Monday, April 27, 2009

A brave young Afghan woman's observations and dreams

I recieved this from Ted Achilles. I have obscured the women's names for this post since it will eventually get picked up by Google and could fall into the wrong hands. The young woman who describes her trip to Kandahar convinced the family of two girls to send their daughters to the USA for medical treatment after they were sprayed with acid for attending school. SOLACE for the Children is an organization bringing Afghan children to the USA for medical treatments.

Terry Dougherty

The following is from Ted Achilles:

17 April, 2009

Excerpted from a cover letter of mine back this last January.

Xxxxxxx is a YES alumna, who graduated from the 12th grade from a high school in North Bennington, VT last June. To ready her math and English comprehension for a liberal arts degree and then an MBA, she wished to have another year in a private school. This is the relevant part of my letter of introduction to the Director of Admissions of one of New England's top private boarding schools. Economic realities thwarted this effort. She continues as SOLA'S Executive Assistant and strives hard, ever so hard to keep me organized and focused. Ted Achilles


"… Xxxxx stayed in a low profile hostel for mid-wives in training next to the Kandahar hospital. She and Zzzzzzz (now at Lower Columbia Community College in Longview, WA) met with eleven of the thirteen girls and their families there. She got the story straight (quite different from some of the press accounts), photographed the burns and selected two to be sent to our extraordinary Charlotte, NC partners, SOLACE for the Children, next summer. Shxxxxxx with the most severe burns on her face was an obvious choice. That Xxxxxxx also chose her traumatized little sister who had managed to run away with "only" the back of her burka getting burned speaks volumes about how Xxxxxx sees things and who she is.

That Xxxxxx has a depth of resolve and courage is unquestioned. Few Afghans, male or female, would have done what she did last week. She is no ordinary seventeen year old. For that matter she is no ordinary woman. Quiet and confident, thoughtful and pragmatic, Xxxxxx carries herself with a certain presence. That presence conveys not just her strength of character but, even more so, the reserves of kindness and concern for others that define just who she really is. Who brought comfort to the weeping 40 year old mother of a boy diagnosed with leprosy?. Who brought the first playful giggle out of our 12 year old deaf-mute whose eyes used to dart about with worry? Who is big sis to Sana, age 14, crippled with polio, brimming with inner strength? This is our Xxxxxxx who lends of her strength to others and gains more, much more, by doing so.

American youth take much for granted. Not so Xxxxxxx She will teach and "they" will listen and learn. They will do so because they will want to come to understand what makes their Muslim sister the special, very special woman she is." Ted Achilles


Masha Hamilton is a writer co-authoring a book about Sally and Don Goodrich, a 9/11 family who have since dedicated their lives to helping the children of Afghanistan. Xxxxxxx was her translator and interpreter during her 10 day stay in Kabul in October, 2008. Here she responds to Masha's request to describe the "mood" in Kandahar.

Dear Ms. Masha:

I found Kandahar to be very quiet and isolated. According to people many middle class families have left the province to live in Kabul or emigrate back to Pakistan and Iran. A lot of the people I met were mainly complaining about unemployment and poverty. There were only a few restaurants and hotels in the whole city. According to the natives the only well paid jobs are with the foreign NGOs and many think it is a big risk to take.

I was staying in a dormitory along with eight other absolutely adorable girls from Uruzgan and Helmand who were studying to be midwives. Surprisingly all of these girls were Persian speaking Shia citizens of their provinces where they make a very tiny minority. While asking them about the conditions in their home provinces they told me that in Uruzgan Persian speaking people have their won communities, where government has more power and Taliban are not very powerful. The also told me that Pashtuns do not let their daughters to go to school or work that is the reason why majority of the doctors, nurses and teaches are Persian speaking Shias although, in these provinces Pashtuns make the majority. According to the girls they do not even wear a burqa in Helmand and Uruzgan while they are inside their own communities. Yyyyyyy from Helmand told me that her mother runs a special class in her house for the girls who have dropped out of school. The home school is supported by the government so her mother is paid about three and a half thousand Afghani (almost 60 USD) a month. This is a very good income in Helmand. She told me that because the government sometime helps the course students with some wheat and cooking oil, even some very conservative families let their daughters and wives to attend the class. (From this you can see how severe the poverty really is).

