Afghan addicts help run daring new restaurant in Kabul

By Jessica Donati

KABUL, Oct 8 (Reuters) - Inhaling deeply on a cigarette,Laila Haidari sits on the floor of a new Kabul restaurantwondering if it will one day allow her to repay an eye-watering$26,000 borrowed from friends to launch a daring project to aidAfghan drug addicts.

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

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

There is just one methadone substitution project, despitethere being over one million users, according to the U.N. Officeon Drugs and Crime.

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

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

"I am tired of using drugs because I cannot face people'sharassment any more," said waitress Masoma Jan.

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

Haidari's scheme is also daring because she is a womanrunning a business, and many Afghans object to females workingif it brings them into contact with men outside their family.

The restaurant, which opened this month, ended her marriage.

Her husband filed for divorce when she announced her plans,refusing to negotiate even when she suggested he take a secondwife as compensation.

But Haidari felt compelled to go ahead. She spent yearscaring for her own brother who was an opium addict, resolving totake action after witnessing the suffering of users congregatingunder a notorious bridge in Kabul.

"I was always thinking about what I could to do help themand protect them," Haidari said.

She opened a shelter for men and another for women andchildren about a year ago, and says hundreds of addicts havepassed through their doors.

There are currently about 35 men, four women and fourchildren at her shelters, while her restaurant employs 17 formeraddicts, including a folk musician Abdul Ali, who was addictedto opiates for a decade.

He entertains guests with his dambura, a traditional Afghaninstrument similar to a banjo.

"I just want to keep my friends busy with music in ordermake them stop drugs and enjoy life," he said.

(Reporting by Jessica Donati; Editing by Rob Taylor and NickMacfie)

((jessica.donati@thomsonreuters.com)(0093 708 796820)(ReutersMessaging: jessica.donati.reuters.com@reuters.net))