Before coming to Afghanistan, I figured everyone must have an amazing story to tell. They have lived through so much repression and conflict, how do they do it?
When I started working at AWN, all of the women I met at the office seemed normal. What was I expecting? I don’t know. I do know that these women don’t represent the majority of women in Afghanistan. Somehow these women were able to rise above everything, get an education, get a job outside the home, and smile and crack jokes regularly.
Still, as normal as they seemed, I knew they must have a story. How could they not? I couldn’t come out and ask. I knew that wouldn’t be polite. So today when one of my friends at work started talking a little about her life, I was fully engaged in the conversation and asked a lot of questions. She showed me scars on her arms and legs from shrapnel that had hit her and talked about all of the blood she had seen and felt. She talked about how there wasn’t any food during the fighting and it was very difficult for her family. She told me that her family left for Pakistan when the Taliban had come to her house, beaten her father and brother, and stole everything with any value. When they returned from Pakistan, there was nothing left of their house. The conversation dissolved into tears.
The topic of the burqa was brought up as well. I asked why women still wear them when they don’t have to. She told me that it is partly out of habit, and partly out of fear. Fear? I wondered. The fear of having acid thrown on their faces if they are uncovered. Even my colleague is afraid of going to the market because she doesn’t wear the entire burqa, though she still adheres to Muslim dress.
Another woman I work with is married with an adorable baby. At lunch she was curious about my age, so after I told her, I returned the question. She said she didn’t know. She said it with a smile so I thought maybe she didn’t want to say. That is typical in America at least. But then she told me that she really didn’t know. She was the fifth daughter in her family and her family was so upset she was a girl that they didn’t write down her birthday.
I know that the stories are everywhere, but I am still in disbelief that I am so close to them. My immediate reaction was: how can I help? What can I do? Then I realized I am here, in Kabul, doing what I can already. I am working at an organization devoted to creating change and a better life for women in Afghanistan. Is there more at this moment that I can do?
There is nothing like the eye-opening story of someone who has really suffered to put your life in perspective. Sure, I have been hungry, but I have never really felt hunger. In times of teen angst I felt unloved, but my parents were never even close to being disappointed that I was born. I have been afraid in certain areas alone at night, but I have never feared for my life in a crowded marketplace.
Afghan women are strong; there is no doubt about that. When it seems like they are submissive, you just have to remember everything they have done to be where they are today. They are amazing people.
Posted By Carrie Hasselback (Afghanistan)
Posted Jul 9th, 2005