Saturday, June 10, 2023

Associated Press PHOTOS: In Kabul, cemeteries are a part of Afghan daily life

by Ibrahim Noorozhi

KABUL, Afghanistan ( Associated Press) — One of the tombs at Kabul’s Nader Shah Hill Cemetery was uncovered, leaving a nearly complete skeleton visible at the bottom of the pit in the hard earth. The boys, who were playing nearby, were not impressed.

“There are so many ruined graves out there, that’s not unusual,” said a boy of about 10 years old, shrugging as he looked down at the bones. The only reason the kids came, interrupting their soccer game, was to see what pictures an Associated Press photographer was taking.

When asked if they were afraid of it, the boy and his friends laughed.

“Why should we be afraid? A skeleton is not alive,” he said. “We see these every day.” It was nothing more shocking than a scorpion to see another child crawling up its sleeve.

Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, has cemeteries, many of them filled with the dead from the country’s decades of war. They casually become involved in the lives of Afghans. They provide open spaces where children play football or cricket or fly kites, where adults can hang out, smoke, talk and have fun, as are some public parks.

Nearly 50 years of war has turned the capital into a home to five million people. Several cemeteries are spread on the slopes of the barren mountains rising in the heart of the city. Other cemeteries are in upper class neighborhoods or close to the edge of streets.

During the terrible civil war of 1990, when several factions fighting for power bombed Kabul, killing thousands, people often buried their dead right next to their homes because they were afraid to walk away. Over time, those individual burials expanded into cemeteries, intermingling with the neighborhood and with the daily lives of the residents. People may gather to celebrate a wedding, while mourners not far away gather to bury a dead body.

“I was born here, and I always see graves,” said 14-year-old Habib, playing football with friends among the dead in Nadar Shah Hill. Many of those buried here died in nearly a decade of fighting against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. Old tombs here are rarely maintained, so often ground caves or concrete graves are uncovered.

For a growing number of poor in Kabul, the cemetery can be a source of income.

Arefeh, 27, lives with her four children next to the Sakhi graveyard, which is used by the city’s Shia minority. He and his children earn a little money by selling water to passersby and washing graves. Like many Afghans, she is known by only one name.

The Shuhada-e Saliheen – or “Virtuous Martyr” – cemetery perched on the slopes of a hill in southern Kabul, is one of the largest cemeteries in the city.

Faheem was born and raised next to the cemetery 54 years ago, playing among the graves of his family. His father and grandfather are buried nearby. Now their children born here also play in the cemetery.

He said he worries about how it affects children. “Children grow up seeing bodies. It has become normal for them to die,” he said. “But we have no choice. We must continue this life.”

18-year-old Hameed was also born nearby. “In the early days, I used to get scared when I went to the graveyard. But over time it became normal.”

Now Hameed works as a grave digger.


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Nation World News Desk
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