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Life in Afghanistan Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Karis, Canada Dec 11, 2001
Human Rights , Culture   Opinions


And these kids said they'd go out looking for them. You have to imagine these women in burqas and with these little kids running up and looking at their shoes. They said they'd put out a reward. It was this huge joke played for the day. Finally at the end of the day, they gave my shoes back. It was all to make me laugh. The sense of community there, that they felt comfortable enough to tease me, it just lightened my spirit.

Another memory was when this women's group finally got the chance to open their own building. It was a big deal and I'd done a lot of work for that. It was also the day that one of the main women leaders was leaving to go to Pakistan. She had cancer and she needed to go for treatment in Pakistan. Not everyone knew, because it's hard to have people leave Afghanistan against the Taliban. We were just saying she was going for medical reasons and not to stay.
Only five of us knew, and I was very honoured that the women let me in, because they didn't want the UN to know either (for many reasons). But they let me in because of friendship and camaraderie. And it was very touching to have five of us kind of sit there and cry together, give gifts, and take pictures of each other.
We start (and end) every big group meeting with the opening of the Qu'ran, where they recite a bit of the Qu'ran of Prayer. And it was so beautiful having this woman sing, we're crying. People just thought we were crying because we were so moved, but really we were crying because she was leaving.

Another thing is just fond memories of sitting with the men. We'd sit around and talk, have a cigarette (which was a big thing, to have a smoke with a woman). At first, we'd stand across the courtyard from each other, but after a time, we began to hang out. Just the great conversations we would have, I can't put a concrete memory, but just that time. They stopped seeing me as a foreigner, but as a friend and a colleague.

For me, I saw the human face of the Afghan. I stopped seeing them as exotic and that was the best part. When they became real, they became friends. And it wasn't seeing them as the other, but just seeing them as normal.What I learned from Islam is that when you believe something, it affects everything in your life. When you believe something strongly, it should permeate your whole life. Not just religious, like for me, being an environmentalist, recycling and composting doesn't cut it, I need to do more. We only see the negative side of fundamentalism, but what fundamentalism means is how you see the world is intrinsic to how you live out your role in that world. And so if I'm a fundamental environmentalist, it doesn't mean I'm a fanatical environmentalist. We seem to make fundamental and fanatical synonymous.
I also learned a lot about respect and honour because that was huge for them. If you said, "I give you my word", that was something big. There are also so many things I learned about the culture, just so much.
But I also learned a lot about my job. I learned that a community is not homogeneous, it's a mix of different interests. It's very heterogeneous, very pluralistic. We have to listen to what the people who have to live with the results think is best. Not trying to take control and being at their level.Just as a human, September 11th, the tragedy, the terrorism, and the human death. What I would say is North America and the West having entered what the rest of the world lives in. Basically, we've kind of entered the world.
A lot of people in the world live under this threat and violence. It's an end to an age of innocence that I was kind of enjoying. One of the reasons I wanted to come back to Canada was because I was really tired of security issues and stuff. So, I think as a human, that profound sense of death and tragedy and violence and change is a significant and paramount shift that's happening. It's happening in the world and in worldview. Hopefully, it can be harnessed for good, but also, it can be harnessed for a lot of negative knee-jerk reactions.
I'd say on a personal level, as someone who'd just come back from Afghanistan, it was hard. I was just getting over my culture shock and to have this happen. There were people all around me talking about bombing Afghanistan and I said I was just there, "you're talking about my friends". So, I could relate a lot more to Afghanistan than to New York. How could I relate to World Trade Towers, with 110 storeys? I could relate to dirt roads, mud houses, and simple living. It was hard to hear Afghanistan (a place that I knew was so complex) talked about in such simple terms. People were throwing around things but they didn't know what they were talking about, making sweeping generalizations. And it was so real and raw for me that it made my culture shock hard.
Listening to military see them [my friends in Afghanistan] as collateral damage, which is the acceptable loss (human casualty) that you would accept for your victory was tough. And it's very hard to hear your friends and your colleagues described so impersonally when it was so personal for me.I worked with a lot with community groups, so usually I would get up at 7:30 or 8, take my shower, do all that. If I was in a good mood, eat my breakfast, which would probably just be bread and jam (we had a lot of food imported from Pakistan), along with my boiled and filtered water mixed with Tang so it wouldn't taste so disgusting. I'd put on my Afghan dress and walk to work on my own. One of the things I did every morning, was that I went around and said 'hello' to every single Afghan in the office, shaking hands, and making small chat. Then I might do a little bit of work. Then I'd get driven to one of the women's community centres, and we'd have different agendas of what we'd be talking about. I'd ask if there were any problems they were going through, what issues they were encountering, check up on how they were following up on some of the projects I'd asked for. I helped out a lot, for instance, to help them get outside funding for projects.


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sherani | Dec 8th, 2004
em an afghan..lisa's article is both good and humilaiting...humilaiting as the ppl from her world think of afghans as some different creatures..while the reality is that being an afghan is the most proud thing in this world...we are bestowed with...its this only thing that help us live and survive in very extreme situation.

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