“Only my pen tolerates my choices” – an essay by an anonymous Afghan woman
An essay written by one of the participants of the Afghan Women’s Writing Project – authors of the poetry that inspired our “Unknown, I Live With You” project.
I used to think big. When I was six, I made my mom let me go to school, and I loved it. My father told me: “If you stay at the top of your class until the end of your studies, I will do two things for you. First, I will let you go abroad to continue your education. Secondly, I will buy you a car and let you drive.” With the encouragement of my father, I was a superstar in my classes. He was my first English teacher and he always called me “my scholar daughter.”
During the Taliban’s black government, my brothers could go to school, but I couldn’t. My father bought me school supplies, though, and told me: “Be patient. One day you will finish your studies.” He was right. I waited five years, but after that, I could go to school.
When I was in ninth grade, I earned my first money from teaching English. It was only 200 Afs, but I was excited. I gave my salary to my father. He kissed me and laughed and told me, “Dear, keep your salary for yourself. I don’t need it.” I said, “Dad, it is for you.” He smiled and told me, “It is just the cost of ink for your shoes,” and he gave me another 1000 Afs. He was my supporter in all aspects.
When I was sixteen years old, one of my neighbors came to our house and proposed that his son marry me. My father was angry and told him: “Do you know my daughter is sixteen? It is time for her to study. If the king comes and knocks at the door of my house and proposes that my daughter marry his son, I won’t accept it. Please, leave my house and never come back again.”
I was in my last days of school when my father died. When I lost him, I lost my shadow, but he left me with his words and advice and books. After his death, our economic situation was bad. Mom’s salary was the equivalent of $25, which was not enough. I began teaching classes in a private school. Half my salary was for my studies and half went for house expenses. During these years, I was the poorest student in my class. I spent days without breakfast or lunch, but I felt happy for my education. During the last four years, I received a number of marriage proposals but I rejected them all. Most wanted me to stop my studies and never work outside the home.
After my father died, the responsibility for me fell to my brothers, who grew up under the Taliban government and were influenced by it. Now I live with three Talibs and I must obey what they say. I am not like a girl in the house, but a slave. When I was at third year at the university, the owner of our house demanded higher rent. My family decided they would leave Kabul and go to a province where housing was cheaper. But I didn’t know how I would continue my studies in that case, so I gave up my transportation money to help pay for our rent, and I go to the university on foot.
Still, at the beginning of this year, my brothers said: “It is time for you to marry.” They arranged a marriage to my first cousin, my mom’s brother’s son, who lives in a province where most of the people are Talib. My cousin is about 40 years old and uneducated. His family has a business and a big house. Their women are required to wear burqas and are responsible for cooking, cleaning and caring for the animals. Most have eight or nine children. They can’t go outside the house— even when they are sick, they aren’t allowed to go to the doctor. My uncle’s money gives him power despite the fact that he is uneducated.
My family thinks I am tired of working so hard, and that my uncle’s money will convince me to accept this golden bracelet. My uncle told my family he would pay them $20,000, and this money might possibly keep my family alive. At the same time, I am thinking about graduating, seeking my masters’ degree and a PhD, getting a better job, making an independent life, standing on my own feet. I told my mom: “Please give me a chance. I don’t like this man. I can’t marry him. If you want to sell me, then I am ready to buy myself. I have a plan for my life. Please give me a chance, please, please.” She didn’t reply, but cried silently with me. I told her: “If my father were here, he would bring a revolution in this house.”
None of my close friends know what is happening with me. Once one of my classmates came to my house and she was carrying her notebook. I study in secret. When my family saw her notebook, they behaved badly toward her and told her not to come again.
These days I am thinking of possible solutions: how to get another job, earn at least $1,000 a month in salary. Running away is not an option because girls who run away here are raped by men and spend years in jail, and I am not such a girl. I can’t leave my mom because my brothers believe anything “wrong” I do is the fault of my mother, and they will kill her. My brothers think a girl who has a bank account or a mobile phone is a prostitute. I hide my phone and keep it on silent mode when I’m home.
I have two months to find a solution. If I fail, I have to accept this marriage, and I will accept it because of my mom, but I can’t live in such a situation. How can I live with such a man, or accept such failure? I think if this happens, I won’t stay in this world; I will leave the world for those who can live in it, who can find a solution.
What I write here are the wounded and torn pieces of my heart and the secrets an Afghan girl suffers.
I am like a piece of cloth. I cost little. Who will buy me?
I was for sale, and had three months to find a solution or accept my fate. I stood with helpless hands, but I was lucky, the luckiest woman in my country; with help, I was able to buy my freedom. Among millions of Afghan women, I stood up to our crazy culture and its violence against females. After I bought my freedom, I thought it was the end of violence against me, the end of torment in my life, the end of tears.
My family moved from the house where they were living, hiding their new location from Uncle. Uncle began searching for me, following me step by step. He did not know I had married another, but our disappearance posed a question. I was a wanted person for him. I had broken his pride and power; I stood in front of his money and wealth. Because of this, Uncle wanted one thing: revenge. He no longer wanted to buy me as a wife for his son. Now, he wanted to buy me as a slave.
He found my brother and kidnapped him, taking him to southern Afghanistan, and sent warnings. He wanted me, but my coward uncle held my brother to try to find me. Uncle sent word that if I didn’t appear before him and answer his questions in front of a jirga (a tribal assembly of elders that makes decisions by consensus), he would cut off my brother’s fingers. I didn’t know what to do, but I told myself it was my right to buy myself, to buy my freedom.
A month passed in this way. Then I learned Uncle had cut off three of my brother’s fingers. I can’t tell you the pain I felt. I didn’t think I had my own fingers. It was my fault because I know my country; I know my family.
Now Uncle knows I am married to another, and he can’t tolerate it, that a woman broke his pride and power. “How dare she escape from my decisions? How dare a woman do this? I don’t let a woman stand in front of me.” Uncle sent a message to my mother, ordering me to appear before him, to say I’m sorry, and he wants my husband to apologize too and give Uncle one of his sisters as a slave. Uncle wants another deal; he wants his pride back. He wants to continue enmity generation by generation, and he wants not only me, but my children and all my family to pay the price for my decision.
When I bought myself, I was proud of my success. I still am, but I also am not. I can’t forgive myself if all my family members are sad, disturbed and disabled for me. Did I deserve freedom so that another young girl must now give up hers? Did I deserve the freedom that cost my brother part of his body? Is it ever possible to bring a positive change when we struggle against forced arranged marriage?
I live with my husband, and we are happy, very happy, but we feel life is short. We wait to hear what Uncle will do next. To be honest, I sometimes feel I don’t have the energy to continue, but I think of a man who took my hands and taught me all men are not cruel. I am concerned for my husband, and I live for him and my sick mother and my dreams for my education.
I don’t see a solution. In my country, I am considered bad, and people blame me for standing against my family, failing to respect my elders, and rejecting a life serving the husband my uncle chose for me whom I didn’t love. Only my pen tolerates my choices. I bought my freedom, but violence still follows me, and I can’t escape, and I still wish I was not a woman.