Kabul, Afghanistan – A day after sounds of bombs and gunfire filled the air of Afghanistan’s capital, dozens of young Afghans gathered 1.5km away from the site of the Taliban attack to deliver messages of peace and hope inside 10,000 pink balloons.
The event was part of a public art series called “We Believe in Balloons” by Colombian-American artist Yazmany Arboleda, and people from more than 40 countries submitted messages to be placed inside the balloons.
The balloons were then handed out by about 100 Afghan artists and students on May 25, with instructions to pop the balloons at the end of the day to read the message inside.
Wearing vests featuring the words “sobh bakhir Afghanistan“, or “good morning Afghanistan”, the artists and students walked out two-by-two to hand out the balloons near the Kabul River, the city’s largest open-air market, and Darulaman Palace.
For Nargis Azaryoon, who at one point during the preparations told other volunteers to use their “own breath and spirit” to inflate the balloons, the all-volunteer effort offered “a chance to meet my people and do something for them”.
Dasendar, a street merchant who placed his bright pink balloon at the edge of his fruit cart near the Shah-e-Do Shamshera Mosque, said the balloon was a reminder that “peace and stability will come to Afghanistan”.
The sound of popping balloons and music replaced the sounds of the nine-hour battle between Taliban fighters and the Afghan National Security Forces the day before.
“Yesterday was a bitter day, but today people have to return to work,” said 22-year-old Basir Shakeri. “We want to make it a special day.”
And Mahmad Azam, who sells books at a stand just beyond the Kabul River, clutched his balloon in his hand, saying: “This is a happy moment. It means we can take Pakistan and their terrorism out by their roots”.
Still, several of those who spoke to Al Jazeera said they were not sure why they were given the balloons or what they were intended for. For Mariam, an NGO worker en route to a meeting, the financial aspect of the project was hard to escape.
Each balloon, and the message contained within, was the result of a $1 donation. “Ten thousand dollars is a lot of money,” she said. “How many services – women’s shelters, food, water – could have been funded with that?”
Yet Shakeri, who said he slept only a few hours over the course of the past three days, explained that foreign donors spend money “politically, on guns and soldiers” in Afghanistan. “This, though, is from each person’s soul.”
Arboleda, who has conducted the same project in India, Japan and Kenya, said people often asked why he did not hand out fresh fruit in a country where seven million people suffer from food insecurity.
“It’s offensive,” said Arboleda of this criticism. “Because man does not live on bread alone.”
Follow Ali M Latifi on Twitter: @alibomaye