You may have heard that, last weekend, an American artist and Afghan volunteers handed out 10,000 pink balloons in Kabul. His “art” inspired a range of emotions, from those who thought this was a wonderful way to promote peace, to those that thought the whole thing was a big waste of time. In the “waste of time” camp was an independent Afghan journalist who goes by the pen name “Companero,” who asked me if I’d post his thoughts on the whole thing.
In 2006, when I was a student at Kabul Medical University, we were told that an American woman representing an aid organization was going to visit our university to discuss an important aid project that she planned to implement in Afghanistan. After she arrived, she came on the stage to talk about her “important” aid project. To our surprise she told us that she wanted to buy hundreds of bicycles and distribute them to women in Kandahar so that they could more easily get from one place to the next.
A lot of students got angry, and one of them, a Pashtun student from the south, stood up and told her that “Kandahari women don’t need your f***ing bicycles. They need food and clean drinking water!”
Obviously this woman didn’t have a clue about the conditions for women in Afghanistan in general, and especially in the southern city of Kandahar, where you rarely see any women at all in the bazaars.
For the last 12 years, foreigners who hardly know anything about my people, culture, and my country have been coming to Afghanistan. They bring their absurd project ideas, without consulting Afghans whether those projects are practical and without learning whether it will do any good for my people and my country.
Every year aid organizations spend millions on pointless projects, ranging from one-day workshops and seminars about human rights, womens’ rights and children rights’, to funding kite flying festivals, to fashion shows (where most of the audience are foreigners), to printing black and white portraits of Afghans and hanging them in the city.
Once example of this has been the Sound Central Festival. Over the last few years some foreign “artists” have organized a rock festival in Kabul where a couple of hundred people, most of them foreigners, show up for the music. These rock projects cost thousands of dollars. If such projects were doing any good, I would see their point, but they don’t. Why? First of all, the majority of us, of Afghans, have never heard of rock music. Secondly, we don’t know what they are singing about, since they mostly sing in English (even though some Afghan band sometimes sing in Dari). When many Afghans see rock musicians with all their fast and crazy moves, playing that loud music, they just laugh at them.
I have had many arguments with foreigners, including my own friends, about the uselessness of these projects, and I have always been accused of being anti-art. That’s not it at all. I’m not against art. What I am against is stupid and useless projects.
This past Saturday, as Kabulis were trying to recover from the insurgent attack on the International Organization for Migration (IOM) the night before, they saw some Afghans distributing pink balloons as part of another “ art” project to promote peace in Afghanistan. As usual, the idea for the balloon project came from a New York based artist who hardly knows my culture and people. Backing him up, distributing balloons, were a bunch of young Afghans who think that Afghanistan starts in Shar-e Naw and ends in Wazir Akbar Khan (two of the more expensive neighborhoods in the capital city).
Underscoring how uncertain life in Kabul can be, as the volunteers were distributing pink balloons in the city, another suicide bomber blew himself up when Kabul police surrounded his house.
The pink balloons were distributed to shopkeepers, vendors and beggars and were told that it was to promote peace. My Afghan reporter friends told me that most of the receivers of the pink balloons didn’t know why they got them in the first place. As for the beggars? They were confused why they were being given balloons instead of money or food.
When I pointed out the uselessness of the project on Twitter, I was told (by foreigners, not Afghans), that I was just judgmental and naive.
After the collapse of the brutal Taliban regime in 2001, foreigners, without consulting Afghans, started delivering aid and implementing projects according to their own priorities. They never listened to us and never asked us what we wanted. Whatever they thought would be good for us was shoved down our collective throats without asking us whether we wanted or needed any of it in the first place. The result? Total failure.
I want to ask these foreigners if, after 11 years of absurd and unwanted projects like pink balloons, they ever stopped to ask the people they’re trying to help what they want. What do Afghans need? We need security, schools, universities, hospitals , roads, food, drinking water, and jobs. What we don’t need is 10,000 pink balloons.
Foreigners: instead of talking to the same Afghans who always tell what you want to hear, do us all a favor: find some Afghans who disagree with you once in a while. Let them explain things from a different point of view. Otherwise your good intentions will mean nothing and nothing will ever change for Afghans.
Source: Sunny in Kabul