Saturday, July 11, 2009

News from The Afghan Women's Writing Project

Issue No. 2 July 2009

If you haven't perused the blog written by Afghan women writers lately, take a look now - you don't want to miss the essay from Freshta about the time a gun-toting Taliban member confronted her on the street as she was heading to a secret, forbidden school. Or the one from Fattema about a woman who twice attempted suicide before finally escaping from her Afghan husband and their home in Iran. Or Zaralasht's story of fleeing the start of war. Other compelling essays and poems are highlighted below, with more on the site; encouraged and mentored by our teachers, these brave women are doing breathtaking work.

At the same time, our efforts continue to supply them with laptops and jump drives so they can keep writing even as conditions grow more restrictive, particularly in the south. Just a few days left to plop down ten dollars, tax deductible, for a ticket for the literary raffle being run by author Cari Luna, (whose short fiction, btw, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize last year.) Great prizes for those who love words and music! See the list here. You can also help by forwarding this newsletter to anyone you think might be interested. And if you are a creative writing teacher and would like to volunteer to teach online in a three- or four-week block, please let us know.

The Afghan Women's Writing Project was begun as a way to allow the voices of Afghan women - too often silenced - to enter the world directly, without any mediation. This project is possible only because of the outstanding American women authors and teachers who generously donate their time and energy. Additionally, the tireless contributions of webmaster extraordinaire Jeff Lyons and web designers Terry Dougherty and Rose Daniels have been crucial. Notice our new banner; many thanks to humanitarian, photographer and former TV journalist Kathleen Rafiq for shooting this photograph in Kabul. We hope to have a coordinator in Afghanistan soon. And our inspiring partners are SOLA in Afghanistan and the Peter M. Goodrich Memorial Foundation based in Vermont; please visit thei

Be in touch with any questions. Thank you.
Masha Hamilton
Narrow Escape

My heart was shaking. My clothes were moist with sweat, which fell from my body like rain. Suddenly one of them jumped from the car with his gun and appeared in front of me. "Where you are going?"

By Freshta

Click here to read the full story.
Hope Helps Me Move On

Sara's story: "After a long journey, we arrived in Iran. My step-brother took me to my husband's house. When I first saw him, I couldn't believe my eyes. My husband was Afghan but he had an Iranian wife with four children. His oldest child was twenty years old, older than me."

By Fattema

Click here to read the full story.
My Eyes - A Poem

I accept pain for those eyes.
I accept tears for those eyes.
I love poetry for those eyes.
They are
book of poems.

By Roya

Click here to read the full poem.
From Idyllic Life to War

Our parents carried us in their arms and ran barefoot from our home. We were not the only family running away without knowing where we were going. The street was filled with people just like us who were trying to flee the fighting and killing....Our parents tried to not let us see the dead people who were lying along our path.

By Zaralasht

Click here to read the full story.

Mother's Day in Farah

Ballal, a six-year-old boy, gives his mother flowers at a provincial ceremony this Mother's Day. But on the same day, a young midwife is fatally shot on her way to work, and the government blames the Taliban.

By Seeta

Click here to read the full story.
A Word From Our Teachers

Louisa Ermelino is the author of three novels that celebrate the power of women. She is also Reviews Director at PW Magazine and Chief of Reporters at InStyle Magazine. She's worked at Time and People magazines and for the television show Top Cops.

This has been a sheer delight. I was anxious as to how I would be able to encourage and help these women with their writing but soon realized that the act of just making contact was already moving forward. Every message from them was so endearing and sincere and intelligent that I was completely bowled over. And they were so open to my comments and truly used them to improve the work.

Three weeks is not such a long time, I have realized, but giving the women two themes worked well. I asked them to work with one or both of two ideas: "Narrow Escapes" and "Taking Chances" which are very broad and could go anywhere and they took them up and ran! It was a fun way to start off.

As with any good teaching experience, I learned as much as I taught and will always feel a connection to these women and all women struggling to improve their lot...sisters all. Many thanks to everyone involved.

Connie May Fowler is the author of five acclaimed novels, as well as a memoirist and screenwriter. She performed The Vagina Monologues alongside Jane Fonda and Rosie Perez, raising over $100,000 for charities in 2003. Her lauded work has been translated into 15 languages.