I was shocked when Yyyyyyy and I were stopped to enter a restaurant because we did not have a male relative with us (absolutely like Taliban rules).on the streets you can only see a few women after 12:00 at noon. Almost every woman wears a burqa and sacks to cover their feet. People over all but women especially looked so much scared of the Taliban. They were almost paranoid about it. They thought that Taliban follow each and every of them and can hurt them and their families anytime.

Unlike Kabul I did not see many signs of the central government (like our national flag, Posters of the President and etc..). The only photos even in the government owned vehicles I noticed were of the late King, Zahir Shah, and Kandahar's former governor Gul Agha Sherzoi, who seemed to be very popular. Surprisingly, a majority of the police in Kandahar were Persian speaking (looked to me more from Parwan and Panjshair) with little familiarity to Pashto language and Pashtun culture. While asking why that would be from a Taxi driver and a friend their reply was that the government does not trust Kandaharis because they can be sympathetic to Taliban.

I met eleven out of the thirteen girls (the media was wrong about fifteen or sixteen) from the acid attack and their families. All of them had great hatred for Taliban but meanwhile had no faith in their own central government. Asking some Shias about their religious freedom in Kandahar, they were very happy that they were being somewhat treated equally by the central government.

Just a very interesting story, one of the men named Naim who had sprayed acid on the girls was not caught by the police but his own mother called the police after watching the news and told them about her suspicions about her son's involvement in the attack. Naim was tortured and killed in Police custody.

Wearing a burqa was a very interesting experience. It was the first time I ever wore a burqa for that long. Just after getting out of the airport , my friend Zzzzzzz, who was already wearing a burqa, asked me to wear mine. I did wear mine but I pulled up the front part meaning my face was not covered. The plan was for Mr. Ted to go with a car that our contact from Human Rights commission sent. And for us was to go in a taxi, whose driver was a family friend to Zzzzzzz. We said good bye but suddenly my instincts told me not to trust the driver of the car. Wearing my burqa but not covering my face I ran to stop the car and go in the same car with Mr. Ted. Behind me Zzzzzzz was getting mad and shouting "You are not supposed to be running with a burqa on and without covering your face". But I did.

Of course wearing a burqa was uncomfortable but it was easy to deal with. The hardest part for me was that I had to wear a burqa because of fear of the Taliban and men's injustice in our societies. I was wearing a burqa not because I wanted to but because I had to. Finally I decided that I would not cover my face. And I would deal with whatever might happen. It was not really like Taliban will beat you or something they do not have that much power. But people would stare at you and gave you bad looks. Of course my friend Zzzzzzz did not let me do it all the time but whenever she was not there I did it. Once after dropping Zzzzzzz home. I got myself a Pepsi and asked the driver to go through Bazar. I uncovered my burqa, relaxed and drunk my Pepsi. Nothing really happened but made me feel much better. During the nights I slept in a room with four other girls. Till late we all would be chatting. These girls were of ages 16 to 18 and some married and two already mothers. In the first night they were shy and quite but the other nights we made really good friends. I asked them about different things in their provinces especially women rights. I was so mad when almost all of them thought it is fine for men to beat their wives and sisters. And the best thing for a Muslims woman is to keep quiet and have patience. I talked a lot to them about women in Islam. They looked so thirsty for information. I told them that if it is fine for Prophet (PBUH) to divorce his wife why not for us, who are nothing but ordinary followers of him. If in the Quran it says that Nekah is Sunnah (Actions Prophet (PBUH) has done and Divorce is Farz (Muslim's duty if husband and wife are not happy). Then who are we to do the opposite. While talking to them I felt that I would for sure work for women rights all through Afghanistan but especially in Pashtun areas. These girls told me that they are still very lucky to be born as Persian speaking. What would they do if they were Pashtun women? They girls absolutely loved the freedom we have in Kabul. It was just great for them. They had a feeling that they can not do anything, others need to change things for them. For example Yyyyyyy from Helmad told me that "I can not wait for Americans to take out every woman's burqa in Helmand and Kandahar". I told her it is only us, Afghan women, who can and who will do this. It taught me something. I wear my Islamic hejab and if Allah willing I will always but I hope every Afghan women would be able to follow their religion based on their own version and personal believes, They will do it because they want to not because they have to.

Over all I found Kandaharis to be one of the biggest victims of Taliban. They are very much in need of help. They are poor, illiterate and very easy targets for Taliban to use.


January 4, 2009

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