Waiting

(Editor’s note: This is based on a true story, although names have been changed.)

When I became a teenager, I began thinking about marrying my cousin Sahil. This had been discussed between my aunt and my father when I was born. I liked Sahil. He used to tease me, saying: “Oh, Vida, you’re too fat to marry.” I would get upset, but then he would say: “I am kidding.”

I was in eighth grade when my Aunt Bibi came from Kabul to our home in Quetta, Pakistan. She called me: “Vida, my daughter-in-law.” I hated when she called me that because I thought my mother-in-law would be my other aunt. My aunt Bibi had a son who was living in London. I heard her tell my mother: “Farid will take Vida to London to after marrying her.”

My mother said: “Oh, that’ll be great.”

I quietly entered the room. “My daughter, come sit with your aunt for a while.”

“No, mother, I’ve homework to do.” I left the room, taking my bag with me.

I told my cousin Farishta about it. “You’re lucky… Do you even know where London is?”

“But what about Sahil? I was supposed to marry him, wasn’t I?”

“Yes, but it’s fine. They are sisters so they’ll be happy for you too,” said Farishta.

On the way to school the next day, I met Sahil and told him about Farid and London. “Wow, London is so famous,” he said. “So, when are you marrying him?”

He didn’t care that I was going to marry Farid. I said, “Aren’t you jealous?”

“No, I am not. I am happy you’re going to London, dummy girl.”

Days passed, and one day I came home from school and went to the room my parents shared with my five siblings. As I entered the room, Farishta’s sister was dancing and everyone else was clapping. My mother stood and hugged me. Then everyone hugged me and congratulated me. “What is going on?” I said.

My mother said: “Your father agreed to your engagement to Farid, and you’ll go to London.”

I was shocked. “But none of you asked me.”

My mother stared at me. “When your father and I are agreed, then why shall we ask you?”

The next day was my engagement party without Farid. He called that night and talked to my mother and father. Everyone was very happy. I was neither happy nor sad. Days and nights were passing by, and my aunt returned to Afghanistan. I continued studying in the ninth grade, and when I entered tenth grade, my mother told me Farid would arrive from London and that my Aunt Bibi would come too for my marriage party. I was very sad that I would not be able to finish tenth grade.

Weeks passed, and when I came from school one day, I saw a new face sitting in the hall. He had round brown eyes. He was very thin, and a very tall, good-looking guy. I remembered my mother saying Farid would be here in a week, and then I realized a week was already gone. I said to myself: “That’s Farid, your fiancé.” My aunt and my cousins from Afghanistan were in the hall. They all welcomed me, and I shook hands with everyone. I shook hands with Farid too. He held my hand tight and hugged me. I was shy in front of everyone and ran to my room. The girls were all laughing. I didn’t come out of the room until the next day.

Everyone was very happy. Music was playing and girls were laughing, clapping, and dancing. Farishta was with me in my room. My aunt came in with new clothes, sandals, and jewelry. She asked me to shower, put these on, and then come to the hall because it was my Henna Night. (Henna Night is the night before the wedding, when the bride and the groom sit together and their relatives put henna on their hands.) I took a shower and dressed. Farishta did my makeup and everyone came to take me to the hall. I was a newly turned 15-year-old.

In the hall, Farid was already standing there, waiting for me. We sat next to each other. I could feel his legs touching mine and was not comfortable. He held my hand. The music was loud; girls were clapping, some dancing. Finally they brought the henna and put it on our hands. Farid whispered in my ear, but due to the loud music, I could not hear anything. He shouted: “Why aren’t you replying?” I said I couldn’t hear him. He asked if I was happy. I said yes.

The next morning, my aunt awoke me at 8 a.m. “We need to take you to the beauty parlor to pluck your eyebrows.” At the beauty parlor, they plucked my eyebrows, curled my hair, and did my makeup. My other cousins curled their hair too. Later they gave me a new dress and more jewelry. That night was my wedding night. We all went to a hotel, which I saw for the first time. Farid and I stood again together, and we held hands. He said I looked beautiful.

After that, we were taken back home to a beautifully decorated room. It was my uncle’s room. There were flowers all over the bed. Everyone left the room, and Farid locked the door. I said: “Farid, why are you locking the door?”

“We are bride and groom.” I thought, so? He came and kissed me on the cheek and said, “You are very innocent.”

I screamed: “Mom, Mom! Farid is so bad, he kissed me,” and I started crying.

He said: “This is something normal between a girl and a boy, especially when they get married.”

