hers. I see her torn clothes, her boney frame, the dirt smudged face. I lower my gaze to take in her shoes – a good mark of genuine poverty – she has no shoes on and her feet are bleeding in places. Her size and demeanor tell me she is no older than 8, but her face has weathered from her harsh reality and her skin looks as if it could be easily have seen 50 years.

I stop in my tracks and crouch down to match her height. I take her hands, cracked and bleeding, covered in scabs and look her in the eyes. I speak to her in her own language. “What’s your name?” She smiles, glad she has caught my attention “Nuria*”. The conversation continues;

“What a beautiful name!”

She cocks her head to one side and smiles at the compliment. “What’s your name?”

“Janana”

“Do you go to school?”

“No”

“Where are your shoes?”

“My sister is wearing them today”

“Where do you live?” She points up the street and signals she lives down an alley behind the little stores. “Over there, you must come for tea!” “Thank you.” I reply, the offer is not genuine but just a custom here.

I notice that the scabs are not limited to her hands but are on her feet and her face as well.  “Does your skin hurt?” She withdraws her hands from mine quickly and hides them behind her back as she shuffles awkwardly. I stroke her face “Don’t do that, it’s ok, does it hurt?”

She looks me in the eyes and I see tears in hers. She nods slowly. I take her hand in mine as I rise to stand. “Come with me.”

We walk slowly and she tells me about her family.

“I live with my uncle, but he has no job. My father died many years ago. I have 1 brother and 5 sisters, my mother is very sick and stays in bed. My brother tries to work, and my sisters and I collect money on the street for food.”

I want to scoop her up and take her home with me, to give her an education, and good nutrition, to give her a warm home, and good clothes, to love her, to give her hope, to show her a brighter future. I want to allow her to be the child she is.

We reach the pharmacy and I take her in and get some cream and bandages for her skin in the hope it may heal and provide some relief from the pain. Next stop – cart with soap, I buy a few bars for her to be able to keep clean and avoid infection in her open wounds. I turn to her and ask a forward question “Will you show me where you live?” I continue, “My friend is a nurse, I would like her to come and look at your skin and see if there is something we can do” She is eager “Yes! Come!”

IMG_0227I follow her past the butcher with whole, slaughtered, sheep hanging upside down out in the open air, past the baker with thick black smoke pouring out of his open mud oven, past the cripple sitting on a sheet hoping someone will toss him a coin or two. We step over the open sewers which run freely down the middle of the streets, the stench causing my to retch a little, back behind the market street, and down a tiny little alley. Her sisters are outside her yard and they plead with me to come in, finally I accept. I bend over to fit through the low down wooden door in the high mud wall. Their yard is small and barren with no well in sight. They lead me to one of two rooms. as I take off my shoes to step inside I note that there is no door, but instead a sheet hanging over the frame, I notice too that one of the windows is missing. Fine for this hot weather, but my mind skips ahead a few months when the temperatures will be frigid and the ground will be covered in feet of snow. My heart pains afresh.

Nuria’s sisters surround me all eager to meet the white girl. I notice that two of her 5 sisters appear to have the same skin problem as Nuria. I say a silent prayer in my head asking God to protect me if it’s contagious. I am offered no tea, and I know that this is a sure sign of poverty – all guests are offered tea. Instead, Nuria hurries off and comes back with an old half-eaten piece of naan bread and offers it to me. I tear off a small section and start nibbling at it. I make small talk with her sisters and try to make them laugh. Isn’t joy essential to life? Even if it is for a fleeting moment. Their smiles light up their faces and I am taken aback by their beauty.

After a short visit, and excusing myself for the 5th time I stand to leave. As I slip back on my flip-flops I feel bad as they have no shoes to slip on. I promise I will be back with my nurse friend. Then I kneel down in their yard and hug each one of them tight, hoping some of Christ’s love will rub off on them, praying He will shine through, asking that He will grab them and not let go.

I hug Nuria last, I cannot stop the tears from escaping and running freely down my cheeks. “You’re beautiful, I will come again soon, use the cream like I showed you, give some to your sisters too. God is kind. Good bye Nuria.”

She hangs on to me a little longer, just long enough to totally melt my heart. I walk away.

*Names changed to protect identities

31_days_afg_2This post is part of the 31 Day series.

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13 Comments on “#2 Life in Afghanistan :: Nuria”

  1. […] Day Two :: Nuria (The girl with scabs who broke my heart) […]

  2. marti flick says:

    i need to hear these stories to know how to pray, but i also need to hear them to soften my heart…. i don’t mean that i don’t care about the poverty of the world (i actually grew up off and on in south america–my parents were missionaries there). yet it is so easy to become desensitized by all we see on the news—so many “big” stories, so much pain, it becomes overwhelming and can tend to all blur together. your first hand accounts are so important. thank you for taking the time do it, may God bless your efforts and give you strength and encouragement to keep going. :)

    • EJ Reading says:

      Oh it is SO easy to become hard-hearted and numb to it all. My daily prayer is that God will keep my heart soft, and keep growing my compassion. I pray that for you to, thank you for being willing to have you heart touched.

  3. Heart-wrenching story. I grew up in Latin America and learned to ignore beggars, but it was at the cost of dehumanizing them. I’m finally developing in my 50s the compassion I should have had as a child.

    • EJ Reading says:

      It’s hard to get the balance right between not being able to help everyone, not funding the begging trade, and helping those genuinely in need as you can. Oh how we all need great wisdom in that, and incredible humility as we help others find their balance.

      • At least one child in the orphanage my parents had during the 1980s had been neglected or mistreated by his or her parents to enhance their begging potential. And there were three little sisters… once my folks took them downtown to run some errands. While they were walking on a pedestrian street, the girls disappeared. A while later they turned up again, each with a handful of coins which they gave to my parents. (The amazing thing is that these girls were adopted by a family in Switzerland and grew up healthy and pleasant and beautiful.)

        • EJ Reading says:

          Yes, so many sad stories like that where people self-harm or harm others to increase begging potential. I don’t want to advocate that, which is why it is so hard to know when to give and when to not – I guess we really have to lean into Holy Spirit’s guiding for that.

  4. Amanda Hallas says:

    You just have to be back there. I know you are encircled with praying friends but it strikes me you need a ‘Change-A and Heal their Land ‘ corporate support group. God can and does move supernaturally and we need to pray for supernatural deliverance for these people. God is wanting to change nations while I am praying for individuals.

    • EJ Reading says:

      Amen! God will work and change the nation and people’s situations. Prayer is going to be the driving force we need to be on our knees crying out for the nations.

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