Last Thursday, on March 11 2010, SOAS held the London Premiere of the film “Addicted in Afghanistan.” Khalili Lecture Theatre was packed at 6:00 pm from people who had been queing up since 5:15 pm eager to watch Jawed Taiman’s film on the addiction to narcotics in Afghanistan covered via the lives of two young best friends Jabbar and Zahir, boys aged between 14 and 16.
The film was gripping from its very first scene as it took the audience through the journey of these two boys, happy in their childhood but gripped in one of the most sad state of affairs in the world. Both were addicted to opium. What especially saddened me and definitely caught the audience’s emotions was when in the very beginning Jabbar looks to his dad and says (referring to Jawed’s film), “He is going to show this to the world!” to which his dad responds “so what?” and the young boy looks away from the camera saying “its going to bring shame to us.” His dad’s response: “Don’t worry, he will only show it to the important people in London and America, and maybe they will feel sorry for our situation and help us”
The film was phenomenally well-made and definitely worth checking out for those who missed it. It traces the problem of addiction to opium in Afghanistan to its myriad sources of trouble: the allied forces in Afghanistan, the corrupt government and opium lords, the extreme poverty caused by decades of war in the country, the foreign interests in poppy growth in Afghanistan and the usage of resources in not always the right places for the development of the country.
One of the surprising confessions shown in the film was when one of the boys declared with a sense of bitterness “its all because of the foreigners that i am addicted. If the Taliban were to come back, I won’t be addicted anymore – its the foreigners!”. The filmmaker rephrased the young boy’s “strange” (as dubbed by a lady in the audience) expression by pointing out that because the Taliban used the Shariah law (Islamic law and jurisprudence), all they had to say was the cultivation and distribution of poppy is banned from the country and it meant it was banned. Poppy cultivation came down to zero during their governance but ever since their departure has been growing in figures. Jawed Taiman explained that that is the reality the child has seen in front of him and owes his addiction to. m of law), it meant that it was a complete ban.
To another question from the audience, Jawed said what he believed was happening in Afghanistan was the cultivation of two types of poppy fields. One, for the television and the other for business. The poppy fields that were grown for the television were then burnt down in order to show to the world that poppy cultivation in Afghanistan was being stopped. However, those living in Afghanistan know exactly where the ‘real’ poppy cultivation was happening. Even the little children in the movie knew who the distributors were and could easily give opium to any one willing to pay them for it.
The state of poverty in Afghanistan is a striking and heart-breaking feature of the film. The families shown could not afford electricity or bare essentials for survival but were still addicted to opium which was taking whatever little finances they had left. Each sachet of opium cost them $10, an amount quite expensive for those with no food at home. Their homes had cloth and plastic sheets blocking the window spaces in the wall because they could not afford real glass windows. If even one person in the family saved on the one sachet a day, they could easily save $300 which could get them wheat, rice, clothes etc.
The method for detoxification used in Afghanistan is called “cold water treatment” because of the lack of money to buy proper medicines. In this treatment cold water is thrown on the addict that is in pain. The government-controlled detox centres do not have the kind of resources or management to take in enough people claiming that the waiting-list for those willing to be detoxed is too long. Private detox centres require payment and hence cannot keep people for longer than 10 days. Zahir who manages to successfully goes through the 10 day detox returns home to find cold bare floors, no electricity, no food and the responsibility of paying the rent of the house which is due. He is back into the reality which got him addicted in the first place. Jawed pointed out that fancy clinics are set up with lots of money but there are no resources to follow-up on the rehabilitation of those detoxed, in order to ensure that they are not caught in the same vicious cycle again.
It is easy to wonder why people do not make a more concerted effort to control their addiction for the sake of the future. But Jawed does a great job in showing the reality poverty and its frustrations bring to many and where the government and those pouring resources into Afghanistan need to take better actions. It also does a great job in bringing to the audience the behind-the-tv-screens reality of Afghanistan and how easy it is to fall prey to the ‘development’ and ‘aid’ rhetoric our governments seem to want us to believe in.
The trailer of the film can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8oa6OpswQ0
Note: The following blog post has been contributed by Zarena Jabbar, a dear friend on a recent event in Afghanistan and her thoughts on its reactions worldwide.
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