Behind the Smile

smiling woman with baby

I pretend I am fine, but do not believe it. Do not believe it when I say I am happy. I expect you to know that the sorrows in my heart swallow all happiness. I smile, but do not believe it.

You know that I am faking, right?

Smiling allows me to escape the questions: “Are you okay?” “What’s up?”

I laugh. But you can see the sorrow in my eyes. Do not tell me you did not notice.

I do not care. Everything is fine. I pretend. And you pretend to know nothing. It is easier this way because the truth is intolerable. Truth is brutal. Truth is unfair. It is easier to close our eyes, to live pretending everything is okay.

The truth is something that shakes you, makes you cry. Do you want to know it? No, you do not. You do not want to know what hides behind the doors of my city, behind the chadors of every woman and beneath their injuries. I will tell you the truth.  In Afghanistan you do not feel secure. The truth is that as a woman, you do not count as human. The truth is that every day in Afghanistan, people die of violence, poverty, and sickness.

But you do not have to be sad. Do not bother yourself. Pretend to know nothing. Smile!

We all pretend. I pretended when women burned themselves in Herat. I pretended when girls were raped in my country. Like everyone I told myself it was none of my business; you told yourself you did not care. We ignored our shared disaster in Afghanistan.

We wait for something magical to happen. We close our eyes. We pay a price though. Eventually pretending begins to hurt, when the sorrow becomes too much to ignore.

Let’s stop pretending and save our smiles for real happiness. Let us face the truth, and work to bring change. Let us share our skills to end poverty, violence, and corruption in our land and create a future where girls can smile for real.

By Fatima H. 

Photo: Diana Haskins


Comments

  1. Elizabeth Titus says:

    Dearest Fatima,
    This is one of the most incredibly brutal, true essays I have ever read. It is almost painful to read because of its horrendous truth. While you write about the horrors in your country, your words could be used to describe other oppressive parts of the world, as well as ordinary life, for ordinary people. Who can face even the truth of his or her own life?
    With strong women like you, Afghanistan will have a future, and the day when pretending ends, and the truth is faced.
    Liz

  2. Dear Fatima,
    One of the strengths of this piece is the way you lay out these harsh realities in great detail, and then switch to a positive note. I love this line: “Let’s stop pretending and save our smiles for real happiness.”
    Well done.
    Best,
    Claire

  3. A very touching essay, Fatima, of the truth behind the beauty. I can only hope that someday, Afghanistan discovers its greatest treasure: the hearts and minds of its women.

  4. Not only in Afghanistan, but anywhere if we want to change something, first we need to accept realities. Ignoring and denying does not solve the problems; they just make the problems more complicated.
    I think ignorance is another type of violence. You showed it well in this writing. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Well written.

    Bahar

  5. Dear Fatima: You write about the heart of the matter. I was especially moved by this: “We all pretend. I pretended when women burned themselves in Herat. I pretended when girls were raped in my country. Like everyone I told myself it was none of my business; you told yourself you did not care. We ignored our shared disaster in Afghanistan.” I think that most, if not all women, spend a lot of time pretending, and looking away, trying not to focus on the terrible that is around us. “Oh, it’s happening to *them”…oh, it doesn’t matter to me… or, oh, what can I possibly do?” You are doing something when you write this poem. You are shedding light. You are opening a musty door and allowing the sun to come inside. You are bringing to your readers attention how much pain and hurt that you must maneuver around–manage somehow. I wish for you, and for the women, peace. But peace with justice.

    All best,
    Stacy

  6. Thank you for writing this. It is always refreshing to read something that is frank and from the heart.

  7. Dear Fatima
    I would like to thank you for your courage to write this essay and share with the rest of the world the brutality of the environment you are exposed too. The last line is very powerful and hopeful and it contains the key to change your reality: ” Let us share our skills to end poverty, violence, and corruption in our land and create a future where girls can smile for real.” It is very important to send out the message that by getting together, gaining skills and sharing them that women in Afghanistan will recover their smiles and their future generation’s.

  8. Then I will happily pretend I never read this article, because (insert reason): As if real happiness only exists once everything, every where is perfect – we create it. Clearly people there do not know how. They prefer to succumb to religion and rules defined by others, and therefore they have no strength.

    • HTT,
      You mentioned a good point, but what I meant by pretending is nobody cares what is happening around them. They ignore violence, and pretend they are smiling. It is not real happiness. However, I agree that happiness can be found anywhere even in the hardest situations, but ignoring and passing by your problems is something different.
      Thank you for taking time to read this although you would be happier to pretend you did not read it.
      Fatima H.

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