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A Moment to Reflect

There's a big, square window I look out of when work is slow and I want to have a taste of the sunshine. Across the scrabbled green grass, I gaze at the pale yellow building, where families of renters come and go through the back door that is always open. The brown, curled roof shingles are framed in the window by the branches of two trees, and I can hear the muted sound of traffic from the street in front.

It's quiet in the office building. Most of the people have left for the day, ready for a nice weekend.

My mind wanders back to a conversation I had with my sister a couple of weeks ago when I was visiting. I was telling her what I had learned about Afghan culture from my job; how the history of men and women's positions in their culture was rooted in the role of men protecting the women....

That's a complete ruse!" she snapped. "An absolute LIE. Their role is only to subjugate and dominate women. To repress them and box them in."

"Our church had a missionary couple that went to Afghanistan- they had to come back because it was too dangerous, and one of the missionaries they lived with was killed."

She continued, "If you REALLY want to know what it's like, read 'The Kite Runner' or 'A Thousand Golden Suns'. THAT will tell you what the Taliban are like."

Her vehemence and arrogance surprised me, almost to the point of laughing.
First, her complete dismissal of any intelligence I had and my experience working both with Afghans and those intimately familiar with Afghan culture.
Second, that I would get answers to EVERYTHING reading 2 fictional books.
Third, that the end logic to her outburst was that ALL Afghan women were victims, who have been duped by their male counterparts. That these women were not smart enough to figure it out. Which I saw as insulting to Afghan women.

But, then I pondered, and thought why not? I'd read the books and see the window through which she was peering from.

And.... the books were good. Sad, and depressing in many parts, but good. Written from a man who lived and knew the history and culture of Afghans.

However, as I read, I realized what the issue was. I was talking about Afghanistan, and their historical background, and their culture.

To my sister, Afghanistan = Taliban. While I think many Afghans would decry this thought with passion, I also realized that this perception is pretty common in the USA.

There is a cultural divide between USA and Afghanistan that is difficult for people to understand. What my sister remembered from the books where the evil characters, the bastard who beats his wives without mercy, the Taliban leader that has been sadistic from childhood. And the women who lived in a horrible situation and WERE repressed.

What she did not see in her reading were the scenes of family tradition, the men and women who loved and respected each other, the times of love, and tenderness, and caring.

Those scenes were there- I read them.

But the central theme were the ugly, nasty things that alter lives forever. That's what my sister remembered. However, that's not unique to Afghanistan. After all, we have bastard men here in America who beat their wives, and their children. They exist everywhere.

In Karen's mind, those bad things must be the reason why Afghan women would wear a burqa, and not talk to strange men, and have to ask her family's permission to go to work, and not venture out alone in the streets. She forgot the scenes where a women is glad to be wearing the burqa because she felt more secure because of her anonymity, and she later appreciates the comfort of her husband sitting on the bus beside her.

It's only through stories, and sharing, and an earnestness to understand that respect comes to both sides. Otherwise, it's too easy to have an "I'm right and you're wrong" mindset.

I vote for a world where the mindset is "we're both different, and we're both right."


Nusrat Ara's picture

A very enlightning post. I

A very enlightning post. I really like what you have written. Your perspective is fresh and different for someone living in the west. People usually think like your sister. You know a girl from the west commented on my pic some years back " this is 21st century" the comment was made because of my clothes though my head was bare. It was coming from a girl whose english was weak ( she was over conscious of it that is y i mention) and who was still in school not sure if she would opt for higher studies. I at that time had finished my Masters in Mass Communication and Journalism , Was working in a local organization , had quite a liberal upbringing as well as mindset. Though the comment only amused me but it also made me wonder how the west see the women of the east.

I don't think much has changed.


jadefrank's picture

digging deeper for understanding

Hi Sondra,

Thank you for sharing this. It's interesting how we can create perceptions of an entire culture or even country based on what we read or see on TV. Because after all, that is our greatest source of information.

But it's when we take the time to get to know the people, to listen to their stories, to learn their vision, to hear their pain and celebrations, that we truly begin to understand the roots of their culture and can begin to break down the generalizations and create a deeper picture of the circumstances - which are never clear cut and easy to define.

This journal was a joy to read.

In friendship,

Atifa Nahid's picture


Dear Sondra,
That is great to understand your extensive ideas about Afghanistan culture, I am really very happy to hear from some one in west such ideas about Afghanistan.

Good wishes,
Atifa Nahid

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