Tuesday, December 4th, 2012
When I heard that Malalai was touring the US, I flew to Sonali Kolhatkar’s (author of Bleeding Afghanistan) California home where the young Afghan would be staying, to meet her. When Malalai walked into living room she seemed quiet and shy but once we began the interview, she became animated and energetic.
Malalai is most famous for her short speech as an elected member of the constitutional Loya Jerga (2003), when she addressed the elephant in the room that Afghans were already cognizant of and asked, how Afghanistan could become a democracy when there were warlords and criminals in the government. The audience erupted into angry chaos and her three-minute allotted speaking time was cut short after only a minute and a half. Angry lawmakers threw empty water bottles at her and shouted insults and death threats. Supporters and UN security forces gathered around to shield her. She was only 24 at the time. I met her during her first tour of the United States in 2006, after she had been elected as one of 249 Members of Parliament. Her outspokenness got her in trouble there as well and a year and two months later she was banned from that institution also.
At first, I wondered why she didn’t bite her tongue and try to work peacefully to make changes in the laws affecting women. Surely, that would be a more effective way to change women’s lives. Why stir the hornet’s nest? But then I realized that she wasn’t speaking to the other MPs, who already knew the situation, but to the international press and development leaders who were ready to pour billions in to Afghanistan’s reconstruction. They, too, were likely aware of the horrific human rights records of some of the MPs, but Malalai’s speaking out made that awareness public.
Malalai is also important because she’s a voice from a region across the country from Kabul. Most non-embedded reporters work from Kabul and investigate stories from there. Their view, the dominant one in the media, comes from that perspective and it’s very helpful to hear the voice of someone from conflict areas, especially a woman’s voice.
There is more of my interview with Malalai as well as with other Parliamentarians and women from all walks of life in my book, Gathering Strength: Conversations with Afghan Women which is available in many online bookstores as well as my publisher’s site, Pomegranate Grove Press.
Peggy Kelsey created the Afghan Women’s Project and in 2003 and 2010 traveled to Afghanistan to photograph and interview women. She shares her dynamic slide presentations with audiences around the world. Her book, Gathering Strength: Conversations with Afghan Women, came out in October, 2012.
Posted in Afghan Women's Project, Afghanistan, AWP 2010, Links, Other, Peggy Kelsey, Uncategorized, women | No Comments »
Tuesday, September 20th, 2011
Forbidden Lessons tells the story of an extraordinarily brave Afghan-American woman who began raising money and delivering aid during the Afghan Civil War and continued during the Taliban and afterwards. Her first-hand account of her struggles to deliver aid during those times is compelling and enlightening.
A few parts of this book really spoke to me. One was the story of how Suraya was accompanying a load of 10,000 blankets being hauled in three Bedford trucks to Hesar Shahee, an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp outside of Kabul during the civil war. During their trip they were shaken down by gunmen at five different roadblocks and their supply of blankets was dwindling. At the sixth, Suraya was so incensed that she challenged the armed teenaged leader, telling him that if he were a “real man” he would escort her to the camp and help give out the blankets. And he did. In the process, he was converted from a gang leader into a person who would spend the rest of his life helping others. (or so he said when they parted.)
There were other confrontations as well through the years of her bringing aid. She stood up to Taliban as well as the stoned helicopter pilot who wanted to bring extra relatives on their aid delivery trip which would have seriously overloaded the aircraft.
It was interesting that had she been a man, she would have been killed in any of these situations. And while the men she argued with grumbled and spat with anger, in the end she won their respect and often friendship.
Her description of what it was like to be in Kabul during the random bombings of the rival warlords gave me a very vivid context for the stories I’d heard during my own interviews of women going to school or just trying to survive during that time.
Her story also illustrates the error of painting the Taliban with a broad brush. Suraya talked about the shock of seeing the trees from which were hanging the severed limbs and hands of those whom the Taliban had punished. On the other hand, she was also helped by the Taliban Foreign Minister in setting up a clinic in Logar province.
After 9/11 the scope of her organization, Help the Afghan Children (HTAC) grew even more as they established more schools around the country. HTAC has also developed a peace curriculum that facilitates the development of attitudes and behaviors to help people live in harmony. The Ministry of Education is incorporating these courses into the government schools.
Sadeed, Suraya with Damien Lewis. Forbidden Lessons in a Kabul Guesthouse: The True Story of a Woman Who Risked Everything to Bring Hope to Afghanistan. NY: Hyperion Books 2011.
For an annotated bibliography of other books on Afghanistan see my website: http://www.kelseys.net/bibliography/
And my own book continues along….
Posted in Afghanistan, book review, Taliban, women | No Comments »