Since beginning my work with the Afghan Women's Writing Project, I have struggled with various manifestations of disconnection.

As I read the emails, essays, and poems penned by these wonderful and brave women, news feeds from Afghanistan flash across my computer screen. The offensive in Helmand is the first step in what has become America's second Afghan war . . . A 24-year-old Illinois soldier was killed by a roadside bomb Sunday fighting the war in Afghanistan . . . The line between life and death has become dangerously thin in Afghanistan's bloody war zone.

I get these feeds because I requested them; I had to search them out. Unless you have a loved one deployed there, the situation in Afghanistan is not a part of the American consciousness. It's not a Twitter trending topic. I rarely see the subject roll by in my Facebook live feed (but tons about Michael Jackson). Lately, TV pundits have been spending their time yukking it up over a quitter named Sarah Palin; they've reduced Afghanistan to a sidebar.

Then I read the women's words. And I am struck with the complexity of their lives, at how disconnected Americans are from the realities of our fellow humans on whose soil we wage-rightly or wrongly-war.

In their words, I spy a gentleness of spirit that I do not believe I would possess if I walked in their shoes. I spy courage and determination; hope and sadness; wisdom and fear; and perhaps most important, a wily insistence on maintaining-against huge odds-a relevant voice in their society. Americans, by and large, tend to think of Afghan women as victims who need to be saved by the West. When I read their words, I know that they are survivors whose circumstances must change and that they will be and must be the ones who define that change.

These are women who have lived through unspeakable trauma yet they-in ways great and small, in moments hidden and revealed-insist on soaring. Read their words and you will spy, as I do, a beautiful thing: ascension amid the rubble.

Contact AWWP:

For more information on the Afghan Women's Writing Project please contact:
The Afghan Women's Writing Project
Masha Hamilton, Project Founder
686 Sterling Place Brooklyn, New York 11216
Phone: 917.821.6119 / Email:

Masha's Website/Blog:
AWWP Blog:


Online Donations for Afghan Women Writers:

Many of our students and women writers, especially outside of Kabul, cannot get to an Internet cafe due to security considerations. A laptop at home and a jump drive would allow them to write their pieces, and then ask a male relative to send the work at an Internet cafe. A $20 donation will buy a flash drive and $500 in donations will buy a laptop for our women writers. No contribution is too small. Thank you for considering it.

Your credit card donation will be handled by Friends of Afghanistan's secure Paypal payment. Or you can mail a check made out to Friends of Afghanistan:

Terry Dougherty , 15021 Prairie Park Cv, Hoagland, IN 46745.
Write SOLA or Afghan Women Writers on the check.

We will send your tax deductible donation to the Peter M. Goodrich Foundation for the purpose you indicate.

To stay informed about the latest news, events, and other developments with the Afghan Women's Writing Project, please CLICK below and join our mailing list. We appreciate your support.
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In This Issue
Narrow Escape
Hope Helps Me Move On
My Eyes - A Poem
From Idyllic Life to War
Mother's Day in Farah
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The Afghan Women's Writing Project | 686 Sterling Place | Brooklyn | NY | 11216

Friday, July 10, 2009

Afghan Women's Writing Project - newest entries

Hope Always Helps Me Move On

Posted: 09 Jul 2009 11:04 PM PDT

Once, I was an interpreter for a lady who was making a story on women's lives in Afghanistan. We went to the Herat Shelter for Women. There, I heard different stories. One is the story of a young Hazara (an ethnic group in Afghanistan) living at the shelter.

"I am happy that I am here with my son, and hope for a much better future for both of us," said Sara, a twenty-year old woman with eyes full of happiness and hope. "I don't remember that much of my childhood. I know my mother was pregnant with me when I lost my father. My father was a general and he died in war. After that, my mother remarried because she could not afford living alone and providing for herself. She gave me to a family, and from that time I was living with them and knowing them as my parents. My late father had another wife too, and I had two step brothers who I hadn't seen.

"My house was in a city outside Bamiyan. It was a muddy house. We just had two rooms. My family was very poor and they couldn't provide the things I needed. I was around 13 years old when one of my step-brothers found me. He was living in Kabul. He came to my city and wanted to take me but my parents wouldn't let him. So he bought me from them. He gave them money and they let me go. I didn't know whether to feel happy or sad. But I was a little happy because he was my brother somehow and now I had a real family with me.

