Maybe you, like I, have been seeing the horror that is unfolding in Afghanistan on your television screen or reading about it online, and are feeling so helpless. We know that so many Afghans (especially women and children) are suffering and living in absolute fear and terror of what is to come since the Taliban takeover of Kabul a few weeks ago, but we don’t know what we can possibly do about it. It feels so overwhelming, so completely out of our realm of control. It’s so hard to be a witness to the world’s pain and feel so powerless to do anything about it.
I was feeling just like this when I remembered a book I had picked up at a thrift store a few weeks ago called The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan by Swedish journalist Jenny Nordberg. This fascinating book shines a light on the common, but hidden, practice of bacha posh in Afghanistan. Bacha posh is the practice of passing off a girl child as a boy when there are no boys born into the family. Because boy children are valued highly and bring prestige to a family while girl children do not, some families simply decide that a child born as a girl will be made into a boy. She is dressed as a boy, given all the freedoms and privileges of a boy child, and sent to school as a boy. When she nears puberty, with its inevitable physiological changes, the bacha posh is simply changed back to a girl and is then expected to marry and form a family like all young women. As I read this intriguing book, the Afghan people, their country, their culture began to come alive for me….they began to become real to me, not just a story on the news, but real, live, suffering human beings.
While reading a book and learning about Afghanistan may not directly help the plight of Afghans, it makes me feel like I am doing something, some small thing—at the very least making an effort to overcome my ignorance of Afghan culture, to not be that cliché of a clueless American who cannot even find Afghanistan on a map or tell you what language they speak. Perhaps in some small way, I am helping make Afghan women and children be less invisible. I am being a witness to their lives, their pain and suffering. Rather than looking away in helplessness, I am looking at them, seeing them, making them real in my mind rather than remaining strange and foreign figures on a TV screen.
There may be another important reason for taking the time to learn about Afghanistan—there will be an influx of Afghan refugees into this country over the next weeks and months, with displaced or fleeing Afghans settling in various places around the U.S. I can do my small part to welcome them to this strange land by making the effort to learn the tiniest bit about their history, their customs, their culture.
If you would like to learn more about Afghanistan, here are a few books I have read over the years that I found informative and fascinating:
Bookseller of Kabul by Åsne Seierstad
Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez
The Storyteller’s Daughter by Saira Shah
The Story of My Life: An Afghan Girl on the Other Side of the Sky Farah Ahmedi
Opium Nation: Child Brides, Drug Lords, and One Woman’s Journey through Afghanistan by Fariba Nawa
West of Kabul, East of New York by Tamim Ansary
I actually have not yet read numbers 5 and 6, but I plan to as they were recommended by one of my favorite authors, Afghan-American novelist Khaled Hosseini, who was recently interviewed by CNN in regard to the current crisis in Afghanistan. When asked about his concerns for the women of Afghanistan, Hosseini replied, “One of my grave concerns is that the voices that are going to be overlooked are those of women. When the Taliban were in charge in Afghanistan back in the 1990s, the Taliban essentially barred women from any meaningful participation in Afghan societal life. It was maybe the worst place on the planet to be a woman. Right now, the Taliban are saying the right things but I echo many fellow Afghans in saying that I hope the voices of women in Afghanistan are not silenced. They are the bravest, the most resilient, the most resourceful group of people in Afghanistan and I have enormous respect for them.”
Incidentally, Hosseini’s novels, which in addition to The Kite Runner include A Thousand Splendid Suns, And the Mountains Echoed, and his latest, Sea Prayer, are all excellent and are very eye-opening and informative about Afghan history and culture. I highly encourage you to check out any of them.
There is another benefit that results from our efforts to learn about the plight of the Afghans: gratitude. As we respectfully witness the drama unfolding in Afghanistan, we can consciously, not with arrogance or a feeling that we Americans are somehow better than them, but with mindfulness and awareness and gratitude…..realize how fortunate we are to live where we do, to have the freedoms we have, to have food and infrastructure and laws and stability. We can be aware that not all people around the world are so fortunate—not in order for us to feel guilty but to be mindfully aware of our good fortune.
Finally, if you would like to help the people of Afghanistan monetarily, here are a few reputable organizations you can donate to:
Doctors without Borders
International Rescue Commission
Here is a link to an article entitled, “How You Can Help Afghans Arriving in the U.S.” -- https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/how-you-can-help-afghan-refugees-arriving-to-the-u-s?fbclid=IwAR3aMELvH89-rsHzFZIuyEDEr-iwSkBeGbACx74I6Qg9BSluOIOX-tMX-Bg
Many blessings to you this week ~Rev. Michelle