The Girl in the Cafe

Ray and I were sitting in the City Center Cafe when an attractive young woman sat down at the table next to us.  This was usually a sign that she was interested in talking to us.  It happened a few times before that women would sit near us and wait for an invitation to join our table.  The problem with this was that it nearly always caused an uproar.  Afghan men did not like “their women” talking to “the damn Americans.”
We were careful.  Ray and I furtively searched the cafe for intrusive or fundamentalist looking characters.  Long hair and full beards were usually sure signs of a fundy freak but sometimes the young guys would stare at us.  It seemed sometimes that they were waiting for some pretense to raise a scene.  Seeing no one especially alarming, Ray invited the young girl over to our table.  I didn’t really pay her too much attention.  She and Ray spoke for a while until she rose and bid us good day.  As she departed, she sat a piece of paper in front of Ray, smiled and walked off.

“Another phone number?”
“Yeap!”
“Ray, that’s going to get you killed.”
“I know.  But it’ll be worth it.”

A few days later, the young girl met us at the roof top cafe of our hotel.  Amazingly, she was unescorted.  We drank tea as she related her story to us.
“My Mother and Father are selling me to an old man.  I do not want to go.  I’m educated.  I graduated last year from one of the best schools in Switzerland.  Now, I’m going to be sold to this old man because my parents need money.”
“Well, run away.  Leave.  Can’t you find a way to get back to Switzerland?” Ray asked.
I just stared on incredulously.  It’s not that I’d not heard this story before or that I was surprised but it’s not something to which one grows accustomed.  Parents sell their daughters all the time in Afghanistan.  Still, the injustice of this girls plight angered me.
“To run would bring dishonor to my family.  Besides there is nowhere that I could hide and running would be dangerous.  I’d either be thrown in a dirty prison or killed.”  She answered Ray.
I sipped my tea.
She continued; “I was raised to be obedient.  Still, I never thought that I’d be sold like this to an old man.  I allowed myself to believe that I could have a normal life like my friends in Switzerland.”
Ray stared at her.  He looked upset.
“Do not worry Ray.  There is nothing that you could do.  If you involved yourself, it would be trouble.  Dangerous for you.”
I had heard similar stories while in Afghanistan.  However, I’d never met the story in flesh and blood.  This girl was beautiful.  Even wrapped up in her hijab (scarf) and dressed in the drab black so common to Afghan women, she was stunning.  She was cultured, educated, sophisticated.  None of that mattered.
“Ray, this man is a fundamentalist.  I will spend the rest of my life in a closet.  I will be expected to give him boys.  Once I have a baby, I will be hidden away in the dark for the rest of my life to protect his honor.  No one will see me.  I will have no friends.  I will be comfortable but useless.  This is not life.
I contemplated killing myself but I do not have the strength of those girls.  I can only pray that this old man dies before he can consummate the bargain that my parents have made.”
This is one of the more maddening aspects of Afghanistan.  American politicians such as Laura Bush are constantly yammering away at the improvement in the lives of Afghan women.  I’ve not seen it.  There was an improvement in the lives of women in the three to six months immediately following the “liberation” of Afghanistan.  However, the moment that Sharia was enshrined in the Afghan Constitution the curtain fell on women’s rights in the land of the Pushtoon and Tajiks.  Women’s rights are now a pipe dream in Afghanistan.

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