From Battered Lives, a Love Story ; despite Violence and Land Mines in Afghanistan, an Injured Couple Finds Fresh Promise in Their Lives

By Scott Baldauf writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, January 5, 2004 | Go to article overview

From Battered Lives, a Love Story ; despite Violence and Land Mines in Afghanistan, an Injured Couple Finds Fresh Promise in Their Lives


Scott Baldauf writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Mahmuddin remembers the first time he set eyes on Zahra about three months ago. He was an amputee who had lost his legs in a land- mine incident, waiting in line at the Afghan Ministry for Disabled People to demand compensation. She was an amputee working at the ministry, hearing requests from men like Mahmuddin.

From the time she lifted her burqa to reveal coal-black eyes and a kind smile, Mahmuddin was smitten. (Like many Afghans, he and Zahra use only one name.)

Zahra does not recall their first meeting as vividly. But last month, after a brief but persistent courtship, the two got married: two Afghan war victims rebuilding their lives, thinking of starting a family, and hoping for an Afghanistan where minefields, rocket attacks, and lawlessness will be a thing of the past.

The love story of Mahmuddin and Zahra is a rare bright point in a country where land mines, unexploded bombs, and random violence are constant threats.

Land mines are a particular problem. This silent, hidden enemy has killed thousands, maimed 700,000, and continues to kill or injure men, women, and children each day. It's a problem that this country has precious few resources to combat, which makes the work of foreign-funded demining agencies a race against time.

But in the meantime, it is Afghan citizens like Zahra (who was wounded in a rocket attack) and Mahmuddin who are steadily picking themselves up, and relying on their own skills, strength, and hope to make better lives together.

"Unfortunately, couples like this are quite common in Afghanistan," says Helge Kvam, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Kabul, which provides prosthetic limbs for amputees "There are three or four [land-mine] victims every day, which is a drop from six or seven [daily] victims last year, but it is still a major problem."

More than 90 percent of these victims tend to be civilians, he adds. More than half are children. The implications are stark for this already impoverished country. How to rebuild the country, if so much energy is required to look after the 5 percent of the population who are maimed, many of them needing constant care?

Despite the rising danger for foreign humanitarian workers, Mr. Kvam says, "I foresee that we will have to stay on for quite a while. I don't think it is realistic to say that we can scale down or hand over these activities in a few years' time. This is a country in great need."

Sitting in his small shop near a large apartment complex riddled with bullet holes, Mahmuddin is a curiously optimistic man. Selling candy, pens, and laundry detergent, Mahmuddin makes about 30 Afghanis a day (65 cents), just enough to buy bread and vegetables for himself and his wife and to pay the rent on his second-floor apartment.

It's a far cry from 11 years ago, when Mahmuddin appeared to be on the way up. An intelligence officer for the communist government of Dr. Najibullah, he was happily married. His wife and young son shared the same apartment he lives in now in the southeast part of town.

But in 1994, fellow intelligence officers placed a land mine in a staircase outside his office. His colleagues, all hard-line communists, suspected that Mahmuddin, a Pashtun, was sympathetic to the Pashtun guerrilla group, Hizb-e Islami. …

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