Sunday, June 8, 2008

Afghan Literature

I am currently reading The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad, a woman who lived in Kabul with an Afghan family. I mention this, for though it is about Afghanistan which is much more extreme than Tajikistan in terms of Islamic culture and fundamentalism, she describes so precisely the feeling of which I still can hardly speak from my Tajik experience: the perception thof being trapped, slowly but surely more and more each day, so that on the first days you don't realize it, but on the 30th day you find a shell is hard around you. I am actually sure this is unique to women, and for a Western woman to experience this is like taking a knife in the gut, where you will not die, but the wound is so severe that you know you will bleed and hurt for a long time after.

In her book, Asne Seierstad mentions the poetry of Afghan women. This is a collection from anonymous writers which in English is called Songs of Love and War: Afghan Women's Poetry. They are called landays in Farsi and are written in two line verses of 9 and 13 syllables. Here are a few:

Cruel People, you can see the old man
On his way to my bed
And you ask me why I cry and tear my hair

Tomorrow morning I will be killed because of you.
Do not say that you did not love me

Take me first in your arms!
Afterward you can bind yourself in my velvet thighs

In many ways this is the most touching poetry I have ever heard. For these are women who loved, when to love was to commit the heaviest of crimes; they are the ones who had the courage to write about their emotions when feminine emotion was ignored, and they do, for once, not hide themselves behind a hijab or burka, but expose the honest truth about a woman's life to their society.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Heartbroken Men and Old Widows

I have received two messages in the past two weeks from devastated young Tajik men who did not get the girl of their choice to marry them. One, a well traveled business man with a big heart and a kind smile, has had his eye on a number of different 19 year-olds, and plans his wedding to be in August. Recently, the girl he wanted most said no when his mother went to her house to request marriage. He started chatting with me later that day talking as if the world was going to end as was his life and there was no hope of him ever finding another spouse or suitable woman. All I could come up with to say (trying to hide the fact that I do not believe in or support any form of arranged marriage) was "все будет хорошо" (everything will be alright).

Another, an educated 23 year-old with a steady job for the US Government in Dushanbe, told me last night that his girlfriend of 5 years decided to marry another man by her grandparent's decision. I was prepared for another outbreak of emotion as I (as I had not expected from the former) but he simply said "Well' know life is like a piano..what you get out it ..depends on how you play I'm playing it well.....I hope....some doors are being closed for me..but the other doors are being opened up for is beautiful"

On the other side, I met two of the most beautiful Tajik women, both 26 or 27 in age and very intelligent. But neither was married. I began to talk with one about her choices as a young woman and why she did not marry in her early twenties. She said she always thought she was too young, and just kept putting it off. And now, as she almost started to weep and I scolded myself for being insensitive and asking too many questions, she is too old for the men, too intelligent, for she is more wise and more demanding in her choice of life's partner. No one wants to marry her anymore, and like most women she wants children of her own one day but dares not hope too much. We changed the subject, then.

Well, the suffering of arranged marriages apparently does not exclude men and, though the culture is slowly being broken out of, it is as the expense of young women who must live their life alone. Quite frankly, if I was Tajik girl I would jump on a wedding with one of these guys, and if I was a man I'd be all for these women for each one of them shows him or herself to be an intelligent, clear-sighted and competent person. Why is it that the good educated men and women just have the hardest time finding their own happiness in life?