THE AFGHANISTAN BULLET CHILDREN
Watching the Afghan boys scramble through the dust to collect the spent bullet shells is both compelling and very sad.
It's confronting. The Hazara children running, squabbling, through the dust, even as the bullets still fly above their heads. They scurry, grabbing at the spent shells lying on the ground. They push each other, fighting for the best haul. If they don't collect enough shells, their families will be without food.
An uneasy existence in a war zone
It's 2006 and high summer in the Hindu Kush mountain range. The temperature is 42 degrees Celsius.
The city of Bamiyan lies in the valley below the dry, yellow-dust, plateau. In the cliffs opposite stand the giant niches, which once displayed the world famous Bamiyan Buddha's, now empty after the Taliban blew them to pieces in an iconoclastic rage, which still stuns the word to this day.
Bullets for food
The boys are looking happy now. They've got their stash. Hundreds of spent bullet shells. These will be sold, for scrap, in the Bamiyan Market. The money will buy food for their families. The clean-up is thorough, not a single shell is left in the dust.
No one wins in a war
"We watched our parents being killed by the Taliban."
The spent shells are curtesy of a live firing exercise, where members of the New Zealand Police force are training their fledgling Afghan National Police counterparts, in the art of rifle shooting. The Kiwi's are there, in August 2006, as part of the New Zealand contribution to re-establish the country, as the war lumbers slowly on around us.
In his pink knitted hat, Mustafa is excited. The hat was knitted, with love, by a New Zealand grandmother. He's just been gifted this piece. The heat of the day doesn't stop him wearing it.
His parents were slaughtered by the Taliban, something he witnessed with his own eyes. He lives with 100 other children in this barren, lifeless enclave on the edge of the Bamiyan Town. All of these children know what war is, they've all seen death with their own eyes.
This orphanage is a safe refuge. The Bamiyan area is quiet for now. No bullets have been fired in anger here for a few years. It's peace, but only a fragile one.
Fatima also wears pink. Her muslin hijab, matches her pink tinged dress. She wears rugged boys shoes every time she goes to the well to collect water. Her glossy, thick, jet-black hair is long, but always hidden. She collects water here for her family everyday. Her father too is dead, another victim of the Taliban. Her mother lives with her uncle now.
Her brothers try to help the New Zealand Defence Force, as they too draw water from the same well. They fill their large water truck, while Fatima carries her two small plastic bottles back to her mother.
One of the boys throws a rock, which strikes me on the side of the head. They laugh and run away. They gingerly peer from behind the mud stone buildings, in a dirty little alleyway, which runs through the side hills of the Bamiyan Town.
They look to see if I'm angry. I'm more stunned than anything at this brazen act. I yell at them. They laugh again and come out from their hiding. I nickname them the Bamiyan Boys Club. It's a club only for Naughty Boys. But aren't they just like boys from anywhere in the world? I offer them bottles of water. They accept. They then promptly open the tops and tip the water on the ground. "You cheeky little boys!", I say. They laugh and smile again, before running off and blending away into the mud brick doorways.
Today I wonder how these children are now? Did they make it through the war? Are they beautiful young adults now? These are questions which are almost impossible to answer. A few years ago I tried to get back to Afghanistan to see if I could find them. The area was unstable again. It was too unsafe to go. I hope one day I can see what became of the Bamiyan Boys Club.
Steve Wilde travelled to Afghanistan in 2006.