IN MY SIX MONTHS of travel around Afghanistan in 2010, the hunger protests in Mazar-e-Sheriff, however brief, strengthened my hopes for a more unified nation.
Mazar is an hour’s drive south of the border with Uzbekistan. I got there just a few days before the Eid feast celebrating the end of Ramadan. Jamal Hakimi was on LAM FM radio, blasting Kabul politicians while a wave of 200 street kids, ages 8-25, gathered itself up and crashed on the police station in the center of town. Hoisting pick-axes and wheelbarrows, on dirty cloth-wrapped feet, the crowd assembled at the station gates to demonstrate against the lack of food for the poor. A Tajik boy lobbed a muddy sandal that bounced off one police officer’s AK-47 rifle. Clusters of kids suffocated each other rushing to show cell phone videographers a fist.
It changed my perception of poverty-stricken Afghan youth. I had them boxed as feral thieves who own a swatch of their village and a swatch of their tribe but shy away from the national dialogue. I thought of them as too steeped in local disputes and the hustle for food to gang together for better governance.
The Mazar street kids proved me wrong.
That Ramadan fast ended in a rush of outraged, desirous Uzbek, Tajik, Hazzara and Pashtun kids who got organized and leveraged the Eid holiday to make a four-hour statement.
Even more inspiring: the police who stood down, rerouted traffic and gave out bread afterward. All photos by Daniel C. Britt.