Remembering Tabasom

If I Wrote My Destiny
I Was Happy and Free

The news came late, but hit hard.

AWWP poet Tabasom Hasal—who secreted away her laptop so she could write from Taliban-dominated land, walked four hours to send us a poem, and was thrilled when actresses read her work on a Los Angeles stage—was killed with her father in a suicide bombing attack on a hospital.

Though we hadn’t heard from Tabasom in months, we held to the hope that the deteriorating security situation in her province had made it impossible for her to contact us. We learned recently from a relative that the worst had happened.

In May 2009, when AWWP began, Tabasom was one of the first women to send an email asking to participate in the project. “It is me,” she wrote, introducing herself.

All of our women writers are brave, but she in particular faced enormous challenges in figuring out how to write for a U.S.-based organization from an ultra-conservative province. Except for one brother, her family did not support her writing because of worries about her security.

Today I came from far away to contact the project, she wrote in an email. 4 hour walk, isn’t it long? Not for my interests of writing, it is not far away, but I need to have a man all the time with me when I come to Kabul. We can’t walk alone here. It is funny when during the day all people are working with Karzai government and at night all those same people are Talibs. So trust no one. No one knows I am writing except one of my brothers, who encourages me to write whether or not it is good. Thanks for my computer, it works. I am happy. I think I am a mother and the laptop is my child whom I love very much. I do take care of it well.

Tabasom had dreams. She invented her last name to show, she said, that she was “sweet.” AWWP published fourteen of her poems under her name, and one anonymously for her security. Her last poem, “Where Have You Gone?” was published on the site in March 2011.

AWWP recently learned that several months after she wrote this poem, a suicide bombing attack on a hospital in her province took her life. Her family, very conscious of the dangers in their warring country, likely viewed the hospital as a sanctuary of safety. In her memory, and with great sorrow, we share here some of her words that offer a picture of her last years of life.

—MH

 

Saturday, May 16, 2009 7:44 AM
Subject: It is me…

Hello dear M,

My name is Tabasom and my last name is Hasal which means “Honey.”

I am from Kabul and I am engaged. I studied English and I think I need more time to practice and learn more about English. I like literature and sometimes I write my pains with the language of poems.

R told me about your project and encouraged me to join this program, but I don’t have access to a computer or Internet which is a big problem for me. I hope there will be a place for me to join your class.

Thanks
Tabasom

 

Thursday, July 09, 2009 7:41 AM
Subject: Re: Writing 102

Hello:

My name is Tabasom Hasal. I live in ____ province with the Taliban! I finished school and now I am at home. I like to read books in my free times and I love poems. I will be very happy to join your class, and share my pain and gain. Thanks to my brother who travels long hours to deliver my writing…. I think when we work together, we will have the power to discover a new world for all humans around the world. Thanks to you.

Warm Regards
Tabasom

December 2009: Tabasom’s first poem for AWWP

Smile

When you smile
Pains escape to the mountains
Smile
When you smile
The pomegranate flowers smile too
Smile
I decided not to be rude again
Smile
Life is short…
Life is short…

 

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 1:04 AM
Re: My Computer

M. jan:

When I am writing for the blog, I give it to my brother who is working in ______. He is encouraging me to write, and he has a flash drive and a computer, but most of the time he is not at home. When he comes here, I use his computer, but I can’t easily type. He helps me. I give him my writing, but it comes to you very late. I saw my poem on the blog—thanks. When I asked for a computer it’s because I want to be very active in writing. Thank you.

 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010 12:14 AM
Subject: Re: My Computer

Dear M jan,

I don’t know how old I am, but I know from my school that I am more than 20. I am graduated from school and live at home. I passed all my life in Afghanistan, and during Taliban I was in ______. Now I am at home. My family lives in ______ and I am with my family. I love to work but no chance here—I’m afraid of Taliban. My aunt was killed by Taliban when she was going to the hospital where she was a nurse. I have a lot of desires.

 

Sunday, April 04, 2010 4:42 AM
Subject: My Computer

Hello all:

I am so thankful that I got my computer yesterday. I promise to write more than in past times. For now, here is one:

Never complain,
my heart.
Now you know the nature
of humans.
Never complain
You know the nice
the cowardly people
you know love
you know lovers
Never complain, my heart
never
never
never.

