#13 Life in Afghanistan :: A Hidden World

Today’s post is written by Melissa, one of the first foreigners I ever met in Afghanistan. My main memories are of her trying to keep a less-than-1-year-old baby, and a 3 year old entertained inside the four walls of a small compound in the middle of a hot summer. Weary though she was with two small children she inspired me with her love of the people and her heart for the nation.

Melissa writes from her heart about her own experiences and the stories of Afghans she knows. A beautiful writer, and a beautiful person, I’m so glad I get to share her writing with you today.

February 2011 028

“Another cup of tea?”  I gestured to the empty glass in front of me.  There were about eight ladies wearing vibrant headscarves in the room; some eagerly accepted, while others placed their right hand on top of their glass, indicating a refusal.  We had eaten a massive noonday meal together, and the customary green or black tea with crushed cardamom that signals the end of the meal, was being served.
Today, no one was in a hurry to rush back to their homes where only laborious work awaited them.  The ladies relaxed and settled in, headscarves started to slip off hair that is often hidden.  The curtains closed, they felt safe from prying eyes.

Afghan women love to laugh, joke, and tease one another.  This is never reveled in public, and to the world they appear stoic. Their jovial side exists behind closed doors; in a hidden world.

The topic changed to marriage. Some obscure fact I have heard is less than 1% of the adult population remains unmarried in Afghanistan.  Whether this is true or not someone is always on the verge of getting engaged, planning a wedding, or shopping for wedding clothes.
The chatter shifted from an upcoming wedding to the day when they got married.

I slipped in a question, “How old were you when you were married?”  The ladies took time answering, “14, 12…13.”  I have lived here long enough not to be shocked by their replies, but I couldn’t help my mind from drifting to my own early adolescence and the plagues I had to deal with at 13.
Unruly hair, crooked teeth, and never enough money to buy the stylish clothes that I thought would help me fit into the “right” crowd.  All of these seemed miniscule to the responsibilities they faced.

The eldest woman in the room spoke, “I wasn’t even wearing tombons.”  She laughed pulling on her loose fitting trousers that are wore under long dresses, and then repeated the statement again, “I wasn’t even wearing tombons.” This indicates she had been so young…she was free to roam and run in children’s clothing.

“I was 7 maybe younger,” she continued.  “Our house needed to be repaired. The gilkor came and fixed it.  We were eight children; my father had no money so he paid for the work with me.  I remember being taken to my new home on a donkey.  I was so afraid, I would fall off the donkey on the long journey, I thought of nothing else.”  She paused…all eyes were on her.

“When I got to the house…all the young girls ran out.  ‘A new friend’ they shouted.  But, I was the servant for several years.  I worked cleaning and taking care of the house.  Later, my husband would try to come and find me, and I would climb a tree, make faces at him and hide.”  She put her two hands up by her ears and wiggled them making a mocking face…tears welled up in her eyes as she recounted this.  “I knew nothing.” She says and a silence falls over the group.  It is too much for even some of my afghan friends, all of them have daughters.

I feel compelled to break the silence…
“What ages were your daughters when they got married?” I asked.
“18, 20, 22, 17…come the replies.  They get married after they finish school.” I sigh relieved.  I know many of these women come from poor families; their answers could have been identical to their own.

The eldest woman who had shared her heart breaking story has many daughters; they have all finished high school or are still in school.  Several of them have careers.  The biggest difference between all of these ladies and their daughters is they never had this option.  This has made a world of difference for their daughters, but sadly there are many places in Afghanistan where this is still the case.

Melissa R Meyers has worked for an International NGO in Afghanistan for the past eight years.  This above story was from an experience she had in the remote Northeastern province of Badkhashan.

This is part of the 31 Day series



7 Comments on “#13 Life in Afghanistan :: A Hidden World”

  1. […] Day Thirteen :: A Hidden World (Child brides and the hope of education) […]

  2. Melissa says:

    Thanks Emily for your kind words. It is easier now my children are a bit older. Great series of blogs you are running!

  3. Amanda Hallas says:

    So moving. So grateful for people who give up their creature comforts to serve in this land. Having worked in social work in a local authority we became too tolerant of “cultural norms”. Thankfully we had one Equalities manager who firmly believed that abuse is abuse whether it be called female circumcision or early enforced marriage. Thankfully you guys are carrying a powerful message of enlightenment.

  4. Melissa says:

    Amanda, you are right it surprisingly can be easy to become tolerant of “cultural norms” which are horrendous abuses. Thanks for pointing out how we have to call them for what they are!

  5. Michelle says:

    I’m really enjoying this series. Thanks for sharing your (and others’) experiences of Afghanistan in a way different from what Americans normally hear.

    • EJ Reading says:

      Thanks for reading along Michelle, I’m really enjoying writing this series and sharing it all with you. Ask any questions you have, I’ll be doing a Q&A post on the 30th.

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