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.

Good Ol’ Paternalism

31 May

Quote of the Day: Cabin attendant on Ariana Airlines Dubai-Kabul flight to Carrie and Erica, “please delete the picture you just took of the Captain sleeping.”

The taxi driver dropped us off at terminal one of the Dubai International Airport even though I told him my ticket said terminal two. He just kept driving and did that thing where he shook his head no but keep saying yes, yes, yes. So we got out at terminal one and entered the airport along with a British tour group who had just ended what looked like a lovely holiday. I told the man at the information counter that we were looking for terminal two and he said, “no madame, you are in the right place, just let me see your ticket.” When I handed him my ticket a look of confusion came over his face. “OK Madame, you are in terminal two.” He told me we needed to get into another taxi and go to a different airport. When I thanked him he told me to be safe and sent me on my way with a kind in’shallah (if Allah wills it).

Terminal two is where the flights to Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan leave from.

We walked inside and got in the line that seemed to lead to the first round of security. Within seconds an American man with a cowboy hat walked up to us and asked us where we were going. When I told him Kabul he said that he had a feeling we were in the wrong place. Looking up into the sea of crew cuts I realized we were the only women in what was clearly the Baghdad queue.

Another American man was standing behind us in line as we checked in for our Dubai-Kabul flight. There were a few problems with Alison’s ticket and some discussion of overweight baggage. In the end it all worked out. We checked our bags, cleared security (with both a lighter and swiss army knife in my carry-on) and proceeded to the gate. I could count the number of women checking in for our flight on two hands. Maybe.

As we sat down to wait for our flight the American man from check-in gestured for one of us to come over to the counter by the gate. I got up and walked over. He told me that the security company he works for has placed a hold on his ticket. They felt it was too unstable in Kabul and he should sit tight in Dubai. He said that he wasn’t trying to scare me but if he, an engineer working for a security company is being warned, then maybe we should think about our safety and call our NGOs. He said he felt that he had an obligation to tell us seeing that “we were American ‘girls’ and all.”

My ticket was accidentally booked as a first class flight. The cabin was filled with men. Different than the men surrounding Alison and Carrie in economy class. When I walked back to check on them they were flanked by Pashtun men, shrouded in headscarves and staring straight ahead. The cabin was silent. As I walked the eight rows to where they were sitting all eyes were on me. Something had shifted right there on the runway in Dubai. I was already in Afghanistan. I didn’t feel anger directed at me as much as I felt disciplined. I felt exposed for standing when everyone else was sitting and I felt gratuitous for coming to see my friends. Even whispering in the cabin felt forbidden – like the sound of our voices was taboo.

First class was a mix of American, Afghan and Pakistani men. It was loud and social with people leaning on each others seats and having conversations across rows. The men in front of me leaned back – the were Afghan-American business men – and asked why a nice girl like myself was going to Kabul. Before I could even answer they asked what my father thought. Similar conversations followed. Finally I said that my father was proud. The ex-Marine two aisles away said, “Sure. But I bet he hates that he can’t protect you over here.”

The culture of paternalism is alive and well. What about me – other than the fact that I am woman – makes me in need of my father’s protection?

Posted By Erica Isaac (Afghanistan)

Posted May 31st, 2006

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