The first meeting with my new supervisor, Sadiqa Basiri, happened by chance. Because her phone was not functioning properly during my the first few days in Kabul, she resorted to text messaging. She wrote, “Can we meet tomorrow morning?” I replied, “I am committed to attending a cell meeting with Afghan Women’s Network (AWN) from 9am until 1pm. Can we meet afterwards?” When
I arrived at the conference, entitled “International Human Rights Conventions in Afghanistan,” I had not yet heard from her. Despite wearing an uncomfortable earpiece—as the majority of the conference was conducted in Dari—listening to Afghan activists and officials speak on this topic was a wonderful experience. The conference reviewed the six international human rights conventions to which Afghanistan is a party and the many areas in which the treaties’ standards and Afghanistan’s actual practices diverge especially with regard to the treatment of women and children.
Two hours into the conference, during the coffee break, my friend Carrie called me over, “Alison, have you met Sadiqa yet?” I had seen her picture before and recognized her instantly. Sadiqa smiled, “Do you know why I wanted to meet this morning? So I could take you to this conference! Consider this your orientation workshop.”
The following day, I began my work at Oruj, which shares a building with Noor Educational Center (NEC), another Afghan NGO. First, Sadiqa and I discussed Oruj’s most urgent projects: registering the two remaining schools (Fatma Zahra and Godah) with the government; phasing out Oruj’s involvement in Nangrahar and intensifying its efforts in Wardak; approaching CARE and UNICEF about teacher training programs and donating tents (school “buildings”) to replace the ones burned down this past fall. First on the agenda will be to schedule the meetings with the Ministry of Education and the Directorate of the Ministry of Education in Wardak province, then the meetings with CARE and UNICEF.
Just as we finished our discussion, we heard laughter and shouts in the hall: a woman, who works in the office located across the hall and is one of Sadiqa’s close friends, announced that she had just gotten engaged. All of the women who work in the building gathered together, drank tea, and ate sugary sweets in celebration of this good news. Later, the women in the office organized a more formal party, inviting her fiancé, his friends and colleagues, as well as all of the women in the building to celebrate this wonderful news.
The men sat on one side of the room, women on the other; the future bride and her fiancé sat in the two seats of honor at the front of the room. Nan, lamb, beef, sweets, and chai were served to all on a blanket spread across the floor. Flowers (which happen to be very expensive here in Afghanistan) and gifts were presented to the couple. First, the future groom spoke in Dari for a half an hour, and then kindly translated a summary of his speech into English for me (Sister Rose); he spoke of the holiness of Islam, the
sacredness of marriage, and the spiritual foundation of his relationship with the woman sitting next to him. Then, the future bride spoke of her happiness, her respect for her fiancé, and her gratitude to all of us for this gathering; again, she spoke to me directly, in English, thanking me (My Rose) for being there and celebrating with them. I felt so honored to have been invited, so hospitably and generously, to share in this happy occasion.
Afterwards, Sadiqa and I returned to our office and began reviewing previous grant proposals and the most recent project profiles for each of the four schools. Volunteering for an NGO in a foreign country is rarely an easy or consistently rewarding endeavor. However, the hospitality and generosity shown to me thus far—especially by the dedicated women working for Oruj and Noor Educational Center—is more than enough to act as my motivation.
Posted By Alison Long (Afghanistan)
Posted Jun 13th, 2006