Media, burkas, food & prayers -- must be Afghanistan!
August 13, 2007

 
Inshallah, one week from tomorrow, I'll be on a plane bound for Dubai, then a plane bound for Duesseldorf...

Who is in charge of media outreach (otherwise known as propaganda) on "our" side in Afghanistan? Because whoever it is - you drive me crazy. Do you understand these people *at all*? Do you actually *have* a plan?!? Are you Karen Hughes' sister or something?

Anyway...

If you want to see some images from Afghanistan that contrast greatly from what you see on the media, visit the Flickr account I set up specifically for the initiative I support. Note how differently women are dressed, and whether or not they are in the same room with men, depending on which province.

I'm really proud of these photos. I've gotten some emails from Afghan expatriates abroad who have found these and have said they felt proud to see images that contrast from what they see on the news.

I'm so jealous of male international workers here, I really am. Men get (and can accept) invitations from Afghan male co-workers to travel together or visit the family's home, they can all (internationals and locals) go have lunch together just about anywhere, they can stop off at a roadside whatever on their way from point A to point B and talk with the locals freely (if they all speak the same language.). Me, I can get to know locals only through my interactions with them at work, at my guest house, or at a restaurant. I feel like a freakin' colonialist. Some international women attempt more interaction with locals, and sometimes it's fine, but I've heard too many stories about the consequences to ever do it myself. That's one of those buy-me-drinks-and-I'll-tell-you-more kind of things...

I talk to all of my female co-workers whenever possible, as they are my window into a part of this country that's hidden from most internationals. I get the impression that I work with many more locals than most international workers here do. Well, most Americans, anyway. And for that, I am very grateful.

I asked Fariba if she had a burka. She said no. I asked her if she had ever had a burka. She said she fled to Pakistan when the Taliban said women had to wear a burka. I got the impression she would like the Taliban to have to eat burkas. She came back to Afghanistan because her family needed her, and refused to leave the house because she refused to wear the burka. If she has to wear one for some reason now, she borrows it from someone. I asked her another time if, when she goes to the USA for studies, she will wear her headscarf. She said no. I assured her that she could wear it, no problem, that in big cities, no one would think twice about it. She said no, she doesn't like to wear it. Fariba is incredibly ambitious (as are all of the Afghan women I work with). Her parents love and respect their daughters and sons equally in the family - something *quite* rare here. I've bought Fariba a book on development management and some material to help her study for the TOEFL (to certify her level of English; it's the English version of the DELE, which I took for Spanish). I don't want to be some kind of sugar momma, or see her as my-little-personal-development-project but, at the same time, I really want to help her - investing in her is, for me, investing in Afghanistan. And no matter how I feel as I am about to leave (WAHOO!! GET ME OUT OF HERE!!), I do still want to do that.

Fariba asks me questions about the USA as well. Recently - I don't know how we got on the subject - she asked lots of questions about holidays in the USA and Germany, and we compared celebration styles between the USA, Europe and Afghanistan. She had no idea Europe was so diverse when it came to holiday celebrations - like me, she had never heard of the Catalan Christmas Eve log (come on, Alex, you Catalan people and your strange traditions...) She was interested that celebrations in Europe and the USA are similar in many ways to those in Afghanistan: family getting together, people wearing nice clothes and eating lots of food. We talked about things unique to our families, like when her grandmother once served only food at a celebration that began with one particular letter of the Dari alphabet, just for kicks. I know I'm going to tell Mamaw that and then the next meal she cooks will have food that begins only with the letter "B" or something.

After our office got together to sit and listen to a Koranic prayer in honor of a staff member who had lost an uncle, Sara (prounounced "Zarah"), the receptionist, asked me if we did the same in the USA. I assured her we did - and then we eat lots of food. She said that, normally, that's what is done in Afghanistan as well, but since we were at work...

I wish I could take all the women from my work place to the USA on a month-long field trip. These women are sooooooooooooooooooooo in the minority here - haven't been forced into marriage (yet), allowed (even encouraged) to work and to study... they'll be fleeing to other countries if the government ever decides to roll back the clock again (don't think for a minute it's only the Taliban working to make that happen here). And if that happens, woe be to Afghanistan, because this country will never make it without the talents and energy of all these amazing women.

Prayers in Afghanistan are a bit strange to me, in that, while someone is praying at, say, the opening of a conference or workshop or luncheon, people are up walking around and talking. Me, the Atheist: I'm sitting there trying to be quiet and respectful, the way I do in Kentucky when someone is praying at the opening of a conference or workshop or luncheon, and all these Afghans are walking around, shuffling papers, talking on cell phones... it's strange to me. Anyway, I do love to hear the Koran recited. It's really beautiful. Very powerful. I like to hear prayers in Hebrew. I like to hear Gregorian chants. And, ofcourse, I *love* gospel music. I can't put my finger on why, as I don't believe any of it. Maybe I just like it when people acknowledge that there are things greater than themselves.

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