Erica Isaac (Afghanistan)

Erica Issac (Afghan Women’s Network – AWN): Erica is a native New Yorker and passionate photographer. After graduating summa cum laude from New York University in 1998, Erica went on to complete her MSc. in Gender and Economic Development from the London School of Economics and Political Science with a specialization in women and children’s welfare. She then traveled and worked as a researcher on the media installations for the South African Jewish Museum in Cape Town and for a feature length documentary called “Crossing the Bride”. She also worked in India and Nepal as a program assistant at safe houses for Tibetan refugees, in Pakistan with an underground domestic violence organization, and in Uganda with a repatriation organization for child soldiers. At the time of her fellowship, Erica was studying for an MPA in International Policy and Management at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service.

Erica v. Headscarf

05 Jun

We landed in Kabul one day after the riots. The airport is exactly how it has been in almost every developing nation I have visited. From passport control through baggage claim people crowd into the smallest inhabitable area and push each other to gain even a sliver of space. Even if you want to yield your position the human inertia makes it impossible to extricate yourself. Everyone looks straight ahead. If you look down and make eye contact you would have to address the fact that you are actually leaning into and pushing against an actual person. It is an unmistakable contest of wills.

As I stood in line waiting to reach passport control I found myself repeating a combination of Emma Lazarus’ “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…” and the “God grant me the serenity” poem. Between the heat, the crowd, my newly donned headscarf and my natural inability to remain still or balanced, disaster was setting in. Every time I adjusted my bag my scarf would slip and each time I repositioned my scarf my elbow would rub up against the tall Pashtun man on my right. The piece of fabric covering my hair, guarding my morality, was causing me to be far more noticeable than intended. Round one: Erica v. Headscarf, was not looking good for me.

We were met at the airport by our Kabul guru, Tom, and one of his colleagues, Rashid. They were able to work their magic and rush us through the airport with little hassle. This was good since Carrie and I spent a better part of an hour elbowing our way through layers of people pressed against the baggage carousel. After losing my headscarf first to a gust of wind and then to an elbow to the head my hair was not only showing but sticking up and out in a rather unfortunate fashion. All around me beautiful high-heeled women – swathed in expertly wound fabric – carried luggage, shlepped babies, greeted relatives and engaged in animated conversation. Round two: Erica v. Headscarf, was looking considerably grim.

An Afghan-American woman we met in the Dubai airport tried to help me. She deftly tucked one end of the scarf over my right shoulder and took the rest of the material and elegantly draped it across my chest and behind my head. This lasted for about 3.5 seconds. As soon as I spoke – my Jewish New York gesticulations in full tilt – I literally unraveled. Looking at me with pity, my new friend wrapped the scarf once around my throat, tied it in a knot and left me, and my frumpy babushka, to navigate my way amid the crowd of magnificent Afghan women.

The story of my life

Posted By Erica Isaac (Afghanistan)

Posted Jun 5th, 2006

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