Books for the Arab World in Troubled Times
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.
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?