Users' Voice in Afghanistan

AFGHANISTAN, KABUL – some observations by Andria Efthimiou-Mordaunt MSc

HUNDREDS of thoughts, memories and insights are flooding my consciousness about my week in Afghanistan, mainly Kabul. While the few bacteria settle down in my gut and bloodstream, let me try and articulate some of this to you all around the world.

First of all, I want to address the gender-sex-’equality’ issue, as it is the one that I assume will bother some Westerners and/or be of profound interest to others. On the penultimate day of my stay in Kabul, my incredibly patient host Ahmed W took me to his Father-In-Laws home, where his wife seemingly spends most of her time with other women. Ladies in Afghanistan rarely go out alone – very rarely. His wife is many months pregnant and this was a special week in this household as two of the young men had been wed. Wedding celebrations do not begin and end on one day in this ‘less-developed’ country.

They go on for several days: this tribe knows how to party. I was taken into a room full of men and boys (14-63yrs old approx). As guest of honour – visiting scholar if you will, from U.K, I had privileged access to this room. No other women were there. (I am still wondering whether Ahmed had a semi-conscious motive to use my drug policy and other policy and social justice ideas to influence his huge family; time will tell.) Within minutes, I was given the floor to address “why the U.S bombs our country for so long?” and the role of Opium in the economic, agricultural and peace & war brew that is this country’s predicament

Some of you know me as Andria, the enraged widow who will never let go of the lingering visual memory of a dying junky-husband with AIDS; a woman who makes sure other IDUS will always have access to clean needles and G.O.D…Good Orderly Direction, also know as Harm Reduction .

Few of you (including me!) will know that I am slowly getting educated around global drug policy issues.

To the question, why does the U.S. bomb our country? I could only respond, “very good question.” Then I began rapidly connecting the dots between Afghanistan as producer of over 90% of the world’s heroin ultimately – 86% of the U.K’s apparently. I said that the profiteering of Afghan war-lords, narco-traffickers, the corruption of Afghan politicians, law enforcement officers and other officials only gave more excuses to the U.S./U.K to pursue the Opium-eradication policies, which have been endemic for a long time.

The truth is that the world does indeed need a lot of pain control: people living with chronic and or intractable and/or terminal pain should have access to Opium, Heroin, Morphine and any other necessary opioid pain-killer in order to live in some comfort. The fact that a small minority of human beings had found themselves dependent upon these substances, and thus caught in the criminal trap was not an excuse to punish nations who produced coca and/or opium and/or cannabis products. The lies that uphold the global prohibitive drug system are enormous. They seemed to like that a lotJ. The patriarch of the large group raised his hand to attract the interpreter’s – medical doctor’s – attention, and said, “I want to learn how to cultivate and grow opium!” Everybody laughed, or smiled impishly.

I continued, “but one thing I am concerned about in your great country Sirs, if you don’t mind me saying so is this. Why are the women not allowed to go out alone? If I lived here, which I would like to, I think I might go insane if I had to stay at home all the time with or without the children.” The physician responded. “Actually the women are allowed to go out together, in twos and threes.” That didn’t really answer my question but at least I was reassured that I would be at liberty to go out with others.

Ahmed made it obvious that I had been single for too long and two appropriate (single men) were pointed out for me to choose! Neither of them spoke any English and I don’t speak Dari so.. The cop I met later, who eradicates opium and smokes hashish insisted we get together. I said, through the interpreter, “only if you stop eradicating opium! It’s a silly policy and doesn’t seem to be helping anybody.”

Rapidly I was then brought to the women’s party room. Women and girls, I was delighted. Instead of the sober though passionate debates that ensued in the 99%-male lunchroom, here was a sardines-packed room, full of females from babyhood to 70ish. A few of the younger ones banged drums, many sang and/or chanted. Everybody smiled through the sweat and heat and joy of the wedding celebrations. Two women danced alluringly in the middle of the room and of course, I could not resist. I was on my feet, surrounded by ecstatic Afghan women, dancing, trying to entertain these, the private property of men, a wondrous creature. They are the producers of the family, the nurturers, the clothes washers, the love-makers to tired (or not) men at the end of the day and they surely make-love a lot as each family has four children (as a low average.) I swayed my voluptuous body and twisted my arms and hands in that way I had seen gorgeous Indian women do in the Indian dancers café in Dubai only six days before. Nobody threw money but many women giggled. One even filmed this ‘event’ – in their lives; a Western female-stranger dancing for them, uninhibitedly. Women are not allowed to have photos taken of themselves at all normally.

Many embraces and grins later, I was with the Physician interpreter again, exclaiming, “Hey, your women are wild here. I had a fabulous time with them just now!”

“Yes” he emphatically responded, “Why in America, they fight for women’s rights?” In a rushed moment – he was running off to work at his private clinic – I replied, “Yes I wonder why…” and since then I have thought a lot.

The deal for us Gals in this “Islamic Republic” is that we serve the boys, girls and men till death do us part. We tolerate our husbands having several wives on occasions, we get used to remaining in the home engaged busily with domestic chores shared with the other women and we are grateful when our husbands finally return home in the evenings and make love to us tenderly or not.

And I also noted the very childlike and naïve process that the males are also engaged in. They too must accept centuries of tradition that enable them to have this ‘privileged position.’ They are undoubtedly dependent on the women and girls in a way that was indicated by each morning’s ritual, when Tanamor, a ten yr old girl would bring breakfast to Ahmed and me in a darkened room (there were afternoon powercuts everyday in Kabul) and not think twice about the fact that she was never assisted. When I was leaving, I gave her Silver ring as a thank-you gift, but she kept refusing to accept it, not understanding why I was giving it to her: I don’t speak Pashtoun/Farsi and she cannot speak English. In the end, I shoved the ring on her small young thumb and kissed her foreheadrepreatedly saying “tashakor, tashakor” thank you in the local dialect. She finally understood something… I hope.

This is a land I will return to. This is a land I felt necessary in. This is a land where the children love their elders, not because they are older but because they understand the critical roles that are clearly demarcated: my Dad goes to work and brings the Baksheesh back to us in food, clothes, home and safety. My Mum stays busy making sure the unseen and often-unappreciated essentials are done: well and on time.

Finally, this is the ONLY land where a doctor working with drug dependency issues told me clearly, his centre is my home. I can go there anytime. As an ex-injection drug user and AIDS widow, and one who believes, after 10yrs in grief, it is time to move on – I think it is time I said YES! To that kind of suggestion

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