Monday, June 29, 2009
It's a tough row to hoe for the Afghan women. Well, actually everyone's got a tough way to go over here, and you can see it on their faces, which from about middle age onwards tend to be as ridged and folded as the landscape. I often overestimate ages here by roughly 10 years, unless I'm consistently being lied to as to the true ages of the people. At any rate, the women have it especially tough. From the time they can walk it seems the young girls are treated like mules, carrying various jugs or containers on their heads or in their arms. It's a common sight to see a man walking down the road empty-handed while his young daughter struggles along behind him serving as his porter. I guess having a daughter accustomed to working may make her more marriageable - better to get those good habits started early on.
On the other hand, I've been to girls' schools that were very well attended by 5 to 12 year-old cute young ladies. So undoubtedly the people do want their daughters to learn and get something of an education. The high schools around here are boys-only though. Afghanistan actually has a fair number of female politicians in government. Those women are brave souls no doubt, as female politicians have been murdered in recent years.
In this part of the country most all women of child-bearing age wear the burqa in public. I say most all because in one particular area it was not uncommon for us to see women working outside around their home without wearing the burqa, but that was a small, close-knit community. In that area, when we saw women coming through carrying bunches of twigs gathered up or water from the river, the custom was for us to turn away and ignore them as completely as possible. This was the SOP not just for US forces but for the ANA as well. However, for the most part in Kunar Province, except for the old and withered and the very young, we see no women. We do, however, see plenty of T and A beneath those burqas...toes and ankles.
Islam allows male practitioners four wives. Women, of course, aren't allowed the same privilege. Given that I'm well into my 30's now, the ANA often question me why I don't have a wife or children yet. I often play off their questions by telling them I'm only allowed one wife, so I have to make sure I pick the right girl. I once (jokingly - I promise I was only gauging his reaction) told the ANA Religious Officer (an older guy who serves as the battalion mullah) with whom I was eating dinner, that if I were allowed more than one wife I would have already married one. I would then follow her up with a newer model ten years later or so, and then kick the old one into the back room somewhere. Repeat that process three times and you've got your four wives without ever lacking for a young one, with three old ones in the back of the house or in the yard doing chores. After he heard the translation he got a big smile on his face, clapped me on the shoulder, and said in English, "GOOD!". As if to say, "You're getting it figured out my young American friend!" Religion and my idea of morality don't always go hand in hand over here.