Afghanistan: The bad and the good

Books for the Arab World in Troubled Times

Herat, AfghanistanDestination: Afghanistan

Reading: The Afghan Women’s Writing Project, initiated by author Masha Hamilton

Just when we are beginning to think we might finally withdraw from Afghanistan–renewed fighting breaks out. The U.S. military went to Afghanistan because of the ruling Taliban’s support of Al Quaida. With the death of Osama bin Laden, and hopes that Al Quaida would be weakened, some hoped for an earlier withdrawal. News last week casts a pall on hope.

Even in the midst of such bad news, there are reasons to hope.  Many projects aim to help the Afghan people help themselves. We saw a video about restoration of the Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban. I promote reading about other countries to understand them, but today I’m going to talk about a more direct way to help.

American author Masha Hamilton, a well-traveled journalist turned novelist,  spear-headed a terrific project  in 2009  to encourage women in Afghanistan to tell their stories. If you recall, at the beginning of our most recent involvement in the Middle East, one of the “selling points” used by governments was that we could liberate women from opressive laws.

Some people, like Masha, President of the organization’s board, and those who work with her, do not want to wait for the slow movement of governments to solve problems.  Instead, they do small projects that may make enormous differences in people’s lives.

Afghan Women
Women in Kabul

The Afghan Women’s Writing Project publishes an on-line magazine of writing by Afghan women. Writers, poets, teachers from around the world mentor these women, and you can help by reading their work and leaving a comment. As the site says, “They work in such isolation and in such difficult circumstances, that any commentary or feedback lets them know they are being heard.”

By reading the work of these Afghan women, you can get a sense of what life is like in Afghanistan, but also be reminded of the universality of the concerns of all people. (Overwhelmed? You can see a list of selected articles from the 500 published by clicking here.)  Click on the link to subscribe to their newsletter on their home page and get their offerings monthly in your e-mail box. I do.

You can help in that effort by donating at the site. The Afghan Women Writer’s Project also sets up writing centers and provides computers for the women to write on. Because women cannot write in cafes or other public places, the Project has created “The Writer’s Hut”, a “room of their own”, where women in Kabul can gather and write.

If you spend some time on the Masha Hamilton’s website, you will see links to news items about the AWW Project, including this one from the English edition of Al Jazeera.

You can follow AWW Project on Twitter.

Photos from Flickr, used with Creative Commons License. First taken by Todd Huffman. 2nd taken by Bruce MacRae. Click on photos to see more of their work.

Masha Hamilton’s latest book is 31 Hours, the story of a young man threatening to set off a bomb in New York City. In her book The Distance Between Us draws on her experiences in the Mid East. I discussed her first book, Staircase of a Thousand Steps, available here at Amazon, which she was writing when I first met her.

Did you ever think about what it would be like if women in your own country could not go to a cafe alone and use a computer, or even a pencil and paper? Have you thought what it would be like to want to write and to have to hide your writing from your own family, and not use your own name?

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler’s Library, recreating her family’s past at Ancestors In Aprons. She writes frequently for Reel Life With Jane and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

Vera Marie Badertscher – who has written posts on A Traveler's Library.


About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons. She writes frequently for Reel Life With Jane and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

15 thoughts on “Afghanistan: The bad and the good

  1. Frankly, I’d rather be reading pieces from these women than the commentary in the New Yorker – thanks for sharing.

    1. And how often does the New Yorker write about the lives of American Indians, anyhow? Unless it is about someone who is protesting something?

  2. Thank you SO much for sharing this. I read a few of the selections on the website and several brought tears. We take so much for granted. I’m fascinated with this project.

  3. Thanks for this post, Vera. It’s just incredible to think about living in a place where women have to hide their writing or have their images deleted from pictures (thinking of Hillary Clinton in the recent pic from the Situation Room at the White House).

    Also check out Kristin Ohlson’s book, Kabul Beauty School. Great read.

    1. The comparison with Hilary Clinton in the Situation Room is a brilliant one, Jane. Yes, the more I read of their work the more I think they are just like us–but what they have to deal with is so horrible. The picture is also interesting in that it shows the choices they DO have of attire. Although some will argue that women cannot go against the pressure, they do not all wear burkas.

  4. Thanks for explaining this project–I’m going to check out the link. I’ve been wanting to know if life was improving at all for those in Afghanistan. The picture really strikes me–look at those beautiful, vibrant colors in contrast to all the dull ones around.

  5. The Afghan Woman’s Writing Project sounds like a worthy effort. Thank you for sharing. In a related theme, The Beauty Academy of Kabul touches on similar topics.

    1. Ah, yes, haven’t read that one yet, but it needs to be on my reading list. Did you read Reading Lolita in Tehran? How do you think those two books compare?

  6. What a wonderful project! I definitely am going to check out the link. This is a project worth supporting. Thanks for alerting me to it.

    1. Thanks Stefan: Fixed it. And as the web manager for AWWP,you do a great job. That is a beautiful site. I could get lost there for days.

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