It is hard to talk about. Nobody listens if you talk about it—and nobody will talk to you. It means you buy enemies with your saved money. But tonight I have broken all my promises to stay silent and pressed my pen to help me write it down.
The story begins back when I was a child and the winter nights were cold and icy, but our living room was warm with the wood stove. My father sat alone late into the night. I could hardly see him from under my heavy quilt. I tried to hide my breath so he would not know I could see him, the bottle beside him, and a half-empty glass the color of pomegranate that shined in the light of the lamp. When my father finished the drink, he looked at the sky, seemingly through the window, and said, “I like the windows from which you can see the sky.”
My mom didn’t respect dad because he would sometimes drink at home. Those who knew my father called him “Sharabi.” It’s an insult for people who drink wine. The hate that I learned for those who drank was mixed with the milk from my mother’s breasts. It was as if I hated dad for making a mistake, or that he was a symbol of mistake in my mom’s eyes.
Mom and her whole family were very religious. Every breath started with “Allahu Akbar.” I remember one day, my mom was nervous and stressed and murmured “Allahu Akbar” while she stood in front of the oven cooking bread for dinner.
“What’s wrong?” I asked her. She replied that she was asking for help from God to repair the oven. I looked around to figure out the problem and I saw she had not plugged the oven into the electricity.
During Ramadan when we recited the Qu’ran, me and mom and the long verses, six or seven parts of the Qu’ran in one night of long praying, the pain in my feet so strong I almost couldn’t bow at the end of taraweeh when the mullah said, “God damn those who drink and make the earth a bad place for the others. God! Remove them from the earth!”
So part of my life was full with the extreme hate I had learned from Afghan society. But big questions remained in my mind: Why do people drink wine? How does a man feel afterwards? How does it taste?
A taste of wine
My husband and I were invited to a party. At meal time, the hosts acted traditionally, with women eating separately from the men. All the tasty, colorful food was shared with both sides—but not the wine. In the men’s corner of the room, I saw that everyone had a glass of white wine. I watched my husband, but his glass remained full, even at the end of the party.
I asked him why he didn’t drink. At first, he was surprised; wives are not allowed to ask such questions of their husbands. But later, he looked at me and said, “I would like to drink wine if you drink with me.” This time, I was surprised. I could hardly believe he was an Afghan husband or that my ears hadn’t deceived me.
It was on a Saturday when for the first time in my life, I put money in my purse and went to buy wine with my husband. On our way, I asked him if he had ever drunk wine and he told me all he knew was that it had a bitter taste. Sitting at the table with our glasses full, my husband looked at me, laughed, and told me that the first time he saw me he thought that I was a mullah because I was covered with long black clothes and a chadar. I didn’t dare to look into his eyes. I would reply to him only by looking at the ground. In those first moments, he thought that I must be very religious and he would learn the Qu’ran from me.
Now, that same woman sat in front of him, breaking every rule in her life and ready to drink wine, too. He looked at me as if to ask, Is this the same woman? I replied with a smile and we cheered.
When I heard the sound of the glasses, it was mixed with the voice of my mother saying, “I hate those who drink wine. If you are my daughter, never ever look at wine, never talk to those who drink. Never, never.” That was also the voice of my teachers and the mullahs and everybody I knew. My last question before taking my drink was, What will happen now?
I felt pain, a headache. A curtain lifted in my eyes as if the world opened a new door. Then, I felt silence and joy that washed every pain from my heart, watered every thirsty flower in the garden of my soul.
I grew up in Afghan society. As a woman, I grew up to hate myself and hate others but in such a society I also learned to believe in myself and to find out which mistakes are real and which are not. I love to make mistakes. And I love to repeat this mistake.
Photo by Aurimas
Dear Anonymous, Enjoy your wine. You deserve to feel that calm wash over you. But be careful when you drink. You’re a strong woman. Remain stronger than the wine; that’s what important.
This was a fascinating essay. I loved that you were able to get rid of the hate you felt growing up for people who drink or make other “mistakes” — including yourself and your father. I was also happy to see that your husband supports you making such decisions for yourself — deciding if drinking is right for you or not. Thank you for sharing such a personal experience. All best wishes, Nancy
With every essay and poem I read on this site I learn more and more about Afghanistan–and so many stories are so interesting and unexpected! This essay is an example of exactly that. This image of your father looking out the window at the night sky, while having this “forbidden” drink is so striking and heartbreaking. I wonder what he was thinking in his heart in those moments. Also what a struggle you and your mother must have experienced, trying to understand this as well. You seem to have a very supportive, sweet relationship with your own husband. I love one of your last lines, which will linger with me: “I also learned to believe in myself and to find out which mistakes are real and which are not.” You are a wise woman, to learn about mistakes and “non-mistakes” for yourself. You have given me something to think about here. Thank you so much for sharing this experience.
This is such an intimate essay. Your words are beautifully descriptive, full of mischief and wisdom and love. Thank you!
This line brought tears quickly to my eyes: “As a woman, I grew up to hate myself ” … then you wrote “I also learned to believe in myself and to find out which mistakes are real and which are not” and then my eyes cleared and I found a smile on my face: I felt the same chord ring true in me. Thank you so much for writing!
It was a wonderful experience you had. I don’t know the test of wine too, and it makes me excited what it would taste like. Alia
I love wine, I love trying new wines and to me it is art. So grateful that you are learning that too about wine. Many people see it as bad but they think we are as weak as they are. Enjoy a glass of wine once in a while and cheers! your husband seems like such a sweet guy who wants to break free also. Both of you seem so sweet.
Cheers to you