Forced Marriage – Shame of Divorce

I am the oldest girl in a family of four brothers and one sister. I live in Kandahar. At the turn of the millennium, I was only eighteen, but my father was a drug addict so I was responsible to care for the eight of us. Because the Taliban ruled the country at that time, I was only allowed to go to school until middle school.

My main responsibility was to serve the unwanted guests who would show up at our house at any time. A group of five or six ladies would come to our home every other day. As usual, my mother had to welcome and take them to the guest room, which was always prepared for guests. My younger sister, Rehana, would help me bring chai and other drinks to the guests.

Throughout Kandahar, I was known as a well-mannered, soft-hearted princess of beauty. The stories of my beauty were discussed everywhere and therefore, many men wanted to marry me. I received many proposals even though I had been engaged to my cousin Javid since I was two.

When Rehana was almost sixteen my mother wanted to find a suitable husband for her. But the problem was that when I was in the room, people hardly paid attention to her. My mother would tell suitors I was already engaged, but they would not listen. They would get angry and comment on our old-fashioned home. Since my father was a drug addict, we could not afford to buy new furnishings.

My mother was tired of welcoming potential suitors for me. She wanted me to be married soon. But Javid was in Pakistan studying at the university, so I had to wait for three more years.

Even though Javid and I had not yet met, we loved each other. We were in love with each other’s photos and voices and we spent hours talking on the phone. Javid told me: “I will never ever leave you alone; you are mine and will be mine forever.” I was very happy and felt like the luckiest girl in the world.

But my happiness was soon to be shattered. Javid would remain a dream forever and we would never meet.

At the end of 2001, a new government came into power and one of my uncles, Ahmed Khan, became a political leader. This was an honor for my uncle, but also for his tribe. He was very rich and owned many houses and fancy hotels in Kandahar. Ahmed Khan’s elder brother, Wali Khan, who lived in America with his family, came to Afghanistan to help Ahmed Khan with his business. Everyone went to meet him, including my family.

Wali Khan instantly fell in love with me and had to have me for his second wife. He was fifty-five; I was eighteen. I became a goal for Wali Khan. He knew I was already engaged, but he also knew that my parents were in trouble financially.

“I want Palwasha’s hand. I want to marry her,” he told my parents.

My parents were shocked. My mother said, “Palwasha is already engaged to my nephew.”

“Could you not find someone within our family, that you engaged her to a stranger?” Wali Khan asked angrily. Then he tried to make my parents feel guilty for giving my hand to Javid.

My father stayed silent and my mother seemed thoughtful. She preferred to be silent rather than saying something disrespectful.

Wali Khan was married and had two daughters who were older than I, but he still fantasized about me as his second wife. An older man marrying a young girl is not an odd tradition in Afghan society. He was a man with desires and wishes. More important, he was a man with power who could easily buy me as his property, which he did.

The next morning, Wali Khan came to our house with several tribal elders, including my uncles. Wali Khan again asked my parents for my hand. However, this time the tribal elders who accompanied Wali Khan also told my parents: “It is against our family and tribal honor to marry our daughters to outsiders. Palwasha is only engaged; she is not yet married. If you accept Wali Khan as her husband, he will solve all of your problems and he will give you as much money as you want.” This time, my father and my uncles agreed because Wali Khan could not only benefit from my family, but also provide employment opportunities to every man in our tribe.

My mother was unhappy with this decision and said: “We should talk to Palwasha first and also with Javid’s family.”

“Palwasha will be all right and we don’t need to talk to Javid’s family,” my father replied.

I was in the kitchen preparing tea while the devil guests were playing a game of hide and seek with my life. A smile appeared on my lips every time I thought of Javid. I was clueless about the decision being made outside the kitchen. I was unaware that my own family was changing my husband like a fashion. No one ever asked me or Javid what we wanted.

Javid’s family was soon informed. They were sad, but Javid was devastated. He came to Kandahar to protect me, but before he could do anything, he was put in jail and tortured. After three days, he was sent back to Pakistan and warned that if he attempted to come to Kandahar again or meet my family, he would be given a death sentence. They threatened to accuse him of being Taliban or Osama bin Laden’s spy.

