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.

Tashakor Khwahar

03 Jul

Wajhma is 20 years old and the mother of a nine-month-old son named Shuib. She married Omar Akhtari, the brother of a friend, when she was 18 and studying in Peshawar, Pakistan. Omar is educated, successful and has been living in Germany for the past nine years. Though their courtship was fast, Wajhma had turned down six previous marriage proposals, leading her parents to believe she saw a strong future with Omar. The couple was married in Peshawar and returned to Kabul to apply for Wajhma’s visa to Germany.

Wajhma’s visa application was written under a false name – Karishma Akhtari – and stated that their familial relationship was that of cousins. Omar told her it would be easier for her to obtain a visa if the German authorities believed they were blood relations rather than spouses. Though admittedly suspicious, Wajhma was excited about being married, looked forward to continuing her studies in Germany and chose to focus on the future. Her visa application was successful and they left for Germany a little more than a month after they were married.

Upon arriving in Germany Wajhma was introduced to Grenda Akhtari – Omar’s German wife of three years. Wajhma remained in Germany for one year during which she lived in servitude to Grenda and Omar. They both drank heavily and Omar regularly beat, tortured, sexually assaulted and prostituted Wajhma. She was not allowed to leave the house, was isolated from her family and was routinely deprived of food, water and access to basic health and hygiene.

Mr. Akhtari became afraid that Wajhma was preparing to run away so he smuggled her to Norway. He forced Wajhma to falsify a story for the Norwegian police in order to be granted immediate asylum status. This tactic was successful and Wajhma was granted entrance. She was taken to the home of Mr. Akhtari’s mother and sisters where the horrors of Germany were repeated. Within three months Wajhma found out that she was pregnant.

Mr. Akhtari sent Wajhma back to Afghanistan under the pretense that she should be with her family when the baby arrives. Before she left he stripped her of her passport (containing her Norwegian visa), all of her clothing and the few pieces of wedding jewelry in her possession. Days after Wajhma arrived in Kabul Mr. Akhtari telephoned and told her that he was terminating their relationship. He told her he wanted nothing to do with her. He told her he wanted nothing to do with her unborn child. He questioned if the child was his.

Wajhma was not willing to accept Mr. Akhtari’s decision to abandon the marriage without legal recourse, protection or support. Accordingly, she approached his family in Kabul and Peshawar. Along with her mother and sisters Wajhma began to receive death threats. Her sister was forced to stop attending school. Her mother could no longer go to the market unattended. One afternoon Mr. Akhtari’s sister attempted to abduct Wajhma and force her to have an abortion. Within three weeks of being abandoned by Omar Akhtari, Wajhma found out that he was in Afghanistan and had taken another wife, a woman from outside Kabul, and was in the process of obtaining her German visa.

* * *

Wajhma came to see me a few days ago to tell me her story. We sat across from each other and she spoke with the bravery, confidence and quiet dignity of a woman who has seen and felt a lifetime in a mere 20 years. We took turns holding Shuib as we sat in a combination of dense silence and urgent conversation. The details of her torture were far easier for her to recount than the enormity of her feelings.

She is worried that while her body will recover her heart may not. She is worried that while she has known marriage she will never know love. She is worried that even if she forgives herself her family may not. She is worried that if her story goes untold her pain will have no worth. She is worried that if she remains silent she will die in the darkness of memories.

Our legal team is helping with her divorce case. If successful, it will be one of landmark status. While the chances of legal success are dismal, the impact of her story is certain. As her advocate I am granted the blissful honor of wearing her courage, speaking her words, representing her future and guarding her history.

We finished talking and walked around the table towards each other. As I handed Shuib back to her tears rolled down both of our faces. She looked at her son and asked me how she could repay him for saving her life. I told her to love him without conditions and raise him to be a man of honor. She held my shoulders in her hands and whispered tashakor khwahar, thank you sister.

Posted By Erica Isaac (Afghanistan)

Posted Jul 3rd, 2006