Thursday, 14 September 2017

QK Archives: DOST "The Friend"

The friend
Maryam Babar
Published September 2004 Statesman

Most of us are now familiar with the name of the Dost Foundation. Mention Dost and you get a vaguely hostile reaction: They work with druggies and powdery, don’t they? Few people would think of donating their Zakat to an organisation that is committed to helping rehabilitate the ultimate rejects of our society. The fact that most of our families have one, if not more, such victims of substance abuse is ignored. As long as we can pretend in public that it is not happening then it is more comfortable to ignore the whole terrible question of drug abuse and how closely it affects all of us.
I have written earlier about the wonderful work that the Dost workers are doing in our prisons with our female inmates and juveniles. They also have street programmes, crisis centres and half way houses that reach out to a vast number of people. However, I felt I was being an apologist for what Dost considers its primary function: DRUG AWARENESS. It’s an unpopular and slightly unsavoury subject and it’s easier to get that warm, fuzzy feeling talking about the Dost prison programme.
Never one to court the easy way out, I decided to go to Dost and find out about it from the drug addicts themselves who are undergoing recovery and rehabilitation. I wanted to look into their lives and find out. Who are these people? What brings them to the point where they reach out and ask for help? After all, no one wakes up one day and says I am going to become a heroin addict and enjoy myself. Every one of us has seen the gutters filled with these people. We are all aware of that back bedroom where some unfortunate, shuffling relative passes his days in a blurry haze. I did not want to hear the doctor’s spiel or the embarrassed explanations of friends and dear ones. I wanted to talk to the drug abusers themselves.
To ensure the privacy that is assured to all patients at Dost, I will call this young man Niaz. This is his story:
Niaz was born in 1967 in Panshir. His father was a high official in the Afghan government. Educated in Germany and France, he lavished all his love and the best that money could buy on Niaz and a younger son. When the troubles started in Afghanistan he thought it wise to send his eldest son to friends in Germany. Niaz was then only 13 years old.
Niaz lived in the home of his German guardian, a bank director, and enjoyed the status of an adopted son. He finished his schooling and went on to become a computer engineer and eventually got a good job with Siemens. He admits that as a teenager he experimented with some of the fashionable party drugs of the ‘80s. Speed, cocaine, pot and even LSD - which, he said, were a scary experience. Despite these few forays into the seedier side of social life, he always tried to remain faithful to the Islamic principals his parents had instilled in him and he continued to pray, fast and read the Holy Quran. His devotion to his faith impressed his adoptive mother and Anna, the eldest daughter of the family. They both converted to Islam and started wearing full Hijab and learnt to read Arabic and made an attempt to memorise the Quran. A few years later Niaz and Anna were married.
Unfortunately, Anna could not have children and kept urging her husband to marry a second wife. She arranged for Niaz to marry Shaheen, a girl of Turkish origin, whose family had migrated to Germany many years earlier.
Niaz found that the gentle, religious Anna was the wife he loved. The pretty, vivacious Shaheen had been brought up in Germany, knew little about Islamic traditions and cared less. Though she produced two little daughters what she wanted out of life was quite different to that with which Niaz and Anna had been content.
Added to the building tensions within this ménage a trois, their neighbours had become suspicious and started asking questions. Whispers started about bigamy and Niaz became nervous. They were forced to split up the family and the two wives lived separately, with Niaz moving between both households. This is when he started suffering from deep depressions and soon found himself unable to face the day without resorting to a shot of cognac. Slowly, he found himself becoming more and more dependent on the alcohol to get him through the wreckage of his daily life.
Worried about his personal problems and the future of his daughters he decided to try and return home. With twenty-five thousand dollars and a lot of hope, he set of for Afghanistan via Pakistan.
A large number of his family had settled in Chitral and that is where Niaz and his family headed. Anna loved the life of the extended family. Aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces welcomed her into their hearts and she felt she was in an environment that suited her better than Germany. She did not want to go back. However, Niaz was not having such a good time. He learnt that his mother had been killed in a scud attack on their village. Forty-two other members of his family had perished with her. His father had resigned during the Tarakai regime and moved back to Panjsheer with his wife and daughters. More tragic news was slowly broken to Niaz. His brother, who had become a brigadier during the Najib years, had been suspected of spying for Masood and had been assassinated. Devastated to hear of all these personal losses Niaz sank deeper and deeper into depression.
While Anna enjoyed the warmth and love of her new family, Niaz found himself getting more and more alienated from his relatives. Having spent most of his formative years growing up in Germany, he had clung to his religion and faith. It had become the major force in his life and he was appalled at seeing the use that was being made of religion during the Mujahideen years. He was vocal in his criticisms and angered by the hypocrisy of his family and friends. No one was willing to speak out against anything for fear of repercussions. Niaz tried to speak out but was called a kaffir by those with whom he wished to argue. Isolated from those around him, the final blow was when the attack on Panshir started and he was told he could not proceed to Afghanistan to meet his father. He left for Karachi and the nightmare got worse.
Living in a hotel, Niaz found his money substantially reduced in a matter of weeks. His father came to see him but was barely recognisable. He was a shattered man, old and bent. With his own family decimated, his position in Afghanistan precarious and his wealth gone, he advised his son to go back to Germany.
Living in a hotel was also becoming daily more difficult. The children were constantly sick and the heat and the unfamiliar food took its toll. Niaz decided to send the family back to Germany. Alone and downcast at the ruination of all his plans, Niaz decided to look for work in Iran. He was fluent in Farsi and would be close to home. He still hoped that peace would be restored and he would be able to, eventually, go back to Afghanistan.
