Eid aid: Ticket required
Canadian end-of-Eid food gifts please some, disappoint others
The crowd outside the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar city had gathered early. Afghanistan's poor. Dozens upon dozens of Afghans - wearing their poverty on their faces - arrived early at the barbed wire gates of the Canadian compound in the morning after they heard that food was being given out for Eid al-Fitr, the three-day celebration that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Women in burkas stood at the entrance with their children, bright-eyed and barefoot, running around them, all hoping to be let in.
"My son is sick and in the hospital," said one woman through her blue burka, "and there are no other men in my home who can help me. Please, can you help me get through the gate?"
A man in a wheelchair was being pushed by his younger sister, a beautiful young girl in a pink headscarf. They had come to the gate with their parents, hoping for food.
"Please help us," their father said. "We don't have a ticket, but we need the help."
The "ticket" was actually an invitation to go behind the wire. Only 200 needy families were chosen by the Canadian military through the district manager and the local mullahs. They would each receive bags of sugar, rice, three litres of cooking oil, a 25 kg bag of flour and a box of tea. Total cost to the military: $12,000.
"We recognize there's a great need out there, and we can't help everyone, but we're just trying to help those we can in our district," said Lt. Jon Baker, who was in charge of the Eid handout.
Young boys who had tickets were laden with the packages. Soldiers helped load them into Gators - small green carts used by the military for transport - and drove them home.
Eighteen-year old Zhalil Ahmad came to pick up the gifts for his family. "This will help feed us all for a week," he said through a translator. "The economic situation of the people of Afghanistan is very miserable. We need this help."
For the soldiers, this a very different kind of work, and a welcome change from their normal duties.
"We’re doing I think what Canadians do best, and that’s to chip in when the things are tough for people," said Petty Officer Shawn Coates. "It’s got nothing to do with being a soldier. It’s to do with being a good Canadian."
Just a few hundred metres away, the crowd without tickets continued to wait. Hoping there would be something left over. Hoping someone would help them find a way in.
By noon, most of the chosen families had come for their gifts. And those outside went home, empty-handed.