"I lived with my step-brother's family for almost two years. My step-brother's family was poor too. They couldn't even afford their daily needs and my step-brother was deeply in debt. I was around 15; it was a dark and rainy day, early in the evening, when my brother came home half wet. It was raining very hard like somebody was pouring water from the sky. I made some tea for him. He started talking to me in a very nice way like he hadn't before. I realized he wanted tell something very important that related to me. He was telling me that one day every girl has to marry and go after their own fate. He told me I had to get married. I was surprised because I was still very young to be married. But my step-brother told me I didn't have any other option. I went to the other room and tears started to come down from my eyes like a river. I was crying so hard that I was shaking. I wished that my parents were with me so I could put my head on my mother's lap and she would caress me. She would tell me nice and hopeful things. She wouldn't let me get married at this early age. I cried and cried until I went to sleep.

"A few days later, I realized he had sold me to a married man who was living in Iran with his family. I tried to think positively. I still had hope. I told myself maybe this time I would have a good life; maybe I am going to taste the happiness that I haven't tasted in my fifteen years. After a long journey, we arrived in Iran, my step-brother and I. He took me to my husband's house. When I first saw him, I couldn't believe my eyes. My husband was much older than me. He was Afghan but he had an Iranian wife with four children. His oldest child was twenty years old, older than me.

"I had thought I might have a happy life but that didn't happen. My husband always told me: 'Your brother took a big amount of money from me, but you didn't bring anything with you from Afghanistan.' (There's a tradition that when a girl marries, she brings some trousseau to her husband's house.) His rival wife didn't treat me good either. I was like a servant at their house. My husband would beat me sometimes, and when I argued with him, he beat me more.

"I couldn't tolerate more, so I went to the home of another step-brother who lived in Iran. I stayed there a few days. One day when nobody was home, I opened the gas. I didn't want to live anymore. I was fed up with this awful living, all this violence, beating, crying, shouting, arguing and nobody there to care about you and love you.

"But my step-brother came home early and found me unconscious on the floor. He took me to the hospital and I survived. He took me back to my husband's house. My husband's behavior was even worse than before. He was beating me more with different things like his belt, a broom…

"Again I tried to commit suicide. I threw myself from the second floor of my step-brother's house, but again I survived with lots of injuries. But this time, when they took me to the hospital, I found out that I was pregnant. Oh, I couldn't believe it. My step-brother took me to his house. I was at his house until I got better. When I was well enough to walk, I left my brother's house with no clear destination. I was walking along the side of street paying no attention to my surroundings, very lonely, tired and disappointed with my life. Suddenly, I heard a crash and I was unconscious. When I awakened, I found myself at some stranger's house. There was sitting a middle-aged lady with a scarf on her head and a tray of rice before her which she was cleaning. I tried to sit up. She came and helped me. She asked: 'Why did you want to commit suicide?' I told her my story and she said she would help me. I told her that I would never go back to either my husband's house or my step-brother's.

"She took me to the police station and told them I am an Afghan who wants to go back to her country. So they deported me to Afghanistan. I didn't have any close relatives to live with. There was my step-brother, but I didn't want to see or live with him. From the border, they sent me to a women's shelter.

"It's been more than three years that I am here. I delivered my baby a few months after my return. Now he's almost two years old. Whenever I see his round, cute, innocent face, I think what is going to happen to him in the future…

"When I came here, I didn't know how to read and write, but in here I took literacy classes. When I was illiterate I thought I had no identity, but now that I am literate I am happy and more hopeful. Now I am living my life for my son, Mujtaba, with a hope for a better future for him.

"My husband called me a few times and asked me to go return to him. But I didn't want to. I told him about our son and asked him to come and take him but he didn't. He said 'I have my children here and I don't need any more children.' I told him that because I thought my son would have a brighter future with his father, since I am not able to provide the things that my son needs, and that way my son might be able to experience having a real family.

"I told him to divorce me but he resisted and told me: 'I won't divorce you till your hair turns white like your teeth.' So I applied for absent-divorce. The process is long, but hopefully at the end, it will be the way I want it to be. In absent-divorce, the officials call for the husband and if he doesn't come for three years to the police or to court, then they announce the divorce. Now my case is in Supreme Court. I am going to get my freedom papers, my divorce papers, pretty soon."

