Gulandam is 45 years old. She easily could pass for 65. Her home, shared with hundreds of other families, is a four-story concrete building that shows the ravages of Afghan life, much as the deep lines and leathered skin of her tired face.
The building sits on the southern edge of Kabul, pockmarked from artillery shells and bullets. No windows. No exterior wall in some spots. Concrete has crumbled around the building, exposing metal reinforcing bars that twist and bend like cruel sculptures.
“All of our family is poor,” Gulandam said through an interpreter. “We don’t have anything.”
Gulandam is one of millions of Afghan citizens who are homeless because of years of war, drought and Taliban rule.
Many Afghans have been displaced up to four times since the late 1980s, A U.N. report said.
This is a nation with millions who have moved out – mostly to refugee camps in Pakistan, and Iran – and moved back.
The ebb and flow of humanity has often left refugees poor, homeless and unhealthy.
Afghanistan has 10 physicians per 100,000 people, compared with 279 per 100,000 in the United States.
Life expectancy at birth is 45 years, compared with 67 worldwide.
While a man’s average annual earned income is estimated at $43,797 in the U.S., it is $1,182 in Afghanistan.
A quarter of the nation’s population has fled the country, prompting the United Nations to declare Afghanistan the world’s major site of human displacement.
At the peak of the flight, in 1988, about 60 percent of all refugees in the world were from Afghanistan, the U.N. reported.
In addition to 25 years of conflict, Afghanistan has endured years of drought, has no significant natural resources such as oil and is considered the most heavily land-mined patch of earth on the planet.
The most profitable business in the country is opium, and a poppy eradication program is aimed at curtailing the drug business.
Afghanistan’s population has reacted over the years by leaving the country during strife and returning when it seemed safe.
In the 1980s, when the Soviets invaded, about 3.9 million people were displaced, the United Nations estimated.
After the Soviets withdrew in the late 1980s, millions returned to the country while others became refugees, leaving a crushed Kabul, according to the U.N.
They fled again with the rise of the Taliban and after 9/11, fearing U.S. reprisal against Osama bin Laden.
There are few job opportunities for men such as Malang, 28, who like many Afghans has only one name.
He fled to Pakistan, where he lived for years, returning two years ago.
“There was war and economical problems,” he said through an interpreter. “And because of the Taliban, too.”
The father of five is pinning hopes on international aid and help from President Hamid Karzai.
“We hope that the government could give us a good house,” Malang said.
At Gulandam’s settlement on the city’s southern side, 11-year-old Tla Sabrina, the fourth of five children in her family, was dressed in a brilliant red, ankle-length dress and a black shawl over her head, red curls peeking out. Her father has no work and no prospects, but Tla has dreams.
She’d like to be a doctor and a teacher, she said, “because that is very interesting for me.” Math is her favorite subject in school.
That Tla goes to school, even a few hours a day, a few days a week, signals significant change. Under Taliban rule, girls could not attend classes.