He left for Zahidan.
He was horrified to find that the Afghan refugee community in Iran was quite different to that in Pakistan. In Pakistan the mohajirs had managed to settle into a fairly normal life style. They had been easily assimilated into the local population and were leading productive lives. The situation in Iran was quite different. The refugee camps had a strongly criminal element and were viewed with a lot of suspicion and resentment.
One day, when Niaz was in the bazaar with a man, Jabbar, who he had recently met, he became embroiled in a bizarre incident. Niaz did not know that Jabbar and his family were involved in a long-standing family feud. As they were walking, peaceably, in the market, Jabbar was attacked by two thugs wielding knives. Niaz tried to protect and help his friend and held one of the assassins. In the scuffle, that man slipped and fell on his own knife and started bleeding profusely. Jabbar seized this opportunity to escape and ran away. Niaz called out to passers-by and started giving the fallen man CPR. The police soon arrived and promptly arrested Niaz for murder. Taken to the police station, he explained how he had, inadvertently, got involved in this mess. But, when the police went to Jabbar’s house it was to find the place deserted and no sign of Jabbar or anyone who knew where he had fled.
Niaz spent twelve days in the jail. He was badly beaten and lost eight teeth and when he was produced before the judge he was immediately sent to the prison hospital. When he re-appeared in court, though the judge was sympathetic, the proof of his innocence could not be established and he was given the death sentence and fined twelve million tumans.
While in the overcrowded jail, where eight thousand of the twelve thousand inmates were Afghans, he got the news that his father had died. With nothing left to live for, he started using heroin. He says that his intention was to try and die as quickly as possible.
After twenty months of this, he was suddenly told to prepare himself for yet another appearance in court. Penniless and despondent, he was sure that he was being taken to the scaffold. But, the news was different to what he had expected. Jabbar has been caught at the border and when his name came up on the computer, the guards realised that this man was wanted for murder. He was brought back to Zahidan, confirmed Niaz’s innocence and took his place in jail. He was later hanged.
The judge, who had always felt sorry for Niaz, suggested to him that he go to the UNHCR who were trying to repatriate the refugees. The UN authorities gave him clothes, a ticket to Kabul and eighteen hundred dollars.
In Kabul, ashamed of his drug addiction and penniless condition, he avoided contacting his relatives. The first thing he needed was an identity card. Here chance, again, played a strange trick on this ill-fated man. After filling in his registration forms, he was told to come back in a couple of hours to pick up his card. Shortly after he left the office, one of his cousins happened to visit the officer who had interviewed him. This cousin was overjoyed to hear that his long lost cousin was back in Kabul. His cousin went into the crowds of Jad-e-Maiwand, asking people if they had seen a man dressed in Western-style trousers and shirt. Niaz said that that was the first thing that struck him about the new Kabul. When he had left Afghanistan, as a young boy, he had never seen shalwar khameezes in Afghanistan. Now it appeared to have become the national dress.
Reunited with his family, he found himself even unhappier than before. The months in jail, his terrible addiction and his penury made him feel a total misfit. He knew that if he was ever again going to become a part of his old life and family he would have to try and kick the habit.
With great shame, he admits that he stole one lakh afghanis from his cousin and, leaving a note saying that he was returning to Germany, he found his way down to Peshawar. Here he checked into a hotel and headed straight for the Karkhano bazaars. He smoked and injected ninety-five thousand afghanis worth of heroin in six weeks. On his last visit to the dealer, or Saaghi as Niaz calls him, he was surprised when the dealer asked him why a man of his class and education was wasting his life on drugs. The saaghi then proceeded to tell him about Dost. Instead of buying heroin, Niaz used the last of his money to take a taxi to the Dost centre.
Determined to free himself of his addictions, he first went into the free, ten-day programme in the Darul Salaam drop-in centre. From there, he was referred to the Dost facility in Hayatabad where he was an out-patient for twenty days. Seeing his total determination to succeed, he was then admitted as a non-paying patient and stayed for eighteen days in detoxification and recovery. After that he underwent a full two and a half months treatment of rehabilitation.
With some semblance of normalcy and control back in his life, he started trying to, once more; pick up the tangled strings of his life. He called Germany and found that as he had been declared missing, then dead, his wives were now re-married and his children living with their grand parents.
Saddened by this final loss, he decided that he had to start taking responsibility for where his actions had led him. He knew that addiction was still too recently conquered a monster to be handled carelessly. He stayed on at Dost as a volunteer to help others like himself. The whole philosophy of Dost, its dedicated workers and the hope they offer the hopeless has made a deep impression on him. He is now keen on being repatriated to Afghanistan and has been offered a post there by the UNDCP/UNHCR. He says that drugs destroyed his life and left him without family, war without a country and fate leeched out all hope. Yet, at Dost, he has learnt not only to live again but also wants to do something, in his own country, for others like himself. Money, position and success are no longer goals. He says it is payback time. All he wants from life is peace and he says that working for others is the only way to achieve it.
I shall make no comments of my own about the work Dost does. Niaz’s story of death, devastation and, finally, the help he received in overcoming his problems and re-starting life says far more about the people who run that organisation than anything I could add. You decide whether or not Zakat given to this organisation would be money well spent. Islam teaches us that to save the life of one man is as though one had saved all mankind. How many lives have they saved in Dost?
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