It was her story. It brought tears to my eyes, although it is usual to hear such sad stories in Afghanistan. She thanked the staff of the shelter for all the good things they taught her and for being such a nice family to her. She doesn't know what she wants from the future. She says, "Whatever God has ahead for me, I would go with that."

By Fattema

Narrow Escape

Posted: 09 Jul 2009 11:03 PM PDT

It was the 4th year of the Taliban government, and sometimes when I was alone on the way to my school, I wore a burqa because I was tall for my age. I was studying school subjects in a secret school that was far away from our house (one hour walking). I and my young sister, who is in college in the US, would both cover our books in cotton, the same way we cover our Holy Quran so that the Taliban wouldn't know that we were studying. They would think that we were trying to learn only the Holy Quran. We decided that if we were asked by the Taliban, we would tell them: "We are studying the Holy Quran." I told my younger sister, who wore boys' clothes, about this, and she nodded. I was afraid maybe my young sister, who was so much younger, would tell them the real fact, but she was so smart, keeping the secret forever.

One day while I was walking toward the secret school alone, groups of Taliban were inside a Dixon car, which is like an open Toyota. They followed me because they suspected I was going to study school subjects. They drove their car slowly and just followed me. They wanted to know where I was going every day and to find the secret school. (During the Taliban regime groups of school teachers started to teach secretly without Taliban permission.)

I didn't look at them and went to another street, hid myself among the trees growing in front of the houses, planning to show them that I was entering the house, but by chance they lost me. They searched for a while but couldn't find me. I was also waiting; my eyes followed their car until it disappeared. When I was convinced they were gone, I decided to go to school, but I was very afraid. Even now, when I hear such a car voice, it reminds me of that day and scares me.

The next day, they changed their method. They didn't follow me, but when I was leaving the school to go home again alone, they were standing in my way. Thank God that they couldn't see my secret school. Otherwise they would have beaten my teachers and sent them to jail. But I was lucky. They didn't see me when I entered my secret school. As I entered the street, I saw them standing near the shop. I was about to escape from them, but one saw me and again started to follow me. When they reached me, they called: "Stop walking!" But I continued walking as if I didn't hear them. My heart was shaking and my clothes were moist with sweat which came from my body like rain. I felt eventually they would arrest me and beat me with the whip. I breathed faster and faster, recited my secret Holy Quran verses from the second Sapara, the Ayato-l- Koorsai Verses, and requested help from Allah: "Save me from them, especially if our neighbors or relatives will know that the Taliban has carried me off or beaten me … what will happen to my family?" It is shameful in our culture when the police or Taliban arrest women. Before knowing the facts, there will be backbiting: "Allah only knows what happened to her that the Taliban arrested her. Maybe she did something." Our people would whisper like this.

I was worried about this and told myself that if this happens to me, then I don't need an education. I was immersed in my worries when suddenly again they called to me: "Stop! Hey girl! I am talking to you!" Again I ignored them and continued walking. I saw them from the corner of my eye. They were about to reach me. Some said "let her go," but others said, "no, look, she didn't respond to us as if she didn't know. Go and stop her and tell her do not come alone next time."

As I heard, my legs couldn't continue walking. I was about to fall down on the ground. Suddenly one of them, who had a big white Turban and a long beard with a mustache and black long eyebrows and sorma on his eyes ( a kind of dark make-up which Islamic people use to line inside their eyes,) jumped from the car with his gun and appeared in front of me. "Where you are going?" I was afraid and didn't have the ability to speak, as though my mouth was suctioned closed. I told him I was going to learn the Holy Quran.
"She said she is learning the Holy Quran," he told the others.

"Tell her that next time we shouldn't see her alone. Otherwise she knows what will happen," said a person who was sitting inside the car wearing a dark Turban. And then they left the place.

"Thank you, God," I said, "that you accept my prayer." I started walking fast towards my house. As I reached home, I threw off the burqa and found myself next to my grandmother who was sitting under the shadow of the trees in our yard with a flower in her hand. She smelled the flower and she put the flower on the ground and looked towards me. "Welcome. What is up, my dear daughter?" she said kindly. I started crying and while I was crying, my mother came.

"What is wrong with you?" asked my mom. My grandmother put my head on her bosom, caressed me and told me, "Don't cry, my dear daughter," then told my mother that the Taliban had stopped me and told me that I shouldn't walk alone.