I liked him, actually. I loved his warm touch. We slept apart for ten nights because I was very shy. The next five days, he slept next to me but didn’t touch me at all. It was the sixteenth night when we both obeyed the married people’s rule. We slept together… I finally became a woman.

After one month, I was told to pack my luggage to leave with my aunt and Farid. It was 3 a.m. when Farid woke me. “We have to leave now.” I started crying and put on my clothes. They took out my luggage, and everyone waited in the hall to say goodbye. We cried and hugged for half an hour, until the driver told us to hurry up. Sitting in the car next to Farid and Bibi, I slept for more than nine hours. Finally Farid woke me.

“Where are we now?” I asked.

“We are in Kandahar. We will stay the night, and early in the morning we leave for Kabul.” I had to hide my face with a scarf. I never used to hide my face when I was in Pakistan. I only used to wear the headscarf, as it was a part of our religion. I could not breathe properly when my face was covered with the scarf. We went to my cousin’s home. We ate supper together and slept in the hall all together. Early in the morning, we took a car to Kabul. Then I had to wear the burqa. It was very hard for me but they asked me to, so I did. Finally we arrived at a big building with lots of apartments next to each other.

Our apartment was on the 4th floor. I asked Farid if I could remove the burqa because I could not walk with it. He said: “Yes, you can take it off.” I was still wearing my scarf. The stairs were cleaner then I imagined. Inside, Bibi showed me my room. My luggage was brought and I washed my face in the bathroom. Everyone went to their rooms and rested. I went to my room where Farid was already lying on the bed. I could not sleep so I stood on the balcony and watched life outside, cars moving and people walking. I felt cold and returned to my room to sleep next to Farid. He put his hand on me and slept. I could not fall asleep for a long time. I missed everyone back home. I cried and then fell asleep.

The next morning, Farid said: “I’ll be leaving to London in two days.”

“So, I should not unpack?

Farid said: “Why aren’t you going to unpack?”

“Because I’ll be going with you to London, right?”

It was then that Farid told me I was not going with him for a few years. He left after two nights. I spent those two nights with him crying. I cried day and night. I was eight months’ pregnant when I next heard his voice on our neighbor’s phone. I was so happy to hear his voice after such a long time.

I had my first baby girl, and got very busy with her and my alone life. At that time, Farid’s brother Sameer became my best friend. He used to sleep in my room because I felt scared. I liked Sameer’s company. He used to bring everything I needed. One day he told me that he loved me a lot. I told him I loved him too because he helped me all the time and used to take me outside whenever I was bored.

I didn’t know what falling in love was like. I just felt like Sameer was my husband because he took care of me like a husband. I never had any sexual relationship with him but, yes, I spent all my time with him. One day, Sameer said Farid was on his way from London to Kabul. I was very sad, thinking Sameer would be separated from me.

Farid returned from London within two weeks. He was so happy to see his daughter, and loved her a lot. I felt strange whenever he touched me. I missed Sameer. I didn’t eat my breakfast with Farid. I waited until Sameer came, and then I would eat with him. Farid used to get jealous of this behavior but it was not my fault, because I spent three years with Sameer and not even three months with Farid.

Farid returned to London after a month in Kabul. After some weeks, I found out that I was pregnant again. Sameer took me to the doctor who said it was a girl. Sameer said congratulations.

One night I felt very cold and it was snowing outside. Sameer came and slept next to me. I loved it a lot. Again, we didn’t have any sexual relations but I enjoyed his body touch.

Then Bibi arranged for Sameer to be engaged to a girl from Kandahar who was an American citizen and had come from the U.S. I was happy for him, but sad that I was losing someone I loved the most. The marriage was a month later. I cried not only because I loved him, but because he was leaving for the U.S.

After he left, I was alone again, as I am now. Farid said he will be home soon but until now he hasn’t. There is nothing I can do but wait.

By Yagana

Photo from the Globe and Mail‘s “Behind the Veil: An Intimate Journey into the Lives of Kandahar Women”


Comments

  1. Dear Yagana:

    When I read your story I see a young woman being controlled in such a way that her heart is broken again and again. I would like you to write about your deepest feelings, to write about how you spend your days while alone. Develop this story using all of your senses. I want to hear, smell, see the world as you see it. Take a small portion of the story and do this then submit it again so I can see it. Ok? I can’t communicate with you directly…wish that I could…so I will watch for what you write. My best to you. Don’t be lonely. Find yourself in this beautiful writing.