 

Wed, 5 May 2010 03:01:24
Subject:  Re: Never Complain

Dear R:

It is nice to know you. I love to write about the situation I live in here in this province, I live in ______ Province where women just stay at home and eat and drink and work. Life is different here, men are kings. I love to write, but when my writing is ready I have to come to Kabul and send it to the blog. No access to the net here, especially for women. Please let me read your writing when it is finished. Thanks for your email, all the best.

 

(The following was in response to an AWWP Presents performance in Los Angeles in March 2010.  American actresses read two of Tabasom’s poems, “Winter of my Country,” and “Smile.”)

Tuesday, June 01, 2010 3:31 AM
Subject: The wonderful video

Dear M:

If I thank you, I think only to say ‘thank you’ can’t explain what I want. I just finished watching the video here in my office. Luckily the boss didn’t come to peek in my office to see what I am doing. Oh the program was nicer than my imaginations. When they read my writings, I thought it was as if they were me, I thought I was there, especially when I heard the voice of clappings for my writing, it really really touched my heart.

It was nice to see you in the video too. Wow you looked wonderful, you looked like Googosh the Iranian best singer, and she is my favorite singer, I love her so much.

Thanks for the video and thanks to the speed of the net today, it was not slow to eat my heart.

I want for you the best of everything you want in your life. All the best.

 

(In June 2010 there were news reports in Afghanistan that non-profit groups were converting Afghans to Christianity. This led to protests in parts of Afghanistan and Tabasom dropped out of the project for a few weeks. She struggled with this issue, as seen here in the following message.)

Monday, June 07, 2010 1:06 AM
Subject: You can kill us as you do. You can’t take our religion

We tolerate the suicide attacks that kill innocents in the street, we tolerate when we sleep hungry at night, we tolerate when we lose our family members in war, we tolerate the president and the government you, you, you people selected for us, but we can’t tolerate if you come here and take our religion.

We are Muslims, yes, but I am ashamed to call myself a Muslim. I don’t know Islam, I don’t know the reality of Islam that is peace… I know Islam from you, from books printed by you, from your money, from your media…

I wish I was a real Muslim… We are weak Muslims but it doesn’t mean that you come, capture our country and announce Christianity. I, and I am sure all Muslims, respect other religions, we never disrespect, but we know our way. Islam is very clear, if you are Christian, be that, but never try to come to a Muslim country and play ruler….

You took everything from us, you people of foreign countries, you people who you live in our country, what are you here for?

Are you here to kill us? Are you here to take whatever we have? Are you here to help us or you are here to take our religion? If you have this target, I swear to God that you will fail.

Stop this policy,… leave us alone. Islam is not the face of al Qaeda and Taliban, Islam is not the face of doing bad things, Islam is Islam: read it.

You brought Taliban in our country, the world treated Talibs and al Qaeda to show that Islam is the religion of Terror.

These days the Kabul media announced that there are churches in Kabul, there are people who invite Muslims to become Christians. They pay money, they give bread, the people are poor and they accept. This kills Muslims, and why?

If you are here for this reason, we can’t tolerate NATO forces anymore. You can kill us, please use the atom bomb, but never try to do anything with our beliefs. You took everything from us, you kill our families, you threat and bring up the Taliban and then you announce “we help Afghanistan!” you are lying . you are lying.

I am shamed; my family told me this project is also doing such things, and I didn’t have an answer.

Goodbye to you. It hurts me. I was happy writing to you, it was a chance for me. Why has this happened to take my writing from me, why?

(Editors from AWWP and one of Tabasom’s fellow writers in Afghanistan discussed this with Tabasom to reassure her that the project has no religious motive; that the intent of the project was to give writers a place to freely tell their stories and opinions to the world.)