Wali Khan was arrogant about achieving his goal and it wasn’t long before he came to our house with his family and friends to celebrate his engagement. He brought many expensive gifts, jewelry, clothes and an abundance of fruits. He also brought thousands of dollars. Everyone in the family was happy, except my mother and me.

The mullah was called to tie our nikah, our marriage ceremony. Everyone stared at me when the mullah asked if I accepted Wali Khan as my husband.  I wanted to reject him; I wanted to say no but I couldn’t. My mother cried. “My sweetheart, I know you are forced to marry Wali Khan but you have to accept him, if only for the sake of your father and family honor.” I was very lonely and there was no one to protect me or support my decision, not even my mother. I had to sacrifice my desires and dreams for the happiness of my family and tribal honor.

Everyone danced and enjoyed the party and there were plenty of sweets and drinks. After dinner, one by one, the guests left. Wali Khan was now formally my husband. He was allowed to be alone with me in the same room.

I was sitting in my room, lonely and crying, when suddenly Wali Khan entered. My body wrenched in fear as I saw the old man with his big belly leering and coming closer to me. He grabbed my hand, but before he could say anything, I shouted loudly, and ran to the door and escaped. I ran next door to my uncle’s house and locked myself in one of the rooms. My family came and knocked on my door to find out why I ran, but I would not talk to anyone.

Even though the weather was chilly that night, I felt as if my world was on fire, burning and melting me in bloody tears. I opened the window and sat in the corner on the floor. I looked out the window to the sky and cried for my destiny. I cried for being a powerless woman who is not permitted to make her own decisions. I cried for being a woman who is ordered to do what men want. I cried for being away from Javid. I looked at my hands, my fingers, and my palms to search for my destiny line and for Javid’s name between these lines. I looked at the sky, searched for my and Javid’s stars and saw the distance between them. I searched for the moon to cry to her. I searched for Allah-Pak to beg him for Javid, whom I loved so much. I asked him why I was born to a drug addict father. I felt hopeless, for I found nothing. There was no one to feel my pain and to brush away my tears. That night, everyone was angry with me, even the sky, the stars, the moon and Allah-Pak. I spent the whole night looking to the sky crying, crying, and crying until dawn.

Wali Khan spent that night burning in anger in my room at my house. The next morning, he left without informing anyone. In the coming days, he tried many other times to be alone with me before he left for the United States. But I would not be with him.

Following my marriage to Wali Khan, I spent my days and nights lonely and sad in my room. I was not eating or drinking properly. The only thing I did was look at and talk to Javid’s picture. I had sacrificed my happiness for my family and I had lost Javid. In a few months, my family settled in a better home because of the continued support of Wali Khan. My brothers and sister went to school. We got new home furnishings and bought a new car.

When Wali Khan arrived in the United States, his first wife and daughters had been already informed of his engagement to me. They were very angry at him.  His wife, who was from a very wealthy and aristocratic family and owned most of Wali Khan’s property, told him that if he married me, she would kick him out of her home. His daughters warned him that they would marry American guys.

Wali Khan could afford to lose his property and his life, but he never wanted his daughters to marry foreigners. He was a well-honored person among his tribe, and his brother was a well-known Afghan leader in the world. Therefore, for his daughters he had to give up.

It was almost twelve months from the day after Wali Khan left when we received a divorce letter. It was a dreadful, unforgettable day for everyone. My parents cried and hit their heads on the walls to penalize themselves. They said they were to blame, embarrassed and repentant for playing with my life. But now it was too late. I had lost two beaus. I cried: “I am divorced! I am divorced twice!” I pulled my hair. I couldn’t bear having the stain of being divorced.

Things got crazy for me and I felt like I was losing my mind and my health. I spent nearly three months in the hospital suffering from a terrible headache. After I recovered, my family tried to keep me happy, but I did not feel like I could trust them. I stopped meeting relatives and friends, going out or attending parties. I wanted to avoid people who might feel pity for me or who might talk about my ex-husband. I spent another six months in my locked room asking myself crazy questions like why didn’t I stand up against my family, why didn’t I try to escape, and why didn’t I die before being apart from Javid?

