#22 Life in Afghanistan :: Chicken StreetPosted: October 22, 2013
There’s a place I like to go when I’m feeling hope is lost, when I’m feeling that no difference is being made, when I’m feeling that it’s not worth it, when I forget what it’s all about, when I’m lost in the paperwork, and the budgets, and the report writing, and the staff hiring. There’s a place I like to go when I’m ready to give up, hop on a plane, and fly back to my tiny first-world island. That place is Chicken Street.
I have no idea why it’s called Chicken Street, maybe someone can enlighten me. I’ve never seen chickens sold there. It’s actually a street that was popular with tourists, back when Afghanistan was on the hippie trail, before the Russians invaded, before decades of war broke out. It’s remained a tourist like street. The street is lined on both sides with tiny dark shops that extend out backwards selling all kinds of trinkets, souvenirs, “ancient” artifacts, hand woven good, hand crafted items, jewelry, traditional dress and costumes. All the things tourists might like to buy, and way over-priced. Shop keepers sit in their doorways lazily drinking tea and suddenly come to life when a foreigner passes, asking, begging, enticing, pleading, you to go in and take a closer look as whatever it is he has to sell. I’m always awed at their commitment to get you inside, and their persuasion and persistence at trying to sell – they have endless techniques and it really is quite impressive. I often wander past and wonder how often they ever actually sell anything, and how they manage to stay open and stay alive.
It’s a unique place, full of interesting things, you never know what treasure you will find, and you always end up walking away without something you loved because you simply couldn’t bargain down to the right price. I love the atmosphere – though some say it is too pressured, too disorganized, too unsafe, too much.
It’s not those things that draw me to it though. Not the beautiful carpets, nor the shiny jewelery. Not the rare poetry, nor the spectacular clothes. Not the shopkeepers cries, nor the atmosphere. No, it is none of those things which keeps me coming back, none of those things that draw me to this place. The thing that draws me to this street, the things that makes it one of my favorite places to go are the street children.
Call me crazy. Many people do. But it’s the very thing that many find the biggest nuisance that calls me back time and time again.
When I’m feeling like it’s not worth it, and I just want to hop on the first plane out; I go to Chicken Street. I go to find those street kids. Sure, street kids can be found most places – but in my heart the ones here just have something special about them. Firstly, you will always find street children on Chicken Street – it’s a given. Secondly, they make me laugh – they’re well trained beggars and their tricks, and faces, and words and so well polished you can’t help but smile. Thirdly, they will follow you until you leave, hours if need be, so you get to talk, chat about life, about all things, and get them to smile too. Fourthly, a lot of them although poor, are not actually living on the streets – which adds a little hope into the mix. Fifthly, when you do leave and you give them some change out of your taxi door and they hold it tightly in their fist raising it up in the air like it’s a great prize and they faces are all smiles – it lights up your day, because their joy in contagious.
They come up to me begging for money – some wafting incense in a tin can to ward off evil spirits. I ignore them at first, to let them know I’m not interested in giving them money. Their begging will not work on me. Normally they will persist for some time, following me from store to store. Eventually I will crouch down with them and ask them their names. Then we’ll have a conversation between shop visits, do they go to school? What is their family like? Where do they live? Why do they beg? What animals do they like? What’s their favourite color? Do they like the dress hanging in the window, or should I choose a different one? What about the earrings I’m holding, will they make a good present? They follow me around and ask me plenty of questions too. We joke and laugh together. Sometimes they dare follow me inside a shop. The keeper instantly shouts at them and reprimands them for entering the shop – the dirty beggars they are. It pains my heart, and I smile at them as they stand outside peering through the doorway. One occasion I have told the keeper that the kids are my friends and they should be allowed inside too. On these occasions I have been looked at like a mad woman, but huffing and sighing the man always allows them to come in. Finally after hours of walking and talking, I wave down and taxi and climb inside. I roll down my window and call my two or three newly found friends over and hand them some money each. The smile spreads wide across their faces and their eyes grow big. They skip and jump away laughing together at their prize.
I do not pay them for their begging. I do not give in to their endless tactics. I simply share what I have with them because they have kept my heart soft, they have resorted my hope, they have reignited my resolve to stay, and they have helped me to see that it is worth it. When I am feeling like there is no hope, like none of it is worth it. When I’m lost in the bureaucracy and I just want to fly away; I go to Chicken Street. I go and hang out with some street children – because they remind me what it is all about. They remind me it is simply about love.
This is part of the 31 Day series