Afghan addicts help run daring new restaurant in Kabul

Tue Oct 9, 2012 6:58am EDT
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By Jessica Donati

KABUL (Reuters) - Inhaling deeply on a cigarette, Laila Haidari sits on the floor of a new Kabul restaurant wondering if it will one day allow her to repay an eye-watering $26,000 borrowed from friends to launch a daring project to aid Afghan drug addicts.

Haidari plans to find staff for her Taj Begum ("Woman's Crown") restaurant through the shelters she runs, giving addicts a chance to rebuild their lives and learn new skills while helping her run a business.

Haidari's idea is revolutionary in a poverty and war-stricken country where treatment options for opiate addicts in Afghanistan vary from the non-existent to limited.

There is just one methadone substitution project, despite there being over one million users, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

There is also such a heavy stigma attached to drug addiction in ultra-conservative Afghanistan that drug use by females is almost never even mentioned.

But Haidari is already helping two women recover in her restaurant, which serves an array of Afghan, Iranian and Turkish dishes while operating simultaneously as a shelter.

"I am tired of using drugs because I cannot face people's harassment any more," said waitress Masoma January

"Now I hope to live without drugs. I am thinking of my sons. They are innocent. I don't want my background have a destructive and dark effect on my sons' lives," Jan said, her head covered in an orange and yellow scarf.   Continued...

Former drug addicts serve food for customers at the Taj Begum ("Woman's Crown") restaurant in Kabul October 4, 2012. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail