Poverty, War and Women’s Rights

Extract from an email dated 20th August 2009.

I am slowly immersing myself in traditional Afghan life. I spend all my time with village-people and over the weekends, we travel from one family to the next, staying overnight at a relative’s house. I am staying with a family I used to sponsor in a mudhouse just at the foot of a hill called TV Hill. We sometimes stay with some of her relatives – they are such a big family so I really try hard to remember their names and also understand their character. I feel like family with most of them. My pedar (father) gave me an Afghan name Sosan. I call myself Sosan Ghulam Habib Ebadi here. They are really really accomodating and enjoy having me as a guest. I think they take it as a priviledge. They don’t interact with foreigners so this is a novelty for them.

From where they sleep, how they cook, what they eat you can really tell how very poor her relatives are. Two nights ago I stayed at Shoaib’s house. His family is really poor. Both father and mother do not have a job. He makes Afghan burgers and sells it everyday to support his family, working long hours under the heat. I teach him English now about 3 times a week with the hope that it will increase his employability. He wanted to do some courses and go to school but the mother pulled him out because the family needed him to work. When I visit their relatives house, sometimes I feel really bad because it costs them to cook for me and in addition, they have to buy me bottled mineral water.

I am really learning to understand what war is like, what war does, how war destroys. When I am outside Afghanistan a suicide bomb is just another suicide bomb. I have become completely desensitised to numbers dead, number of casualties, what it means for the families. When I am here, and when I see how my Modar reacts when we hear a bomb, when we see a bomb cloud outside our window and when I see her making calls to her son to find out if he is okay, I know what it means. She has tears in her eyes even if she has seen it all before. During the Indian Embassy blast, she saw dead people lying around, some without limbs on her way to find her daughter, Sunbol, who was at school. Some nights we get up shocked because we hear a rocket blast. Normally we stir back to sleep, but not without reciting a prayer first. After every attack, we rush to switch on the television. They often are reported minutes after the incident. First we find out where, then we find out who did it, then we find out how many injured and then we find out how many dead. Each hour we discover new information. It really jolts you. I become very dazed, very forlorn…..then sometimes wonder what am I doing here? I know not to take my life lightly. Ordinarily, I don’t feel like I owe my life to anyone, or that my life belongs to anyone else. Except for my mother. I am cautious only because of her. But when I hear and see whats around me and how it affects people, I know to live for me as well. Everyone doesn’t understand why I left England to be here, when Afghans would do anything to be elsewhere. I have had marriage proposals for this reason; some men see me as a passport to another place, an escape from Afghanistan, from all of this. Men who fight, who kill, they force sons to leave their mothers, they force their own people to leave their homes. There is no greater sin than this.

—–

I am doing mostly research work now. And I really enjoy it as I am learning so much about the work and strategies of women’s organisations in promoting women’s rights. I feel happy when I hear their success stories, stories of change, of difference and it makes me believe more and more than things can and will become better. Solidarity is in our hands, we are the ones responsible for the solidarity of human kind. So although sometimes things can be difficult, I leave each interview session and each meeting feeling satisfied at the efforts I am learning about and also feeling it is my responsibility to document this. So often, Afghan women are portrayed as victims all the time, suppressed, abused. Men are the oppressors. And the west the saviours. But even dating before the invasion, these women were running their own projects,their own underground schools and training centres, their own resistance campaigns. These women have agency. They are great leaders and they have made very meaningful changes. I feel its my responsibility to document this; to show others the Afghan strategy, Afghan successes and the women behind this work.

xx

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