Hashish Could Be Killing the Babies of Afghanistan’s Carpet Makers
Like most women in Afghanistan’s Qalizal District, Bebehaja’s life is told on the strings of a carpet loom. It’s a vocational inheritance of women of Turkmen heritage, who begin as early as seven and may not stop until they’re 70. It’s as linear and taut as the cords on which they weave, unspooling balls of yarn over minutes, hours, days, decades creating masterful motifs, while simultaneously emptying themselves of the same beauty and comfort they put into the things that they create.
Bebehaja is 60 now. She’s covered in a stained, blue burqua so I can’t see her face, but I hear the weariness in her voice. She tells me the dirty secret that everyone knows: the most important material in carpet making in Qalizal is not wool, but hashish.
“When we don’t the eat the hashish we’re like a dead body,” she says, “When we eat it we can work hard and work more.”
Women like Bebehaja use hashish routinely three times as day. They smoke and eat it at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s so ubiquitous in the region that women can secretly buy it from shopkeepers along with the day’s groceries or other household supplies.
The hashish, which is processed resin from the flowers of the cannabis plant, has reportedly been in use for medical and recreation use since 3000 BC. It has the same active ingredient as marijuana, which is THC or tetrahydrocannabinol. The effects can include relaxation, pain relief, and overall sense of well being.
But in Qalizal, hashish’s sedating effect has led to a heinous practice, which virtually ensures the enslavement of a next generation of carpet weavers. In order to spend long hours at the loom, women here routinely feed their young children hashish as well.
“The reason we’re giving it to kids is we need them to be quiet, so we can work,” says Bebehaja.