One day my auntie, who was a teacher and lived in Kabul, came to visit my family. She couldn’t stop crying seeing me so weak and as sad as a dying bird. She wanted to help me.

My auntie said: “Look, my sweetheart, Palwasha, I know whatever happened to you is wrong and your family is to blame for it, but it does not mean you should end your life over it. You are a young woman and you have a long life ahead of you. Don’t harm yourself by crying and thinking useless thoughts! I want you to be happy and make a future, which I believe is very bright. I want you to get an education and become an independent woman who can help herself and other women in our country.”

I had never thought of going back to school after so many years. I wanted my auntie to keep talking me. Her words were like ointment healing my wounds, giving me strength to think about the future instead of looking back. She refreshed my dying soul and broken heart.

I looked at my aunt, hugged her very tightly, and cried with her so deeply. After crying, I felt as if my heart was painless and my sadness and sorrows had disappeared. I replied, “I promise I will not to cry anymore, I will try to forget everything, and I will change my destiny to be the power of education.”

The air was fresh and the birds were chirping the next morning when I walked on our lawn. My family was pleased to see me outside after such a long time. That morning, I went to school with my sister. I had high hopes for the future as I walked to school. However, as excited and happy as I was to be going back to school after ten years, I was also concerned about being too old to be a student.

As we arrived at school, I got scared seeing so many girls walking on the grounds. I wondered if they knew me and if they knew I was divorced twice, if it was written on my forehead. I wanted to run from them and hide.

My sister Rehana saw me to my classroom; I was afraid as I entered. I thought I would be called grandma because I was too old to be in the ninth grade, but I was surprised to see girls older, younger, and my age in that classroom.  They were survivors of the Taliban and family rules.  Their faces clearly described stories full of sorrows, but still they didn’t seem as hopeless as I was. They were struggling to make their future bright. I spent almost four years with the same classmates, laughing, talking and studying together.

I was over twenty-five years old, mature both in age and education, when I graduated from high school. Throughout those years in school, I learned that forced marriage is never allowed by any religion.  All religions give equal rights to women and allow them to make their own decisions.  Education is the only weapon that empowers women to fight for their rights against the cruelest nation in our society.

Now I am teaching at school as well as studying for the Kankor exam (college entry test). I want to be an Afghan female leader so that I can support all vulnerable women who are deprived of their equal rights. I don’t want to allow other cruel men like Wali Khan to destroy more lives.

By Sofia

photo: Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images


Comments

  1. Despite the sadness of your story, you demonstrate you are a strong woman and your decision of being an Afghan female leader to fight for equal rights between men and women is very meritorious. I wish all your dream could come true.
    Best wishes,
    Renata, from Brazil.

  2. Dear Sofia:

    You are wonderful, You are wonderful and You are wonderful.

    I wish you all the best with your studies and your teaching as well as your kankor exam.
    Remember you will be the one who pass the exam and you will stand first in the next success steps of your life. and I cant wait to see you a leader in the near future and hug you.

    Please keep writing I love your feelings.

  3. Sofia,
    I love how far you have taken this piece! I was delighted to open the AWWP website today and find your compelling and inspiring story there for everyone to read. You will be an Afghan woman leader–you already are!

  4. Sofia,

    Your story is powerful and really touched my heart. I take for granted all I have available to me in my world and sometimes feel trapped and lost in my life but you inspire me to do all I can to be happy and work towards my goals, if you can after all you have been through, what excuse do I have?

    Thank you for sharing this story with me,

    Taryn (New Zealand)

  5. You write beautifully……you can do anything you want now…everything that needed to happen is over marriage, divorce now make the most of what your heart delights and let us all see you happy, smiling, content ans satisfied…..women face challenges everywhere no matter where but its how one handles and overcome them that makes one realize a life worth living. You are lucky not to face a long unhappy marriage that could break your spirit and waste your time…..have a wonderful life ahead. I had read a thousand Splendid suns by Khalid Hosseni and always wanted to do something to support Afghan and Muslim women now Im glad I can. Thank You.

