by Jerica Arents
Editor’s Note: American peace activists Kathy Kelly, Jerica Arents and David Smith-Ferri are part of a 3 person delegation currently travelling in Afghanistan. Find more entries from their travelogues on PULSE.
Kabul, Afghanistan – After a week visiting Bamiyan, a rural Afghan Province, one thing has been made abundantly clear to me: the experience of being a woman in this country is much different than being a woman in the United States. Here, the inescapable and indelible fact of gender colors social interactions, far more so than back home. But being a woman has also created safe spaces of inclusion within the village’s maternal system, from which I would have otherwise been kept at a distance.
Time and time again, after meeting with the men in the family, I was led into a separate room to visit with the women, who had gathered there and were waiting eagerly for us with their children. Immediately, an exchange began, a series of greetings, smiles, thanksgivings, and comments about the style of my clothes, quality of my hands, or strangeness of my backpack. Daughters and granddaughters would join us, children at their feet, each little face more beautiful than the last.
When we met with women and men together, the men tended to be the focal point, dominating the conversation. In the absence of their male counterparts, the women, adorned in vibrant cloths, filled the sparsely furnished rooms with stories and laughter. In this conservative Afghan village, one woman shared with us the heartbreaking experience of having her husband kidnapped and killed by the Taliban – and raising her kids, now teenagers, without the breadwinner of the house. She looked down at her wrinkled hands and paused before telling us of her struggles with depression. “We age so quickly here” she reflected, looking up at me, circles under her eyes. Her skin was weathered and worn, bearing the years of harsh living conditions and inadequate nutrition. I would have guessed she was in her late 50s – she is in fact only 38.