Afghan Women and Poetry

There’s a fantastic article up at The New York Times about Afghan women and the need to compose and share poetry (note the use of the word need there). It’s refreshing to see the kind of passion about poetry that exists for some of these women, who actually run the risk of extreme violence or even death (love poetry in particular is dangerous as it is assumed automatically that any woman writing of love must be adulterous and therefore punished). The article details experiences of several women that have become part of a writing society, called Mirman Baheer, based out of Kabul. Some women who have joined this group from outlying regions must participate secretly, and often call in to a representative of the group when they are able without being seen or heard. Truly inspiring.

Meena lives in Gereshk, a town of 50,000 people in Helmand, the largest of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. Helmand has struggled with the double burden of being one of the world’s largest opium producers and an insurgent stronghold. Meena’s father pulled her out of school four years ago after gunmen kidnapped one of her classmates. Now she stays home, cooks, cleans and teaches herself to write poetry in secret. Poems are the only form of education to which she has access. She doesn’t meet outsiders face to face.

“I can’t say any poems in front of my brothers,” she said. Love poems would be seen by them as proof of an illicit relationship, for which Meena could be beaten or even killed. “I wish I had the opportunities that girls do in Kabul,” she went on. “I want to write about what’s wrong in my country.” Meena gulped. She was trying not to cry. On the other end of the line, Amail, who is prone to both compassion and drama, began to weep with her. Tears mixed with kohl dripped onto the page of the spiral notebook in which Amail was writing down Meena’s verses. Meena recited a Pashtun folk poem called a landai:

“My pains grow as my life dwindles,
I will die with a heart full of hope.”

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