Reporters name withheld for their safety, edited by Mohammad Jawad Alizada and Brian J. Conley
Shaping the dough in medium round chunks, Maida Gul prepares bread for the day’s customers. She doesn’t seem very happy with the situation, despite working in the bakery she has owned and ran for the past 10 years in a corner of Kabul city.
“I have lung problems due to the baking and the constant smoke but I have to be able to feed my family,” Maida Gul says.
Her store is charred black as a result of the smoke from the wood fired oven. A pot of tea and several orders of dough covered in different colors of fabric are set neatly in the order they came in, behind her.
The ashes from the fire can be seen on her eyelashes. “I don’t have a husband, pay 10,000 Afghanis ($111) for the rent of my house and another 1,500 Afghanis ($16.78) monthly for this store.”
Maida Gul complains about the price of goods increasing in Afghanistan. “A bag of flour is 2,500 ($28), as is a can of oil. I am ill, my lungs are filled with smoke every day and I can’t talk because of the smoke.”
The price hikes came into effect following the collapse of the western-backed Afghan government. Although many countries, including the US have pledged humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, the country’s financial assets are frozen as the western world mulls over recognizing a caretaker government they were fighting in the recent past.
All this while the Taliban have yet to allow women back to work and girls’ schools above 6th grade remain closed save for northern Balkh province. Women who once worked and went to university across the country are stuck at home with an uncertain future.
Many Afghan women continue resisting Taliban’s draconian rule simply by going to work as usual, as well as protesting on the streets to demand their rights to work and education.
“Who is going to feed my kids if I don’t work at the bakery?” Maida Gul asks, saying all her kids are small and they cannot work. She has a black scarf wrapped around her mouth and nose to protect her from the smoke, while her hair is wrapped in another piece of scarf to keep it from burning in the fire.
The flatbread she makes by pulling dough from side to side while smearing water on it so it sticks to the sides of the oven is the traditional form of bread in Afghanistan, simple but delicious.
Hafiza, one of Maida Gul’s customers, is also unhappy with the situation. She says girls cannot go to school, the price of goods are increasing, aid money is being embezzled by officials, teachers don’t get paid and those even working for the Taliban government are not being paid.
“Half of the people of Afghanistan are traumatized and have psychological issues, my husband, my children, the children of the country are all traumatized,” Hafiza says, adding that the situation and the trauma is due to the never ending war and Afghanistan is on the verge of collapse.