 

Sunday, June 27, 2010 1:06 AM
Subject: Back from a prison

Hello M:

I am back, feeling so happy that I can write and submit my writing to the blog. … When brother came, he had the letters from you all and talked with our family about letting me write. No one accepted, nothing worked out, but my brother promised when he is back from work, he will take me with him to Kabul and I can send my writings… If I can go to the hospital where I worked, then I can send you my writings. For two weeks I cried for my writings, house was a prison, so hard is the situation here for women. Most of the time, I don’t see the sky. Sitting in the house, work and sleep is only my schedule. I am happy I am back.

(June 28th, AWWP published Tabasom’s poem “If You Kill Me”)

If You Kill Me

I won’t come back
I won’t come back
It makes no difference if I die
It makes no difference if all of you forget me
I won’t come back to you
I remember your bad works
Insult me
Beat me
Hate me
You taught me that I deserved worse
I will forget you and all the insults, beatings and hatred
I won’t come to you
If you kill me
If you kill me

 

Saturday, July 11, 2010 00:54:03
Subject: You cannot help me

You say you want to help me but I am living in a situation where you cannot help me. All of my province is full of Talibs. Two days ago, two brothers were killed because the Taliban said they worked with the government. They were our relatives. One had two children, and the other left a pregnant wife. No one can talk, and all men wear beards.

Weddings are silent because no one can play music. I go to my office, and I love to go to work every day, but when the security is bad, Dad insults me, and tells me not to go. Mom hates my job. Only my brother supports my working, but he is not with us; the Taliban warned my brother not to come here anymore and so he can’t dare to come. When he comes home, it is in the middle of the dark night, and it is hard.

You say you want to help me, but I tell you—you cannot help me. I come to Kabul to use the Internet, but my family doesn’t like me to come to Kabul. I would love to go to college but my family doesn’t agree.

I see the cows can go out, but I am a girl and cannot go out. If I go, Talibs will kill me, and no one will ask why.

 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010 3:37 AM
Subject: Internet Sticks

My brother who helped me with my coming and going to Kabul is in Helmand. I come with my other family members, but when I write from a net cafe, they don’t understand it. I can’t visit [AWWP’s liaison] because I can’t tell them who she is—this will stop my writings. It is a risk for me…

 

Monday, August 30, 2010 4:03 AM
Subject: I am very sick

Hello M jan:

I struggle to write and visit the AWWP. Life is very hard in ______ these days. There is a fight between the government and Talibs. Talibs are very strong, and powerful. I am very sick these days but couldn’t visit a doctor. We can’t see a male doctor and female doctors can’t come to the hospital. During the night we can’t sleep. There is sound of rockets, and bombs, we are all waiting for what happens ’til morning. This is not life.

 

Tuesday, August 31, 2010 1:07 AM
Subject: I am in Kabul

I am in Kabul now, I went to a doctor, thank you.

I don’t have a phone. My brother had, he is not available now. My father has a phone but I can’t use it. There is no way for me to help me. See how life is sad here. I can’t do anything for myself. My aunt’s son told me that I have to give my computer to him, because girls don’t need computers and it is a shame for them. He warned me that I must give it to him. When I came to Kabul I hid my computer under the wood we use for the kitchen. I am worried now if water destroys my computer or when his mother uses the wood, she could find my computer, I couldn’t take it to Kabul because of Talibs on the way. I don’t know; all my hope is to get my computer back.

 

Wednesday, September 01, 2010 1:54 AM
Subject: Re: Tabasom jan, from M

I decided to study with a teacher at home. The teacher will come to teach me. …For many reasons I don’t go out much. … My sister lives with her in-laws, and her husband is a Talib. Don’t be surprised that he lives in Kabul. When he goes out of home during the day, I tell my sister I am going shopping, and I take the hand of her son. I can’t go out alone. I am afraid if I call T, my nephew will tell his father about my phone calls. If he understands me, then I can’t come to Kabul and I can’t write to you. When I come to the net cafe and write you, I tell my nephew I am learning typing. He doesn’t understand. My father only works in the fields and gardens we have. My mom is a tailor. She knits clothes and gives me money to come to Kabul or to buy thing. My brother is in ________. He works there. My father is very angry all the time. Most of the time, I can’t talk to him. Life is hard now when Talibs are here. It is worse than the time when Taliban held the government.

