A World of Difference

This poem is about how I feel when I talk with my western sisters and get to know them. I know we are different. They swim in the ocean of success; we are sunk in the ocean under the same sky. We are not different but different. Yes, different. They can choose what they want in life. We Afghan women are treated as a cloth, a second-hand piece of material. 

We look the same
We have one name
Everywhere, we are women 

I am tall as you
But I am full of pain
While you are full of joy
My face is red for I am beaten
Your face is red from your wonderful day 

There is a world of difference
Between me and you
My western sister
Not only because I have black hair
And you have yellow 

You smell like roses
I have the smell of bread
I compare you and me while I am in the kitchen
And see you with your laptop 

Every night I search streets for freedom
Counting the moments until my release
From the prison of barbarism
Every day you are a guest of sunshine
And I am under the tent, under the burqa, in a cage

There is a world of difference
Between me and you
My western sister

By Norwan


  1. Dear Norwan: You may not feel that you able to do this, for fear of revealing too many personal details, but it is my wish, perhaps in the secret version of this poem, or in another piece, that you give more specific details of place. How is it that the speaker in the poem is encountering the “western sister”? Is she a guest in the speaker’s land, or has the speaker gone abroad and is encountering her there? I think sharing some of this information can really help the reader further imagine the scene, and in doing so, an even deeper understanding will emerge. There is something about having others’ difference pressed up against our faces….that it’s easier to not be envious of other people’s lifestyles when we don’t see them on a regular basis. If your speaker is suddenly somewhere where all off a sudden she sees “how the other half lives” (for ex. a college scholarship in NYC) then it’s even more understandable why she is comparing her life to others…

    That said, the pain, the hunger, the rage, the jealousy–these strong, burning feelings come through, and it’s hard, as an American these words, to read, because I can fully understand why the speaker in the poem feels this way. If I were in her shoes, I could imagine feeling that way, too.

    If I could talk to the speaker, I would tell her what she already knows: the great and terrible irony is that so many people we assume to be well-off are trapped in cages themselves (the cage of money, of social expectation, of professional expectation… or they don’t think they’re pretty or slim enough and torture themselves in that way as well…).

    One line that really struck me: “Every night I search streets for freedom.” I wonder what that means. That could mean so many things. I hope you will consider being more specific with this.

    As always, well done, Norwan. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


  2. “There is a world of difference Between me and you My western sister.” Well put, Norwan – it’s silly to pretend that working women in the west have lives as difficult as women in Afghanistan . However I believe that it is possible to improve the lives of Afghan women in our lifetimes if only because there is so much to gain by doing so.

  3. Monica Webb says:

    Dear Norwan. I have spent the past year studying the early woman’s rights leaders of New Zealand (my home), America and Britain. I want to tell you that the difference between you and your western sisters is only a matter of time. Like you, they had to start by changing the hearts and minds of individual women and men. One woman leader, a Polish immigrant to America in 1830, began speaking publicly when such an act brought ridicule and shunning. People made fun of her accent and her appearance, but she knew she was right and so she never gave up. Twenty years later, when thousands of women were speaking up for their freedom, she described how they had started the change: “we had to describe to women their own position…and through these means, as a wholesome irritant, we roused public opinion on the subject, and through public opinion, we acted upon the law…” Progress may seem slow, as it did to these women, but you ARE making progress. Many of these women didn’t live to see all their dreams realized, but they surely created the freedoms that women like me now live in, because they opened our eyes. Even if it takes a lifetime, it is worth the effort. Never. Give. Up. Your western sisters are with you.

  4. Thank you, Norwan, for speaking your truth in this memorable way. I appreciate the strength and clarity of your words and observations. Blessings, Sherry

  5. Thank you for your perspective, Norwan. I was intrigued to hear Stacy’s suggestions and I too, feel that knowing the context would add a depth that we are now curious to know and hear about. Yes, life is drastically different for you compared to many, not all, Westerners. You should be valued, heard and you should be cherished….not because you are a woman, an Afghan, but because all people deserve to have worth and to be valued.

  6. Hi Norwan, I keep re-reading your poem. In particular, I think you’ve condensed a lot of truth into two lines: I compare you and me while I am in the kitchen; And see you with your laptop. I’ve put a link to this website on my Facebook page so that the women I know can read your work and the work of your sisters. Keep writing, we are reading.

  7. Dear Norwan! Dein Gedicht hat mich sehr berührt. Es hat mir wieder einmal klargemacht, dass es uns Frauen im Westen eigentlich gut geht. Über manche Situationen sind wir hier auch nicht zufrieden, so zum Beispiel, dass wir bei der gleichen Arbeit nicht gleich viel wie unsere Männer verdienen, dass viele Führungspositionen hauptsächlich Männer ausüben usw. Aber es ist nicht mit eurer Situation zu vergleichen. Ich wünsche dir viel Kraft zum Weiterschreiben, du bist sehr mutig.

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