Qandy Gul is the oldest daughter in her family; she was nine years old and a third-grade student when God deprived her of her mother’s love.
Her mother died during the birth of another child, and her father then forced her to quit school and become a house worker, washing, cooking, and cleaning for other Afghan families. Her father’s decision disappointed her and broke her down.
She was given a broom instead of books. Through her tears, she saw her dream of becoming a teacher shattered to pieces. It was as if destiny had spread poison in her life. “My classmates will start fifth grade, but I will remain a sweeper and cleaner forever,” she said.
Her father worked as a shopkeeper, but he was unable to earn enough to feed his family. When he ran out of money to buy goods for his shop, he decided to marry off Qandy Gul. In Afghan tradition, fathers give their daughters away for marriage in exchange for large sums of money. It’s a kind of business, but it is called culture. It was as if Qandy Gul was only good to be sold.
Qandy Gul got engaged to her cousin Qadeerullah. After being engaged for eight months, Qadeerullah came down with meergy, a mental illness in which a person thinks that a ghost gets into the body and will eventually kill the person. Qadeerullah visited many doctors, but he died at age eighteen. This incident depressed Qandy Gul, but a new hope filled her mind: Maybe she would not have to marry early.
However her father then decided to give her to his second nephew, Amirullah, and she was forced to marry him at age thirteen. Because she was so young, she didn’t understand what marriage was and didn’t know what infelicitous and harrowing events were awaiting her. When Qandy Gul didn’t get pregnant, her mother-in-law mistreated her, putting on more pressure to do housework. Today, when she looks back at her marriage, she sobs and says, “All of the things I faced in my husband’s house when I was thirteen are impossible to describe in words. It hurts my soul every moment I remember it.”
Amazingly, her husband Amirullah was a good husband and was kind to her. But God took her to another dark street of adversity when, after eighteen months of her marriage, Amirrullah came down with the same disease as Qadeerullah. He visited hospitals in Pakistan, but he didn’t get well and he died at the age of twenty-two. At this point, Qandy Gul’s relatives and even her father blamed her for the deaths of her husbands and called her shoikhor, a woman who eats her husband.
Her father didn’t allow her to return home, so Qandy Gul decided to live with her father-in-law and go to work as a maid for 4,000 Afghanis per month.
Qandy Gul sees little hope for her future, but she waits, and remembers her life when her mother was still alive. She says, “I remember those days when my mother didn’t let me wash off the dirt from my own brother, but now I have to remove dirt from other people’s children.”
Her desires have died and turned to ashes. But there is an Afghan proverb: “Every sunset is followed by sunshine.” Qandy Gul is still waiting for sunshine!
Editor’s note: The illness called meergy is epilepsy. Particularly in rural areas it is often thought that seizures or fits associated with epilepsy are caused by a jinn or a spirit. Drugs are available to treat epilepsy, but not all families have access to a proper medical diagnosis.
Photo by Keiran Lusk