  6. Thank you for sharing your life with us. As an American woman, it is easy to forget that there are still situations like this in the world. Your writing is natural and beautifully descriptive. I felt like I was with you in the locked room on your wedding night as you cried and looked for the stars and the moon. My father was an alcoholic and many times I’ve asked, “why me?” But I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t matter why. It’s just up to me to move forward, use my life for good and help others. You are an inspiration! Good luck with your college exams! I hope to visit your country one day in a time of peace and prosperity. :)

  7. This is a beautifully written narrative of your life. I’m so happy that you were able to get out of a marriage that would not have done you justice. You seem to be an extremely intelligent woman and you deserve better than that. I wish you all the luck with your studies and career and I hope all of your goals and dreams are fullfilled. Keep your head high and always remember that Women can do just as much if not more than any man on this earth!

  8. Stephanie says:

    Sofia,

    Thank you so much for sharing your life experiences. Your writing is so artistic and the emotions you wrote about really touched me. You are truly a hero to women all around the world. Your courage and bravery inspirational . Good luck in all of your future endeavors. I know you will be successful!!

  9. Sofia,

    Your story is incredible and demonstrative of the power that women carry not only in their minds but in their hearts. I wish you luck and strength in your endeavors.

  10. You are lucky to be rid of the old husband! I am also divorced (in America) and it is not shameful. My ex husband and I are still good friends and are both happier now that we are no longer married to one another. Good luck. If you are half as beautiful as the woman in the photograph you will have many more chances at love!

  11. Very powerful story, and I thank you for sharing it. Best wishes to you for the future.

  12. What a passage of sadness eventually leading to a road of hope.
    What of Javid?

  13. Sofia, you are quite a storyteller! I want to tell you that you should not be ashamed of your divorce; it is the men who force women into unwanted marriages who should be ashamed.

  14. Judith Prest says:

    I am humbled by your courage, your resilience and your strength– thank you for telling your story! And PLEASE keep writing!!!

  15. Nazir kandaharai says:

    dear sofia
    I feel realy sorry hearing your story. as a brother i am feeling shaered in your sadness i hope in the future you will become a strong full of power woman to fight and strggul for your kandahari sisters who are in a bad stuaition right now. wish you all the best never lose your hope for you changing your future.
    my sister!you are still beautiful
    take care

  16. Vince D. says:

    Sofia,

    Your story is sad but inspiring at the same time. The fact that you sacrificed your own happiness for your family is something I’m sure you struggled with on a daily basis. I was inspired that despite all these terrible things that happened, you seem to be headed in the right direction. Please continue to write and tell people your story, it’s one worth reading.

  17. Nicole A.D. says:

    Sofia,

    Thank you for sharing your story. I can’t imagine the heartbreak and suffering you went through. I hope that writing about your experience helped you feel better about what happened. Next time I ask God why something bad has happened to me, I will remember this and know that if you got through your pain, I can, too.

  18. Kristen says:

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. Your story makes my problems and worries seem so petty and weak. I wish you the best in continuing in your education. You are a strong woman and a powerful example of endurance. Please continue writing.

  19. Sofia,

    Your story is incredibly inspiring. I can’t even imagine going through all that you went through and at such a young age! I am very sorry you had to experience that but at the same time look at all the strength that you have gained. You are such a strong woman and I hope that you always keep that strength with you even in times when it feels as if your life is falling apart. I wish you luck with finishing your education and the best of luck in life.

  20. James Smith says:

    Hell Yeah!!!

  21. Safia,

    This story is truly incredible. I could never imagine going through something this horrific. I am so extremely proud of how much you have accomplished since then. I feel if I went through the same situation I would not have had the courage that you did. I think you are a strong woman who can do anything that she puts her mind to. Keep up the good work and remember what an incredible woman you are. Also remember how much you have accomplished! A quote that I was reminded of while reading this story was “in suffering there is always joy.” You suffered many hardships, but in the end you achieved victory! Thank you for inspiring me to be a better woman and realize the rights that I have as well! I hope that you are able to speak to women like you have spoken to me today!

  22. Aymal Sahil says:

    I thank you from the core of my heart for sharing such sad and inspiring story of your life. It is not only you faced such horrific events but there are thousands of other afghan women facing the same problem every day and God bless u and all afghans suffering fom the unwanted marriges. I am greatful to see that u have got the ability to raise and get your voice heard, You story is awesome it gave me the strength of tolarance and hardwoking. Wish u all the best and happy life ahead.

