No one here knows the man whose left leg is shackled to the wall of cell No. 5. Last week, he finished tearing his mattress to shreds and then moved onto his clothes, ripping his shirt and pants off before falling asleep naked.
“He’s insane,” say the villagers who have come to gawk at him. “He doesn’t know whether he’s in this world or another.”
The man’s brothers drove him here from southern Kandahar province two weeks ago, drawn by the same belief that has attracted families from across Afghanistan for more than two centuries. Legend has it that those with mental disorders will be healed after spending 40 days in one of the shrine’s 16 tiny concrete cells. They live on a subsistence diet of bread, water and black pepper near the grave of a famous pir, or spiritual leader, named Mia Ali Sahib.
Every year, hundreds of Afghans bring mentally ill relatives here rather than to hospitals, rejecting a clinical approach to what many here see as a spiritual deficiency. The treatment meted out at the shrine and a handful of others like it nationwide might be archaic, but the symptoms are often a response to 21st-century warfare: 11 years of nighttime raids, assassinations and suicide bombings.....
Not all of the men and women shackled to the shrine’s wall are forgotten like the man from Kandahar. In the corner cell, 27-year-old Mohammed Sadiq sleeps while his brother stands outside. He’s there to keep away bothersome visitors and ensure that the recovery process goes as planned.
Sadiq went into a spiral of depression after his brother-in-law was killed in a U.S. airstrike three years ago, he said. He tried to deal with it himself but continued to unravel. He traveled to Saudi Arabia to work in construction, but the condition worsened, and he was forced to return to eastern Afghanistan.
Two weeks ago, his brother, Ahmed, decided it was time to intervene. He drove Mohammed 100 miles to the shrine and handed him over to its three employees.
When Mohammed Sadiq stirred from a deep sleep this week, he smiled wide and stretched his arms.
“I’m feeling much better,” he said. “I am healing.”
Shafiq looked on proudly. Another of his patients had acknowledged what so many doctors had denied: Shafiq’s treatment worked. The miracle of the shrine was timeless.
The man from Kandahar still can’t, or won’t, articulate his progress or distress. When he awakes, his eyes are wide and empty. Flies are always buzzing around him.
He has about three weeks of treatment left.
“My Kandahari boy!” Shafiq exclaims when he gets close to the cell.
“You’re feeling much better, aren’t you?”
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