I told my mom, "I am not going to the school."

"Look, my dear daughter," my mother told me. "Our country has had lots of war and those women who are educated suffered a lot, so now if you want to be a literate woman like your mom and other Afghan women, then you should struggle a lot and not take care over these small issues. Instead, try to learn knowledge. Otherwise you will be like a blind person who can never see."

For a few days, I stopped going to the school because I was in shock and my goal was that the Taliban would forget me. Then I started going to the school. But I couldn't forget that day when I was afraid.

By Freshta

From Idyllic Life To War

Posted: 09 Jul 2009 11:00 PM PDT

Here is what life was really like for me.

I was my parent's second child and though they had two daughters instead of sons, they loved me and my sister very much and were happy with what Allah gave to them.

At that time, we had a private manufacturing company with more than 200 staff. We owned houses, a car, and were financially stable. My parents worked hard to provide the best of life for us. Though we were children, we had our own bank accounts that our parents put money into for our future needs. They were good parents and we wanted for little. We wore the most beautiful clothes and played with the finest toys. Most afternoons, my mother received a call from my dad telling her to be ready because he was taking us out for dinner.

On holidays, my father planned picnics and invited our relatives. Sometimes we went to our factory for our picnics because my father built a very nice recreational area there. It had a big swimming pool, a beautiful flower garden, and lots of trees. Life was marvelous; abundant moments were passing—one by one—without us fully realizing their worth.

But those wonderful days were short-lived. They started when my sister and I were too young to fully appreciate them and were finished exactly when we need them the most.

When I was five, I loved to play with the neighborhood boys, but still I can clearly remember the words of my kind mom who warned, "Take care; don't go so far from house. There is a group of people who are kidnapping children. Don't eat anything from the hands of people whom you do not know because it may be poisoned. Don't pick up any pens, dolls, or other nice things on street because it might be a bomb or connected to a bomb. Don't go anywhere else. Just play in front of the house so I can see you."
I will never forget the moment the war was started. We were playing in front of our home. When we heard the voice of bullets, we were so happy. We shouted and jumped, not know it was war and that it was dangerous.

My mom ran to me and yelled, "Come fast. Let's go home. Don't stay here!"

I said to my friends, "Let's go to my house and watch the bullets from window together." And that's what we did, not realizing that we were enjoying the start of our dark coming days. The bullets came with greater frequency, along with other sounds of danger and violence. We grew afraid, and our laughter and shouting stopped.

My sister said, "This is all because of me. When the bullets started, I prayed for Allah to not let them be finished. But now I am very much afraid of them."

Throughout the night, bullets flew. Throughout the night, we did not sleep. Our house was situated between two rival factions of mujahedeen. We were caught in the crossfire, so we were unable to leave the house even though it was too dangerous to remain. Finally, we had no choice. Our parents carried us in their arms and ran barefoot from our home. We were not the only family running away without knowing where we were going. The street was filled with people just like us who were trying to flee the fighting and killing.

I saw terrible things. On the street corner, an injured man lay bleeding. He was still alive but medical aid could not reach him. Our parents tried to not let us see the dead people who were lying all along our path.
I still clearly remember each moment of that awful time. After hours of walking, my father finally found a car with a driver who was willing to take us away from the fighting. While my father and he spoke, many people jumped into the car—all of them with children and women. The driver was a good person: he took everyone to t heir requested locales.

He dropped us at my grandparent's house. We stayed about one week, but my grandmother and grandfather were unable to safely live there any longer because I had four young aunts who also lived there. Any second, we feared mujahedeen would knock on the door and take away my aunts. No one was capable of preventing it.

So my family, my grandfather's family, and my married aunt decided to leave Afghanistan and go to Iran or Pakistan in order to safe our lives. Along with our wonderful country, we left all of our happiness. We left our beautiful house that my parents had built out of hope and our factory that my grandfather—after years of hard work—had built into a successful business. But at that time, we could only think out how to find a safe place for our family. My idyllic childhood died in the face of war and migration to neighboring countries. Everyday my parents were faced new challenges: our schooling, our shelter, living expenses, on and on. For a time, war and relocation stole from me even the ability to look back and appreciate the happy childhood I'd once had.

By Zaralasht