Written By: Zahra Rashidi
Zalikha lives with her sick son in a humble and impoverished courtyard in one of the remote villages, where even the necessities of life are not guaranteed. These living conditions, especially amidst the deepening humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, have become a shared experience for many. However, for years, Zalikha has been grappling with the relentless challenges posed by the twin spectres of poverty and illness.
Zalikha is a 67-year-old woman who lost her husband 15 years ago. Now, she lives in one of the remote villages of Kapisa province alongside her 25-year-old son, who is suffering from an illness.
Zalikha and her young son, who suffers from diabetes, live in a simple courtyard without the essential amenities to ensure their comfort. They own a small black-and-white television tucked away in the corner of their room, and according to Zalikha, “it can only be turned on when there is a good flow of water from the stream and better electricity supply. Otherwise, it remains off.”
At night, the only light source in Zalikha’s home is a small kerosene lamp that provides minimal illumination. Zalikha doesn’t complain about living in the dim light or darkness because she has spent “half of her life in darkness.”
Her son, Mehraj, who is forced to rely on his mother for support due to his diabetes, is unable to work. This illness and his inability to work have taken a toll on his mental and emotional well-being. He must administer insulin daily to maintain his physical balance, but sometimes, he struggles with his physical limitations and avoids taking the insulin shots.
Accepting the reality that he is sick and weaker than his peers is unbearable for Mehraj. Most of his peers have married, but due to his unbalanced physical condition and poverty, he is unable to marry. He avoids attending gatherings and events in their village and is occasionally subject to ridicule.
Zalikha also understands her son’s struggles but is powerless to relieve him of his suffering. Mehraj once attempted suicide, leaving his mother deeply concerned.
The local community had spoken highly of Zalikha to doctors at Pakistani clinics. She sold her inherited family land to seek help from one of the educated individuals in the village and made her way to Pakistan. Still, the Pakistani doctors couldn’t do anything for her son.
Unable to work herself due to her health, Zalikha manages to procure insulin for her son by selling cow’s milk. Mehraj must use insulin daily, and there is no substitute available. Zalikha owns two milking cows and six laying hens.
Zalikha is also ill, but her son’s illness overshadows her own. Due to her advancing age, she can no longer transport milk and eggs to the city, kilometres away from their village. Zalikha says, “The villagers request milk and eggs from me at a lower price because they know I have no choice.”
As winter approaches, Zalikha collects animal dung left in the cow’s trough for fuel to sustain them during the harsh season. She does this yearly to ensure they have enough fuel for the winter.
Mehraj, her sick son, has repeatedly tried to find work due to their economic difficulties. Still, he has often weakened and returned home due to his blood sugar issues and physical limitations. The local community has helped transport him back home on several occasions.
Zalikha has lived a lifetime with these challenges. When she was young, she married a man much older than herself. It didn’t take long for her husband to pass away due to old age, leaving Zalikha alone forever.
In their difficult circumstances, they face countless hardships and daily struggles. Living in darkness and dealing with Mehraj’s disabilities have exposed them to difficulties and challenges beyond the ordinary. Still, they rely on the support and compassion of their community to overcome their situation and strive for a better life.