Sunday, October 03, 2010

The Common...and Uncommon in Kabul

Another week has gone by. Last week I wrote about Kabul in hiding; this week I will write about Kabul unveiling itself. Little by little I am learning more about this place. I wonder when I will shed a tear for these people and their stories? I asked an Afghan friend of mine why she thinks it is that I haven't cried yet while gazing upon the remnants of a once thriving city; she whispered, as if someone was listening to us, "There aren't many tears left in Kabul. "


This is the story of one woman in Kabul during the Taliban regime, but it could easily be the story of thousands of women; unfortunately her situation was common among the population.


Last weekend, my dear friend* (DF) told me that during the reign of the Taliban, for six years, she had to stay inside of her home. Although she had just started teaching, her career would be put on hold indefinitely. The government paid her teaching salary so that she would not complain. Day-to-day, DF took care of the house with the other women in her family; she did the cleaning, cooking, and child rearing. When she ventured out to go shopping, she donned a burqa and took a male relative to accompany her in her business.


However, the walls of her home could not contain her determined mind. As soon as all of her daily home duties were completed, DF hit the books. She diligently studied the English language, hoping that when she was released from house arrest that she could catch up with the men at the University where she had once worked as a professor. While she was relegated to her home, most of her male colleagues remained in their teaching positions at the University. Although the men retained their jobs, they were all required to teach religious studies. While DF studied English, the men filled their time with teaching a subject that was not their expertise.


DF said, "When I returned to the University, most of the men were afraid that my English skills would now be better than their own." It is clear that the time DF spent studying has given her a leg up, but in a curious way. Was the six years inside, studying English worth the time that she was removed from a regular daily life? Upon asking DF, she grins at me and hands me more naan bread. This question remains unanswered.


Now, after the regime has fallen, women are experiencing a little more freedom. Women have gone back to work and are generally allowed to venture outside of the house. Don't be mistaken though; a majority of women are still at home most of the time, taking care of all of the duties endemic to running a household. All women cover their hair and continue to dress modestly. Many women still wear the burqa.


But once again, in a sea of difficult, heart-wrenching, common stories it is evident that none of these are truly common. Though the thread of house arrest runs stealthily through the lives of all women in Afghanistan during those years, each one dealt with their fate in uncommon ways.


A good example of the spirit of the Afghan women is exemplified in the featured documentary, Kabul at Work (Click on the title to be directed to the film, it is about 20 minutes long). This film features four people, two of which are women; one is a general in the Afghan Army, the other is a Taekwondo champion (the attached picture is of Sarah Jamal an Iranian champ, not the woman featured in the video). I found that in watching this documentary each person is uncommon within the common framework of war and hardship. This is yet another beautiful fact about the common in Kabul. Nothing is as it seems.


*Dear Friend, or DF, is a pseudonym. Actual names of people and places are not used to protect the identities and to ensure the safety of the locals whom I live and work with.


At 11:45 AM , Blogger Cameron said...

Wow, Jaala. Thanks for keeping us updated with your blog. The stories of your friends really humanize the narrative. I look forward to hearing more about the people in your life, and the work you are doing.
Thinking about you often and missing you!
Love, C xx

At 9:26 PM , Blogger Melissa said...

I am so proud of you for being so brave! I am thinking about you everyday, as I watch Kabul the next 11 months through your eyes, and learn about the culture! Be safe and keep up the blog!
I love you sissy!

At 2:46 PM , Blogger Michael Lindsay said...


Keep good track of this stuff. There's a book here. Several books!

Get a proposal worked up and start shopping it around now!

Jennifer & the kids & I talked about you at the dinner table the other night. Lyra was rapt! You're influencing little minds half a world away. Nice work!

Be well and stay safe.

At 5:42 AM , Blogger Jaala Thibault said...

Cameron great to hear from you! Thanks girl, I miss you. There is so much work GM could do here...
Melissa, I love you too!
Michael, thank you for the encouragement. Please send a multitude of hugs to your family from me. Keep some for yourself too.

At 8:24 PM , Blogger Lu said...

Hey Jaala,
Listen to Michael. You are a beautiful writer. Maybe giving you your name has led you to what has become your ongoing quest to see the beauty of all lands and people. Love, Mom.


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