  23. What a beautifully written story, thank you. I certainly hope that you do use your wonderful words to help others in the same situation that you found yourself in. Wishing you all the best for a happy and fulfilling life, and please continue to share your words that brings joy to others, too.

  24. Dear Sofia,

    a great leader is able to make change because their words and their presence can change the mind of those who hear them speak. Your story is deeply penetrating and sad. You have given us a sense of a terrible situation for women, a situation where you have suffered tremendously, and a situation that is very traditional – therefore acceptable where you live. I pray that you have peace of heart and mind, and that your commitment to writing stories continues. Since traditoinal is hard to change, but can only begin to change when our stories penetrate the ears and hearts of those who have not ever imagined anything outside of what they assume to be correct as traditional. You are already making a crack in the solid wall. May you be safe and find peace.

    I too of course, being an American, wanted to know if Javid knew that you were not touched by this man and escaped? I admire your courage and your strength as a woman writer

    Laura

  25. Even though you have gone through this pain and suffering, you have come out of this stronger and more determined to be a successful and independent woman. I congratulate you for succeeding to finish high school, even when you felt you were too old to be in school. Hopefully you have passed your Kankor exam and are on your way to supporting even further, women who are or have been in your position. Best of luck to you!

  26. Dear Sofia, thank you for sharing this remarkable and powerful story. Please keep writing; the world needs to hear from more women like you!

  27. Farhad Zaheer says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this story with us. I feel too bad. I got very very upset. May God give you much happiness in your life. Thank you dear Sofia for rising her voice. Wish you best of luck.

  28. Sorry… I have a curious question… Did you ever try to get back to Javid?

  29. Sofia-

    This wonderfully written story is a tribute to your courage. Never give up.

    Judith
    California

  30. Sofia jaan,

    I want to you and the other AWWP writers to know how inspirational your stories are and how by sharing your stories, you are inspiring and motivating women across the globe to fulfill their dreams too. I commend this organization for the work they are doing and I want to thank you for bringing to light the actuality of Afghan women: strong, resilient, and courageous members of society with a purpose. Best of luck and tawwakaletan ba Khuda.

    Warm regards,
    Saba

  31. Raafat Noori says:

    yes dear , go head in life and hope get succeed in ur future , we believe in Alah , sometimes we feel mad or bad of wat happen to us , but after time , we believe Alah gave it to us to get more better , or to avoid us of dangerous we not felt it , Alhamdulelah , about every things
    Regards , Raafat Noori
    Baghdad , Iraq

  32. Dear sister ,
    i read your story which is really sadful but the good thing is you have already made your life and your in mananging your life God Bless you and help you.
    actully , it is not happned to you but happend to millions of Afghan women whom never could survived and sunk to deep sorrow and lost them self in this battle , either they did sucide or got some serious depression no body could help them and i am really thank ful for your courage for resuming your second life and your anunte for support you.
    be happy and storng Allah may help you in this regards
    madina nasiri
    London

  33. Your story is very motivating and empowering for other girls not to lose hope when ignorance and tribal traditions when they threatens destinies of your sisters like you. Allah bless you. Continue spread education and hope…

  34. Abdul Rais says:

    Dear Sofia,
    Insha-Allah u will get a great success in ur life and Allah-Tala will help u in future.

  35. Maryam Rehman says:

    I feel so devastated after reading your intensely sad story. Reading what of a traumatic experience you have gone through makes me feel so depressed and gloomy. But despite all the tremendous suffering, hardships and the horrific experiences you have come out as a stronger, more educated woman. You’ve demonstrated that you are a persistent person and that the only way to improve the society is through hard work and dogged perseverance.
    I wish you luck with finishing your education and in your life

  36. Salam Grani Khori,

    I am proud of you and I really hope that Javid comes back to your life.

  37. Francesca says:

    You are a strong, courageous woman and I am privileged to have read your story. You are an amazing ambassador for Afghan women as well as women all over the world. I wish you every happiness.

    Francesca
    from Australia

  38. Sofia/ Palwasha
    Thanks for sharing all these janem. Wish the life smile at you and always be happy. :)

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