    Gloria

  2. Over the years, I have known many people who had arranged marriages — some of the unions worked and some of them didn’t — but since the couples lived in America there was more freedom for the women involved. Also, none of the women were this young. Your story clearly illustrates how forcing a young woman into marriage with a stranger is a terrible abuse — making the woman unhappy and alone. Even though your story is heartbreaking, I very much enjoyed reading it. You did an excellent job of writing it. Your last line was so powerful — a signal of how helpless this young woman feels. Nothing to do but wait.

  3. Dear Yagana,
    You are a great writer. I was surprised, when I read this, how young you were when you were married. You were the same age I am now. Being fifteen or sixteen is hard enough without being married. I’m so sorry that you’ve lost Sameer and live so far away from your family, and I hope that Farid returns soon to take you to London. Hopefully things will get better once you’re there. But wherever you end up, don’t stop writing.

  4. Aya Miyashita says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am sure that you had to be think very well before telling your story like this.

    Two things struck me about your writing your story:

    -It was only after “becoming” a woman that you had to move to a big city and don the burqa.
    -Your husband’s absence played a key role in your experiencing the act of falling in love.

    I am sure that these travels through life you have had were difficult, but your writing is so very clear. I truly enjoyed being able to step into your reality for the moment.

    Wishing you the best in your writing–keep writing your truth and we will be listening.

  5. Julia Schierer says:

    How can the Taliban and the family forcing the girl to marry some freaking stranger live with themselves? Just wow.. :o :( :o :(

  6. maddy brust says:

    Dear Yagana,
    i wish i could say i understand how you feel but i wish you the best.

  7. This is a well written story that gives a heartbreaking picture of life for a woman who has little control over her destiny, but who still manages to find some love and meaning, and to keep her dignity. What a remarkable person — and the poignancy of the last line will stay with me a long time. Best wishes to you as you continue to find your way.

  8. Barbara says:

    I understand a little of how you feel. I, too, married very young, but not because I was forced to.
    What I know now is that I didn’t have time in my life to understand what growing up is about and what love is about and what being mature is about.

    I wish only the best for you and your children. Your writing has moved me and has made me think about my own life. That is a very fine thing for writing to do.

  9. Dear Yagana,
    I agree with Barbara’s statement: “Your writing has moved me and has made me think about my own life. That is a very fine thing for writing to do.” And I, too, would love to read more of your writing. You capture the hardships you’ve been forced to endure from a very eloquent and mature point of view. I hope you find much joy with your two little girls…and always find time to write.

  10. jada williams says:

    my prayers go out to you because your story was very sad and heart touching

  11. Love the fact that you have found a way to channel your thoughts, ideas, fears, dreams, and reality. I am inspired yet sad to read your story and the stories of all the women in this forum. Hopefully your writing brings you peace and joy.

  12. Exquisite – beautifully written. Yagana – you are not waiting. You are living. Write for yourself, your children – for the rest of us.

    You are gifted and deeply appreciated.

    Thank you!

    Cathy

  13. Dear Yagana,
    I agree with Gloria. This is a powerful story, and you tell it with great feeling and simplicity. She is right that if you added sensory and descriptive details throughout, it would be even more powerful. I would love to see something like this get published in a Western magazine of some kind, like Granta or something, to bring the plight of women like you to the rest of the world. Your writing is strong and direct – add details, thoughts and feelings, and you will have something very special.
    My best wishes to you!!
    Carole

  14. Deborah Auer says:

    Dear Yagana,
    Thank you so much for writing down your experiences. My best wishes to you and your daughters.
    Sincerely, Deborah

  15. Dear Yagana,

    I am touched by your story and the ways you have conveyed that universal need to love and be loved. Your voice is being heard and touching others, who in turn will touch others, and so on. The world is a better and stronger place because you have had the courage to share your rich experiences. Thank you.

    Sandy

  16. Oh, there were so many moments in the story where things could have gone better. You have so few options. I’m glad you are able to tell your story so that we on the other side of the world can understand your life and heart.

  17. Yagana, thank you for sharing your story. You write with such honesty and bravery.

  18. Yagana,
    I heard your story read aloud tonight at Arizona State University. It was powerful and moving. I don’t have the talent and the passion you have. I don’t have your gift for breathing life into my deepest thoughts. I don’t have the ability to bring people to tears with my words the way yours did tonight. Your story communicates the emotion, feelings, hopes and fears universal to women. Your story is a poignant representation of the female experience. Please keep writing and give a voice to women around the world. We need your voice!

  19. Dear Aunt,
    Wow when I see just I become asurpriced, I want to be also a writer but still I am little and I have a smart minde,
    WOW you are the best writer, I know everyone is a writer of our beautiful land means Afghanistan,
    keep it up up up,
    great Yagan,

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