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Women of Afghanistan
I pulled the covers over my head to block my parents’ yelling. I do this every night, as it seems there is always a new argument, but based on the same problems.
In my mind’s eye, I flash back to when I was ten years old, sitting with mother drinking chai.
“Adelah, do you know the history of our people?” she gazed into my eyes.
“No mother, will you tell me?”
“An evil group, the Taliban, once oppressed our people. They no longer rule over us, thanks to the Americans. They came to Afghanistan and fought for us. They also trained our people so that we can take care of ourselves and our country. I am forever grateful and you should be too, Adelah.”
Now, I hear my father’s powerful voice booming with anger as he yells at mother.
“You can’t continue telling our children that the Americans helped us! They created more problems! With their arrogant ways, they think they can change everything. Some things can’t be changed.”
Mother’s fragile voice now takes over. “My children must hear the truth! The Americans helped us develop! We wouldn’t have the military training if it weren’t for them. We wouldn’t have the new western culture either.”
“We don’t NEED their culture! We have our own!”
“Our own culture was ruined before they came! Taliban rulers took away women rights. Their cruel standards remain today. Women aren’t allowed to work, go outside without a male escort, or even attend school after the age of 8! Adelah could’ve excelled had she gone to school!” Mother’s voice quivers. The memory of my 8th birthday still haunts me. Unlike other birthdays, she was weeping when she woke me that morning. Now I know why.
Mother continued, “Women can’t get proper education. If our people are educated, we can get away from corruption. An American Marine once told me this when I was younger. Women must be educated too in order to help save Afghanistan.”
“Women don’t need an education so long as men have one! Men can fix any problem and women should just depend on men. How insulting that you would hold so strongly onto words from an arrogant American Marine!”
After this, silence. I couldn’t sleep. Were the Americans our country’s heroes or were they self-righteous in believing they could come into Afghanistan and order our leaders around? Some Afghans share mother’s opinion, some father’s, and this is troublesome at times. My house is never peaceful when both mother and father are here.
The next morning as I went down to breakfast, my cool hands slid against the staircase’s marble railing. The Americans built many fancy houses during my younger years, before they cleared out. Before then, almost no one in our village had heard of marble or polished wooden floors in their homes. Our family isn’t rich. Actually, that’s an understatement; we’re very poor. However, we live in this house because; it was given to us. Mother always speaks of selling our house to the rich men in the mining business, and use the proceeds to buy a teleport device to get us out of Afghanistan.
“Bye Adelah. I’ll see you after work,” father runs out the door with Faheem trailing, going to school. Usually after they leave, mother and I clean the house and prepare food. But today, as soon as father slammed the door, she pulled me aside to her room.
“Adelah, listen. Every day I pray that someday you’ll go to school, express yourself, make your voice heard, and improve Afghanistan. You know that your father feels women shouldn’t be educated, this is his mistake.” Her voice quivered as she spoke. I nodded obediently. “You know the American Marines near the market?” I nodded once more. “I have been going down there to seek assistance.” I was bewildered and most of all, scared. How would father react if he found out mother was going outside, alone? Or worse, would the government punish her? “I have already arranged for your cousin Amin to escort you to them.” As her eyes welled with tears, I grasped her in a big hug.
“Mother, I’ll try my hardest. I promise.”
On my first day, I was excited and felt free, trying hard to contain my excitement from father. As soon as his heavy footsteps were out of earshot, I ran out the door in the opposite direction to meet Amin.
Surprisingly, he just stared. “What?” I asked. We began to walk towards the market. Suddenly he broke the silence.
“Adelah, if education is truly the aid we need, how come we haven’t fixed anything yet with all the teaching of Afghans these many years? It’s all still the same mess.” Amin’s words stung. I didn’t know how to respond. Speechless, we continued to walk until reaching the underground facility. Looking both ways, Amin held the ground trap door open. I slid into the darkness carefully and quietly, then bang! Amin closed the door and was gone.
Once inside, two Marines greeted me. Dressed in shades of green and thick boots, they looked strongly intimidating but had friendly, welcoming faces.
“Adelah?” one asked. I bowed my head in reply. “Ready to get started?” I must’ve looked scared because he then said, “Don’t worry. We’ve got you in a secure place.” They took me into another room within the facility, and handed me a sophisticated-looking device. Cool to the touch, when I tapped the front, different pictures started moving. An electronic piece of paper?
“Sir, what is this?”
“An eLearning Tablet. American students use these at school. It contains all the information you need to know and it allows you to explore information you would like to know.”
“So it’s like a book?”
“Yes, but this helps the environment. We no longer destroy trees to make paper because of this.” His words made me feel privileged, something I had never felt before.
Hours passed as he taught me new things; like new words and math problems. But soon the session came to an end.
“Adelah?” he said before I was about to head up the pathway out.
“What is it you want most?” I thought long and hard about this question. I knew that father wanted most for Faheem to become a leader in Afghanistan. I knew mother wanted education for all. But I never thought about what I wanted.
“Equal rights,” I stated it as if I’d known it for years.
“What kind of equal rights?” he asked.
“I want my people to be equal regardless of who they are. I want women to be given a chance to lead, get an education, and to go outside freely. I want us to be included in society, not be indirect-slaves,” the words came out like a speech of an activist.
“I think I can help that happen.” Here, he handed me a small box-like device. “With this you can teleport to the United States. There, you and your mother can speak freely while sharing with the world the issues regarding the laws in Afghanistan. America has major influence on the rest of the world, and once they hear what you have to say, surely more effort will be put into changing Afghanistan. I have already shared this with your mother, she should be coming right now.” Exactly at that moment, the door opened and mother came in. She had tears in her eyes just as she did yesterday, but today; they were tears of joy. She gripped me in a tight hug.
“Mother, what about what father said? We are never to leave the country,” I inquired.
“We’re not leaving forever. Once we go to America and speak with their leaders, others will want to help. Our country could be changed for everyone, including your father. Then we can proudly say we are ‘Women of Afghanistan.’ Women who helped improve the country.” Mother spoke with such determination. The next thing I knew, bright lights of radiant colors were flashing around us, and a constant buzz rumbled in my ear. The movement was getting faster and faster, and then suddenly, it stopped. I looked around and saw houses, trees, families walking freely and thought; wow, this is what America looks like. “We’re here.” Mother whispered.
The next few weeks, mother and I traveled all over America with the Marines, sharing our story and the stories of Afghanistan’s people (especially women). We touched audiences each time. Mother asked them to help us by spreading awareness. In time, this movement led to law reforms in Afghanistan. The government saved themselves by claiming they “were not aware of the distresses the lack of education for women was causing our people because; no one had ever openly said anything.” Mother and I, two women, had been blessed to truly make a difference in our country’s future. I could hardly wait to go back and live in a better Afghanistan.