His leg shackled and padlocked to a tree, Mohammad Tahir rocks relentlessly back and forth. He has been like this, day and night, lying in the open with nothing but a blanket for cover for 21 days. Each day he is fed only a scrap of bread, a raw chilli and two glasses of water, a verse from the Koran placed in each one.
Is this torture? Or some bizarre religious ritual? No, this is the traditional Afghan treatment for mental illness, according to Tim Albone writing in the May issue of Afghan Scene. Albone reports that there were five “patients” at the Sayed Mohammad Ali Shah shrine in eastern Afghanistan. Their families brought them, or they came on their own seeking “treatment.”
“I swear that if they do what I say, they will be cured,” Mir Subadar, shrine caretaker, told Albone. “First they come and we speak to them and then we tie them to a tree.” The cost? $40 for up to 40 days of, um, hospitality. That’s two weeks’ wages.
Afghanistan will make you crazy – and keep you that way. Just ask Artyom Borovik, the famed Russian journalist whose book The Hidden War should be required reading. The Afghanistanica blog quotes Borovik:
During my last trip to Afghanistan I’d met a guy in the hospital’s psychiatric ward who was concerned that he had no shadow. He proved to me, by means of excellent logic, that a man without a shadow cannot — and must not — live. He tried to commit suicide several times. I was reminded of this incident in Moscow when Zhenya Raevsky, an afghantsi [Afghan War veteran] and student at Moscow State University, shared with me his idea for a screenplay; his main characters were going to be Afghanistan veterans who’d returned home from the war. What makes them different from all other people, Raevsky told me, was that they had no shadows. Some hideous meaning was buried there, inaccessible to the sober mind.