Giovanna here again. Here is part 4 of my blog ‘A personal reflection on ‘serving in Afghanistan’’ – if you missed the earlier parts, here they are:
:: part 1
:: part 2
:: part 3
I remember one Eid quite some years ago (QUITE some years ago i.e. about 1997) when a poor Pushtun lady we knew (let’s call her Laila) told us that they had been visiting the grave of a certain Pir (someone they perceived as a “saint” or holy person) at Eid to pray. The Taliban, who took over Afghanistan during 1996-97, were very conservative in their thinking and saw such things as unorthodox. So when they saw the poor ladies gathering round the graves they threatened them and tried to make them leave. The ladies were furious and shouted back. Finally when the Taliban wouldn’t give up bothering them, the ladies picked up stones and threw them at the Taliban…who left! I guess at that point they decided it wasn’t worth the trouble of getting hurt since the ladies were of no status anyway.
So why were the ladies visiting these graves? Superstition? Certainly some. But they were poor, vulnerable, weak, at the bottom of society. Women in Afghanistan are not usually allowed to go to the Mosque. These ladies were poor and needy so where could they go for help? Many did not believe that as women and especially as poor women they had any hope of heaven. How could they accumulate credit with God when their starting base was so low? Some poorly educated Mullahs even taught such things.
Another occasion she was telling us in conversation that her elderly husband was sick so she was sleeping on the floor by his bed but she was so cold. I assumed because of the floor but then she said they only had one quilt and the husband needed it. She said “it is so hard to sleep when you are cold every night!”
Chagrined, because every night I was sleeping in my warm house in my warm bed, I went upstairs and got one of my two spare quilts which we kept for guests (guests we rarely had) and gave her it. She was pathetically grateful.
Next week I will tell you more about Laila and about another poor lady we knew, let’s call her Aisha.