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07 May 2018

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Bilal and his parrot, Toti, at their new home in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. Photo: Jim Huylebroek for NRC

With Just His Parrot, a Refugee Boy Starts a Hard New Life

BESHUD, Afghanistan (NYT) — The truck wound its way through mountain passes in the pre-dawn darkness, stacked high with the trappings of a refugee life pieced together over 30 years.

The Shah family had been forced out of the haven in Pakistan that their patriarch had found them during the last war, against the Soviets. Now they were returning to Afghanistan, a place in the grips of a newer and longer war that has sent hundreds of thousands fleeing.

They clung to everything they could: tins of clothes, bundles of blankets, pots and pans, 11 charpoy beds, 40 chickens, two pigeons, a goat and more. The women and children, nearly two dozen all together, either rode on the truck’s top or stuffed themselves among the belongings on its back.

Among them was a 6-year-old boy named Bilal, who held tight to a small cage. In it was his parrot, Toti, his only friend in a country he had never been to, and his escape from the lonely days in the desolate gorge they would put up in to start their new lives.

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