Monday, 19 December 2011

Sometimes rules have to be broken

They have that fearful and mischievous look of schoolgirls who know they are breaking a rule but aren’t really sorry about it. Before entering the room, they spent almost an hour preparing their transgression, talking each other into it and weighing the consequences. They know they are likely to be chastised for it, but they decided that it’s worth it. After all, there are these other three who are doing it and they will get away with it.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Mission impossible: disguising a western woman in a chadari

"Thanks" to a high-profile assassination, my supervisor decided that I should have a chadari, just in case of emergency. While that might sound like a smart disguise, wearing it on the street for just a few minutes confirmed that any man who wasn't blind could spot from some hundred metres that I was a foreigner. That thing is by far the most difficult garment I ever had to put on, and that includes my kindergarten costume party outfits! Of course, not being comfortable in your clothes shows, so men walking by me on the street were staring even more than when I go out without it. Later I was told that it was the way I walk and carry my body that gave me away more than the jeans which were slightly visible underneath.

On dating and proper dress code

For a few days, I am sharing my room with a colleague from another province, a university-educated woman in her twenties living in the southern province of Ghazni. She is a Hazara, a member of the ethnic group who has suffered the worst of the Taleban brutality and discrimination; long before the Taleban rule, however, the Hazara were considered second-class people, good only for working as servants and unqualified manual labourers. 

Come to my house, have some tea!

It's been a while since I wrote. Seems my eternal problem with writing rears its head again. So many times in my life, under the influence of strong emotions looking for a way out, I started a writing project, whether it was a diary, a blog or a novel, only to abandon it shortly thereafter, not because my emotions are gone, but because they found other outlets. Other times, I simply can't find the right words to express how I feel or what I've just experienced, so I don't even try.

Anyway, today it seems my writing mood is back, so here it goes:

I want to talk about hospitality, because the Afghan's approach to it has often left me humbled. In my work I sometimes travel to villages and meet some of the poorest people living in one of the poorest provinces in one of the poorest countries in the world. Lots of poverty, it seems, but not in spirit. 

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Proper car arrangements

Today I found out what is considered the proper seating arrangement in a car of 4+1 seats when the passengers are two women and two men. It is not, as one might naively think, putting three people in the back seats and one in the front. No, no, that would make people uncomfortable! In such a situation, both women ride in front - yes on one seat, even when the road is a bumpy affair, barely distinguishable from the rocky landscape...

Saturday, 30 July 2011

The anonymous women

A chadari is a traditional Afghan female garment, used to cover the entire body from head to toe, including the face, leaving only a small slit for the eyes, also covered by a net. It is usually a light-medium blue and has become quite famous from the pictures published in the western media during and immediately after the Taliban regime, becoming a symbol of the direct and structural violence perpetrated against women during these short but extremely brutal years. 

In addition to expelling women completely from public life – including trained professionals who were a pillar of the country’s economy – the Taliban regime imposed, under harsh punishments for transgressors, the obligation for each and every woman to wear a chadari when leaving the house. This effectively ensured that women, in those rare and limited instances when they stepped into the public space, would be completely indistinguishable from one another, blue identical ghosts who were not really individuals, did not have a face, nor feelings, hopes, professional skills.