I recently read the “Dressmaker of Khair Khona” (by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon) which is the story of a woman who, with her sisters, supported themselves through the Taleban era, by sewing clothes and selling them through male shopkeepers in their local markets. Her contact with these non-relatives was forbidden at that time but they needed a way to sell their work.
This book suggested that women through necessity have become successful entrepreneurs in this country and reminded me that perhaps we should celebrate the strength of Afghan women. Our celebration of their strength doesn’t mean there are not individuals and whole groups who need our assistance but we are not helping a helpless creature but one with inherent dignity, strength, experience and much to build on.
Mahiba is one such strong woman. Her husband became addicted to opium after their village, in eastern Afghanistan was destroyed in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Overnight, he changed from being a farmer, with pride, to a traumatized and depressed man. His friends offered him drugs to give him short term relief from his troubles and so he became addicted. In the land which produces more than 90% of the world’s opium, it is relatively cheap and widely available, unlike medicine, counseling or psychiatric care.
His mental health deteriorated further after their new home in a refugee camp outside of Peshawar in Pakistan was bulldozed and they were forced to return to Afghanistan. One day when he was withdrawing, he came home and broke everything they had in their one bedroom mud-brick house, screaming at Mahiba to give him money. Every plate and cup was thrown at Mahiba or her seven children and so the next day her poor neighbours brought an offering of a cup or a plate (whatever they could spare) to her to help. Then as arranged, she came with her children to our house to gather grass to feed their few animals, never mentioning what had happened. Smiling and enjoying her youngest son’s joy as he played on my son’s tricycle. Her older children gathered small white flowers from our tree – they told us they were like candy and ate them hungrily. (My children tried them but were unimpressed).
Mahiba is such a strong, active woman, who somehow manages to help her family survive her husband’s outbursts and feed her seven children. She is not seeking handouts, just work if we have any to offer. She is now a facilitator of women’s self help groups in her area, respected by her peers who see her succeeding despite the adversity she has suffered. She is one of so many Afghan women struggling in the hope that her children will have a life better than her own.
Let us celebrate all that our clients and other women in this country have to offer and have learnt through their suffering, while providing them with some small assistance, to lead them to life in all its fullness.