I know you cannot help me, but I only tell you and write to you the problems of women in provinces. Thank you, I am waiting for time to write you next time.

 

Sunday, November 28, 2010 6:12 AM
Subject: I wish I wrote my destiny

Dear M, thanks for the Internet that we have. I am so happy to send my writing more. I can’t use it all the time, it is hidden. I don’t want anybody to know. Here no one knows what is Internet!

I wish I wrote my destiny
With Silver colors of happiness
shined into my life
I wish I wrote my destiny
there was no violence
No war
No fight and conflicts
I wish I wrote my destiny
there was no grief in my heart
If I wrote my destiny
I was never a sad human
I was never gold hidden in the river
I was happy
and Free.

(Correspondence with Tabasom was infrequent that winter. When spring came, she sent a poem about a dear friend of hers who had gone missing, perhaps hoping her friend would see it.  It was published March, 2011. Please follow this link to read more of Tabasom’s work.)

 

*  *  *

IN MEMORY OF TABASOM

 Donations in Tabasom’s memory will help provide laptops and
Internet access for young Afghan women like her.

To make a donation to AWWP in memory of Tabasom, please click the button.

*  *  *

 

Tabasom, My Friend
by Anonymous

She was younger than me in age, but wise and beautiful with long brown hair and big black eyes. She had a very nice smile most of the time; even if she was sad and hurt by her family’s behavior, she tried not to show it. She worked hard in her house from morning until late at night, cleaning and washing. She went to school, but because she lived in a remote zone under Taliban government, she could not go regularly. When she went, she wore her burqa and changed her path each day so people wouldn’t know she was going to school. She dreamed of finishing her education. I could see that in her eyes. She was my best friend. I met her in the Taliban times when we went to her province. We met on the rooftop of the houses, which was a good place for women and girls the same age to talk. She understood my feelings and I felt her thoughts and dreams. She was tired of wearing the burqa. Once she told me if she could go to Kabul, she would remove her burqa, and dance on the street. We both laughed.

Her father was someone who never learned to laugh or even smile. He was always angry and ready to fight. Everybody knew his habits. If he got into a fight outside the home, sometimes he came home and beat Tabasom. She knew the reason her dad was cruel to her was because she was a girl and could not defend herself. Her mom could not support her, though she prayed that Tabasom would find a good husband, different from hers. Tabasom had a kind brother who supported her and encouraged her to study. He was a soldier and every time he returned home he brought her gifts.

I remember the first time I told her of our writing project, she asked lots of questions and then said she was ready to write. When she started writing I was so amazed by her talents. The day she received her laptop, she was the happiest girl. She hid her laptop so no one would know she was writing. She kept it on the roof. Once, when she feared it would be discovered, she hid it under the bags of animal feed. She walked long hours to reach somewhere safe to send her writings. She was brave, intelligent, and lovely. I remember the lines of her poems:

I wish I wrote my destiny
With silver colors of happiness
That shined in my life

I really wish she could write her destiny. But life is unfaithful. Her dreams failed her in her life and for the future. Tabasom died along with her father in a suicide bomb attack in her province. I pray for her and God bless her and all those people who died without a reason and with no one to ask about them.

She was right when she wrote this poem:

I won’t come back
I won’t come back
It makes no difference if I die
It makes no difference if all of you forget me
I won’t come back to you

In her writings, she is not dead, and those who read her poetry will not forget her. Tabasom! My dear friend! You will not come back, but we hold you, hug your memories with passion and we appreciate your courage as a helpless woman.

 


Comments

  1. God bless all those who are not with us, with our dear Tabasom.
    Thanks for this wonderful memorial, I think tonight I am going to cry from deep of my heart.
    I have no words to write for now, let me cry…

  2. Today I talked about the power of words with young American high school students. These emails from Tabasom and her beautiful poems are the real testimony. How sad the world is to have lost this young woman but how wonderful that we have her writings. Thank you Tabasom for your courage and endurance. You are a true writer.

  3. This is devastating news–only harder to receive knowing, now, that she’s been gone for months. What heroic effort went into each line of Tabasom’s poems, in the writing and publishing. Thanks for this correspondence, and for the eloquent eulogy. My thoughts are with Tabasom’s family, and especially with her beloved brother.

