I can’t travel to all the provinces due to security problems, and even where I am allowed to go, I cannot drive myself as a woman in Afghanistan, so I’ve hired a man as my driver. He met me early one recent morning and drove off like he was James Bond. The way from Kabul to Jallalabad is very dangerous, a tiny road weaving through huge mountains. “Do not drive so fast,” I told him. He kept driving fast, so I shouted at him: “Do you want to kill me? This meeting is not more important than my life.”
He calmly answered: “If Allah has chosen today as our last day, then we will die anyway.”
Can you imagine, this wrong understanding of Islam among our uneducated people? I asked him, “Okay, if I throw you out of this car and push you into the river, then it means God has decided to take your soul?”
“No, my dear,” I told him. “It will be my decision, not God’s.”
This way to begin a day of campaigning can make you tired and desperate before you start.
I am running for parliament in elections scheduled for September 18th, hoping to represent the Kuchis, Afghanistan’s Pashtun nomads. There will be 249 parliament seats from all over Afghanistan and 33 percent are required to be filled by women. For the Kuchis, they allocated 13 seats, ten to be taken by male candidates and three by female. Currently seven women are running, so three of us will be among the next members of parliament.
The Kuchis are very poor and hungry. Their children and elders are sick, so they can’t think long-term. Most are not educated and will vote as their elders tell them. And most of the elders do business with the candidates. They say, “Okay, we will vote for you, but then you have to pay us.” As I understand, the rate for one vote is the equivalent of two and a half dollars. For example, if I need 10,000 votes, then I have to give them at least $25,000. Impossible! First of all, I will not buy votes because it is fraud.
There are some nice people who will not ask for money, but still I have to pay them to campaign for me, prepare food, print posters, and distribute them in all the provinces. I have to pay their transportation. But it is not even possible to hire a car and ask them to bring my campaigners to mountainous areas. First of all, faraway districts are under Taliban control. Secondly, the roads are not paved so the taxi drivers will not drive in such a place. To be frank, I didn’t know that I would have to pay this much money. I thought I would just have to print out some posters. Later on, I found out I have to hire people in all the provinces and in each district, and pay them to arrange administrative issues for me. Anyway, I don’t want to talk about expenses. Now that I have started, I shouldn’t give up. But the election process in Afghanistan is nothing like the election process in Western countries.
Last night, after working hard on my campaign all week and traveling to different provinces, I was frustrated. I took a hot shower and sat on the couch watching TV. To be frank, I didn’t want to answer the telephone or talk to anyone. I just wanted to relax. As always, my phone rang. I didn’t want to answer, but thought this might be one of the Kuchis who had a question or needed my suggestion. I answered and, with a tired voice, said “Balay” (“Hello”).
I heard a nonstop voice: “As-Salam alaikum, sister. I am one of your Kuchi brothers. I hope you win. Allah is with you. I am sure you are going to win.” Suddenly, the line went dead. I was amazed at this call, at his voice with its honesty and hope, and the way he called me his sister, like a brother calls to his biological sister, with ambition and passion. I wondered who he was. I clicked on received calls and called him back. By now, I had forgotten being tired. Somehow, I felt strong, and like someone was supporting me. I just wanted to hear him again.
He picked up and I introduced myself and he was so excited. “Oh, is this really you?”
I said yes and asked him, “Why did you cut off?”
“I didn’t have credit in my phone,” he said.
“Don’t worry, now you can talk as much as you want,” I answered.
He started again: “Oh sister! My mother, my family and I have prayed for you. I am sure you are going to win.”
“What makes you believe this?” I asked.
“I got your poster and your card from one of the Kuchis,” he said. “I saw your kind and lovely face and strong personality and liked you standing in front of a Kuchi tent with sheep and camels all around. I liked your style and strong look, and you know, when I saw the Kuchi tent and you standing next to it, it gave me hope to have a tent like this.”
“What? Don’t you have a tent?” I asked.
He said, “No, sister, I sleep in the open. Sometimes if it is hot or cold, I send my children to my mother’s tent.”
I was shocked. “What? Really, you don’t have any tent?”
He laughed and said, “No, sister, but it is common. Not all Kuchis have tents.”
“Look,” I said, “you called me sister. I really appreciate it. As you might have read on my posters, I lost my brothers and father when I was eleven years old, and no one has called me sister for a long time the way you did. Thanks again. It felt so good when you called me your sister that I will be your sister and you will be my brother and I will not let my brother live in the open and send his kids somewhere else. I will buy you a tent. Please accept a gift from your sister.”
“See, sister, I really appreciate your offer and your gift,” he said, and I could hear the happiness in his voice, “but as you know, in our culture, a sister has the right to ask for something from her brother and the right to be given a gift—not to give one. So sis, please don’t make me feel ashamed.”
“Don’t worry, bro,” I said. “Now I have money. I will give you a gift. Later on, when you have money, you will give me a gift.”
“You are as amazing as we thought,” he said, and I could hear in his voice that he was almost crying. “I am sure Allah will bless you; you have a heart of gold. I will never forget this.”
I had a small problem sending him money because he doesn’t have a bank account and is living in the north of the country, far from Kabul. Then I found a way and sent him money to buy a tent for his kids. I didn’t do this to get his vote, because I don’t need just a few votes; I need 10,000 votes minimum. I did it because I will never forget this poor man’s voice.