Afghan Women's Writing Project: Be Thankful for Your Freedom

6 years ago

(Ed. Note: This essay is part of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project founded by novelist Masha Hamilton. Under the project, Afghan women write in secure online workshops taught by published American novelists, poets, memoirists, screenwriters and journalists. The strongest pieces are posted online on a blog. The AWWP is aimed at giving women a voice at a time when Afghanistan appears to be growing more conservative. The project encourages participants to claim their own stories and publishes them under their first names. In very rare cases—and this is one—the writers, who are well-known to AWWP, feel they can only safely share beyond the project if they do so anonymously.) Our writer, a regular on this site, says, “I was never ready to share my personal life, but now life has brought me in a crossroad with no option and no hope. I don’t want anyone to know this is me. If anybody knows, it means that will be my last day of life. My family and uncles will kill me. It is not just a word that comes out of my mouth. They would surely kill me.”

My mother put cacao chocolates in front of my uncle’s wife, I’ve been told. Then all the guests in the room clapped. The men hugged my father, and Dad kissed my face. “Congratulations,” he said. I was one month old. I didn’t know anything from this world. But from that day, I was promised to my 10-year-old cousin. Though I was a baby, my father engaged me and dug a grave for my dreams.

As I grew, I didn’t like this cousin; I didn’t want him close to me. He hated the word “school” and didn’t want me to go. For him, going to school was an act against Islam. His family also didn’t want me at school. His mother told mine that she must teach me to cook and clean and respect the family elders, and that her son didn’t like schoolgirls and therefore I had to stay home.

My mom was always standing in front of me like a wall, there to defend me. She wished to have an educated daughter, but to fulfill this wish, she had to pay a life price. Ignoring the words of my cousin and his family was a challenge and a big disturbance for all family members. Most of the time, when my future in-laws knew I was going to school, they burnt my school books and supplies.

On the days when my cousin was in our house, I was not able to go to school. Though we both were young, he always checked my clothes and didn’t let me wear girlish colors. “You are not a single girl,” he told me. “You are dependent on a man and that is me, so do what I want you to do.” Everybody whispered to me that my feelings and desires were locked in my cousin’s mind and heart, because he was my future husband. So school days passed, mixed in with all the unhappy days I had with my future in-laws.

I wept and asked why I was not born an independent human. I detested having my destiny belong to him. I didn’t want to be a slave my entire life by becoming his wife. Later, I couldn’t compare myself, my ideas and talent, to him.

My strength, my power, my voice have been always ignored. I had to tolerate life and hide things inside my heart. My desires, hopes and wishes stayed unknown, and I was passive from the scene of my life. I never had the courage to look others in the eyes or talk back to them. I always stood in the first rank at school; all my teachers respected me and complimented me for my talents and hard works, my classmates wished they were like me. But I wished I was like them, happy individuals who had their choices and had their freedom.

Every time my future in-laws proposed that this was the time for marriage, I begged my mom to postpone it somehow, and she did. As I attended university, which was full of its own problems and challenges, I learned what had happened to me was not according to Islam, but to the foolish culture and customs of the elders of my family.

During my university years, I went for one academic year to the U.S. on a fellowship program. There, I felt how educational life is wonderful, how much freedom is worth and how my life was wasted. I was in the U.S. when Mom called me and begged me to return to Afghanistan. My cousin was putting pressure on my family, and my dad and brothers had beaten my mother. I returned because I felt devoted to my mom.

My travel to the U.S. was another fault added to my black faith. I couldn’t defend myself before my in-laws because they thought whatever I said, I addressed from the viewpoint of American culture. As I talked, I was censored. I was told to shut up, that I was an Afghan girl.

After my return from the U.S., plans went ahead for my wedding. I was in the middle of no way. I felt I had lost myself. I didn’t want to be a bride. I hated to see myself stand with a man who thought of me as a slave. I said I wanted to finish at the university first, but my cousin said, “I can’t wait for you. Your education is not important to me. What will you do if you finish your university? It is a shame for me if my wife works.”

Then he married another girl. This was not a relief but another insult for me, as they want me to be his second wife. He told me, “I am a man and I can do everything, but you can’t and you have no way. You were mine since we were kids and you are my second wife.” My cousin’s family does not value women; they treat them as pets, slaves, cleaners and baby producers.

Now I am stalemated and lost. I have only a few weeks before I graduate from the university, and then my cousin won’t allow any more excuses. My kind family has three options for me: marry my cousin as a second wife, marry a man who is 50 years old, has connections to the government and is a drug dealer, or marry a man who is a widower with seven sons.

My family thinks the drug dealer’s money can save my life. But he sold his brother's widow in a slavery market at the Pakistan border. There, women are the business and property of men. Money is his entire world. I have no doubt he would sell me in the slavery markets of Pakistan as well.

The widower is of an influential family, and my family thinks he will have the power to fight my cousin’s family. But his oldest son is my age, and I would be responsible for bringing up the others.

My family considers me a stigma. I brought them shame by not marrying my cousin, by going to school and then to the U.S. I’m 23 years old. They think I should have babies by now. My father and brothers are not ready to give me more time. They want me to marry, no matter what. They want me to choose from the three options.

I am in the middle of a storm: The end of university days is the end of my life. I will have to walk on the paths made for me by others. I feel as if I am waiting for my death. I have to save myself, but I don’t know how. I always ask myself what I’ve done wrong; why must I suffer this much? There is only one answer: because I am an Afghan woman.

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