‘Before my brother died, I had dreams’: the Kabul attack that unravelled a family ‘Before my brother died, I had dreams’: the Kabul attack that unravelled a family The female journalists defying taboos and braving death threats in Afghanistan | Sune Engel Rasmussen 'I am a criminal. What is my crime?': the human toll of abortion in Afghanistan

As an only son, Hossein Panahi was his family’s sole provider. He supplied his sisters with clothes, his ailing parents with food and medicine, and built them all a house to live in.

His salary meant his two older sisters did not have to marry young for dowry, but could wait for men they loved. He also put his third sister through law school.

Having postponed his own marriage plans, Hossein was finally due to get engaged, at 28, after Ramadan.

The female journalists defying taboos and braving death threats in Afghanistan | Sune Engel Rasmussen

Read more

On 31 May, he was riding his bicycle past the entrance to Kabul’s green zone on his way home from a night shift as an electrician at the Canadian embassy, when he was engulfed in an enormous blast.

The bombing, , killed about 150 people. Its barbs of destruction put Hossein’s family on a path they had struggled to avoid.

Hossein was more than a breadwinner. As with many Afghan households dependent on one provider, his family’s future was so interwoven with its only son that it immediately began to unravel once he died.

Throughout his life, Hossein had worked to keep his sisters beyond the traditional forces of Afghan society. Living among conservative relatives and neighbours, Razia, Hossein’s younger sister, needed a a close male relative – to accompany her, in order to pursue a degree and career.

Now she has no chaperone, and fears being condemned to the life that confines most Afghan women.

“Before Hossein died, I had dreams,” says Razia, 23. She had wanted to become a politician. “Now I can’t. I don’t have any support.”

Without a male relative to chaperone her, Razia now faces a life in cultural confinement but hopes to avoid forced marriage. Photograph: Sune Engel Rasmussen for the Guardian

Only weeks after Hossein’s death, marriage offers for Razia started piling in from older relatives and family friends. Every day, she says, a new man offered his hand.

The men were all telling her that they would alleviate the financial burden on her and her parents. But Razia says they were mere opportunists. She has so far managed to resist, perhaps because she keeps the offers secret from her parents.

In Afghan families struggling for survival, women often become commodities.

'I am a criminal. What is my crime?': the human toll of abortion in Afghanistan

Read more

“Forced and child marriage is endemic in , with about a third of girls married before the age of 18 and many more forced into marriage as adults,” says Heather Barr, senior researcher with Human Rights Watch.

“Parents who simply cannot feed their children sometimes see marrying girls off as the only option to try to keep them – and the rest of the family – alive. The payment of bride price can create an even greater incentive for a desperate family to see selling a daughter as a means of survival.”

That was the fate Hossein – and his parents – wanted to spare his sisters. His older sisters married late, at 25 and 28, and not out of financial desperation.

“Our father told us, you need to know about the world before you get married,” Razia says.

In his early 20s, Hossein went to Iran to work, and saved enough to build a small house in western Kabul. Tucked away in a maze of mud houses and narrow alleys carved in half by open sewers, the house is clean and opens up to a yard with a tree heavy with apricots.

Now, the outside wall is draped with a large poster of Hossein.

Hossein Panahi worked in Iran in his early 20s, saving enough money to build his family a house. Photograph: Courtesy of Hossein's family

In Afghanistan, Hossein found work as an electrician, employed at Pul-e Charkhi prison, as well as with the Turkish army and the Canadian embassy.

His father, Abbas, suffered a stroke three years ago, but even before that he was debilitated by trauma from the country’s long civil war, Razia says.

Abbas now rarely leaves his bed. When he does, he walks with a crutch, leaning on his wife for balance.Hossein’s older sisters, who came to visit, were nearly speechless with grief. His mother was poised but shrouded in sorrow.

At no point since 2001 has the Afghan conflict killed more civilians. The capital used to be regarded as a relatively safe place. Now, according to the UN, more civilians are killed in Kabul than any other province.

The 31 May bombing in the centre of the capital was so massive that it startled Razia at home, more than four miles away. When news of the location broke, she panicked, knowing that Hossein travelled that road every day. She called him twice but he didn’t return her calls.

After rushing to the bomb site, Razia negotiated her way into the nearby emergency hospital. Everything was chaos. Razia was taken to one man named Mohammad Hossein – her brother’s full name – with a face burned beyond recognition, and told him, “I am Razia.” The man shook his head.

Picking her way through limbs and dead bodies, she began to believe that perhaps her brother had survived. Then a friend called her name: she had found Hossein, dead.

“It hurts so much. He was my friend, my brother, my everything,” Razia says.

“In my dreams, I see dead bodies, hands, feet.” In the past, she says, nothing could wake her once she fell asleep. Now she is easily startled from her slumber.

The family’s entire household budget now comes from Razia’s internship at a USAid-funded organisation. She earns 8,000 afghanis (£90) a month.

“I don’t know what to spend the money on. Should I buy medicine for my father, food for my mother, or pay for my own transportation?”

After the bombing, her mother, Fatima, is reluctant to let Razia travel across town.

“When she leaves the house, I walk around in circles. Every five or 10 minutes, I call her to check that she is OK,” Fatima says. “But what can we do? If she stays at home, what will we eat?”

For Razia, though, work is also a relief; a way to get out of the house.

“Feeling this way, I wish no sister would ever lose a brother,” she says.


Source : theguardian[dot]com