Why do Afghan children have to polish boots and sell ‘bolonis’?

By Dr Hakim

Inam polishes leather shoes and Adilah sells flour pancakes.

They make a living on the dangerous streets of fortified Kabul, two of an estimated 60,000 working street kids in the capital.

10 years old, that’s how small they are.

Imagine ourselves at the same eye-level as Inam and Adilah, in the dusty alleys, swarmed by smelly drains, threatened by desperate crimes.

Like them, you often hear helicopters hovering so close overhead that the windows in your rented mud rooms rattle. You see the polished, bullet-proof cars of the corrupt Afghan ‘elite’, mostly men, dressed in suits and ties.

Adilah with her leek pancakes ( ‘bolonis’ ), waiting for customers

Some American friends smile when they hear that the pancakes, filled with delicious mashed potatoes or salted leek, are called ‘bolonis’ in Dari.

“Nowadays, I don’t often let Adilah sell ‘bolonis’ in the streets. What if she’s near a suicide bomb attack?” Adilah’s aunt said about the worsening security, despite 14 years of U.S. / NATO’s ambitions.

Adilah’s aunt frying the leek ‘bolonis’ in their rented single room

Adilah leaves her rented room to go out into the streets, carrying the ‘bolonis’ in a tray

Adilah walking past a gas canister shop

Adilah squats in front of a provision shop, hoping for her first customers for the day.

She makes about 5 Afghanis ( less than one U.S. cent ) for each ‘boloni’ she sells.

Adilah’s thoughts are ‘all over the place’ when she works in the streets of Kabul


A young passerby asks, “How much is it for a ‘boloni’?”

Adilah’s voice can hardly be heard.

She appears lost in her world of uncertainties.

Earlier, her aunt had served Zarghuna and I two sizzling ‘bolonis’.

We had eaten one of them, so Adilah had gestured to the other,

“Put that on the tray too. I can sell it.”

She whispered to the customer, “Ten Afghanis.”

That’s how the world economy works today.

Even war-weary, impoverished Afghans sympathize with her,

as the young man took out a typically crumpled 20-Afghani note,

handed it to Adilah,

and waved deferringly, as if in protest,

no, please, keep the ‘bolonis’….

The young Afghan man must have been contemplating

what he could do in the face of 60% unemployment.

He must have been thinking,

“Why is a small girl doing what we adults ought to be doing?”

Inam, standing in a newly-constructed shop space, with his blue plastic jerry-can  

of boot-polishing tools and a pair of sandals for his customers to wear while he polishes their boots

“I don’t enjoy polishing boots but I have no choice,” replied Inam, describing his breadwinning role in a family of six persons. His father can’t support the family as he is one of Afghanistan’s 1.6 million drug addicts, and lives in another province. “We haven’t heard from our father for about 5 years.”

Inam, describing how some students in school are punished if they don’t do their homework,

“They stand like this for half an hour!”

Inam, along the street where he usually polishes boots. A few days ago, he had left his boot-polishing tools at a bakery while he played street soccer. “Someone stole my tools!” Inam understands why he has to work, but is determined to study hard too, so he can fulfil his dream of becoming a doctor.

What does Inam wake up to every day?

His mannerisms are beyond his 10 war-years,

with a spirit of acceptance

akin to ‘innocence’,

though he is far from naïve to be able to

evade the drug dealers,


huge speeding cars with snarling armed guards

and angry, hungry Afghans looking for cash.

And hope.

“The drug business is violent,

as the addicts can’t do anything

except smoke under the bridges,” Inam tells the class,

which is a story about his own estranged father.

The least the American elite could do for Inam, their fellow human being,

is not to lie that their military strategy has been a ‘success’.

The elite need to know

that Inam, like billions of the awakening 99%,

understand what’s going on.

We understand the realities in our flesh and blood.

Inam was hoping to hear his name being called out in the enrollment of street kids into the Borderfree Street Kids School,

where he learns Dari and Math, and nonviolence, and gets a monthly assistance of rice and oil.

The mission of the Borderfree Afghan Street Kids School for 2015 is to ‘share learning skills with 100 Afghan street kids ( including Adilah and Inam ) on understanding language, nature, humanity, and life, and to be students and practitioners of nonviolence. ‘

About 92% of the required budget for the school is spent on providing the street kids and their families with a needed monthly gift of a sack of rice and a bottle of oil.

It costs $534 to put one street kid through the street kids school for one year.

Those interested to support the project can browse http://ourjourneytosmile.com/blog/borderfree-afghan-street-kids-school/ for more info and write to borderfree@mail2world.com. Donations will be directed to Voices for Creative Nonviolence U.S. and UK, who are partners in this project.

NB : New video clips will be on this post soon, showing Adilah and Inam on the streets of Kabul

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