  4. Babette Hogan says:

    How brave and resigned Tabasom was. I wish I could say more now, but I’m crying just thinking about the reality of her life – of so many lives.

  5. What a moving and beautiful tribute to a brave and courageous woman. Tabasom – I never had you in my group, but I see your shining spirit in your work. You do come back, Tabasom, every time we read your work. You come back. You come back.

  6. Sticking to the memories that tabasom left with us…i never got the chance to met her but always felt the creativity in her writing and after reading this whole page now i feel that there are thousand other writers who struggle to share their words…i only hide it from my husband but tabasom u were great and we pray that you live on the toppest peak of paradise…we will always stick to ur memories and cherish to your dreams…

    An appreciation to all the strong Afghan women and our AWWP writers.

    Pakiza

  7. Richelle McClain says:

    This story tears at my heart. Although I never met Tabasom, I am sad. Sad for the the potential she will never realizebecause of her death. She was truly a courageous and spirited woman. Her spirit will live on, even in her earthly absence.

  8. Today I grumbled when I needed to come in from a beautiful summer day to work on my writing projects. When I opened my computer a teacher had shared this website with me. I just finished reading about Tabasom and what she went through in order to write. I am so very ashamed of myself. I have everything I want and live in peace. She spent every day in fear and isolation even in her own home. Thanks for this site for reminding me of how fortunate I am. I am making a donation to this project in her memory.

  9. Terese Svoboda says:

    So sad. But it is wonderful that we have these words to remember.

    Terese Svoboda

  10. Writing serves an incredibly important function as a mirror of the human condition. I’m so moved by Tabasom’s courage, determination and ultimate sacrifice to fulfill that critically important role.

  11. Tabasom’s poems are hauntingly beautiful, especially when you read her accounts of her circumstances. Yet hers are words of longing, not complaint–how can one not admire the courage of her spirit. It’s an old cliche to say that from pain comes exquisite beauty, but …

  12. Jessica says:

    What a moving and powerful tribute to a beautiful, brave woman! I wish I had known about this site before now and could have read more of her writings as she was posting them. Her poetry was powerful, but her correspondence also so telling. Thank you for sharing her story. And thank you to Tabasom for being so brave, for sharing so much, for being so honest, for trying so hard. Her words and story will forever be remembered.

  13. Stephanie says:

    I admire these women who have the strength to fight back through writing. Writing to them is a symbol of freedom: it’s a way for them to express themselves without fear of judgment from their readers. It amazes me how much some of us take the simple pleasures of reading and writing for granted. We believe that the fight for us is over; however, I disagree. Tabasom and the women like her are proof that the war in this world has just begun. The fight isn’t over until everyone has equality and the freedom to express themselves through reading, writing, speaking, regardless of race and sex.

  14. Meanface Bear Lightning says:

    I noticed in her poems there is this undefined “you” to whom she speaks. I wonder who the “you” is. An acquaintance? A stranger? God? Herself?

    This story is incredibly sad. Tabasom seems like any other person in the world, a person with a voice and a desire to use it, a person who wants someone to hear her words, a person who feels the irresistible pull of poetry. That her universal words are silenced by sectarian division is inexcusable.

    The positive outcome is that we become the “you” in her poems. When I read them, I feel blessed to receive the images of her hopes, dreams, fears… and to share them with her.

    Hers was a voice cut too short.

  15. It is so sad news, I’m so sorry for lost such a genius girl, she was unique and her patience and interest were adorable.

    My dear Tabasom God blesses you, I wish paradise for you and crestfallen for these who take the life of innocent people in both worlds, from Allah.
    Sitara

  16. Leela Solomon says:

    I just want to cry, I want to tell all Tabasoms of Afghanistan that Iam with you. Far away from you physically, but can touch your heart and heal your wounds.

  17. shannen and Patrica says:

    wow. I like the poems! You are so special!

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  1. [...] and threat. Take a look at the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. One woman who stands out is Tabasom, who would walk four miles to deliver a poem and who has sadly lost her life. It’s also worth [...]

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