Editor’s note: This is the story of a 20-year-old Afghan woman currently in hiding—a strong woman who was sold into marriage as a young teenager. With the help of a kind family who sponsored her and bought her back, she was able to escape from the marriage. She obtained an education and a job and began writing for AWWP in 2011. Despite many gains in the past ten years, the situation for women in Afghanistan remains often perilous and violent. Her ex-husband recently tracked her down. Supported by a traditional legal system that denies women their rights, he forced her to return to him as his village wife. At great personal risk, she escaped. Here, with her permission, is her story, based on a combination of her unpublished writings and emails to AWWP. For her security, her identity, location, and current status are withheld.
December 2, 2011: I am a 17-year-old girl and I finished 11th grade this autumn. I am great at math. Every morning after making breakfast for my family, I kiss my sister … and I go out. I work as a volunteer at a university and an orphanage. I teach women and children English. Last year I was accepted as an exchange student to the U.S. but I did not go. Now I am a volunteer counselor.
I am not the same girl I was six years ago. I was born in a village in 1994. During the war, I lost my family and went to live with my uncle. He had a small farm with cows and sheep. My responsibility was to take them to graze all day. It was not possible to go to school. Sometimes during the winter, though, I had free time to go to a teacher to learn to read and write.
Unfortunately, due to poverty, it was not long before my uncle decided to sell me into a forced marriage. I married, and thought my life was ending.
But God helped me and I was so lucky. A kind family took pity on me, paid my family, and took me away. It was the first thing that someone ever gave me. I was so happy. This move from a small village brought big change to my life. It was like being reborn in the world. I saw lots of new things in my new life: TV, computers, cameras, and a city of lights at night. I started going to school and it was like a sweet dream. It was time to work hard to catch up to the other students my age. With the guidance of the man I began to think of as my new father, I took extra courses in mathematics, physics, chemistry, and English. I passed the test given by the Ministry of Education and I caught up to the other grade levels.
I learned about the Afghan Women’s Writing Project and decided to join. I love English. It is an international language and connects you to the world and people in other countries.
I also love the nights. It is my habit before falling asleep to draw a plan for my life. When I was living in the village, it was in my dream to go to school and have many books to read. Now all those things I drew and planned are happening.
I am someone who had no support, but I never forgot my dream. This can be an encouraging point for other Afghan women who hope for peace in their life. I was blind; now I can read and write so I am seeing. Before this I could just see my surroundings, but now I can see the entire world.
I am so happy to know you all and become a part of your family. I was busy because I have my school examinations and also my friend died about five days ago. I have never written a story. This is my first time and you will find many grammatical problems, but I am trying to do my best, and thanks.
March 4, 2012 for International Women’s Day: If God asked me where I wanted to be born again, I would still say Afghanistan. I love my country.
November 11, 2014: Life is going on, as always, with all its hardships, happiness, and sadness and I’m trying to survive as always. Life has been very difficult for us, but still we hope for better. I am working now. It is quietly nice. I understand how life can be cruel. Classes are going well and I am trying to be good enough.
December 2, 2014: Am glad hearing you like my poem. Hope others like it too.
Shortly after receiving this message from her, our writer told us in a brief call that her ex-husband had located her and brought a court order requiring her to return to live with him as his wife. Under Afghan tradition, although the decision to marry was not her choice, she is not entitled to a divorce. Initially she decided to argue her point in court, as she explained here in a few curtailed moments when she was able to secretly email.
January 14, 2015: I can’t go on. I have to live with him until our divorce case begins in court because escaping from the home, for women, is a crime here. According to sharia law, I also have to give him what he wants—sex. It is his right as my legal husband, no matter if I agree or not. I’m being punished for all my years of running.
January 24, 2015: Thanks for your efforts but I’m not planning to get a divorce anymore. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I can’t risk anyone’s life. If I go to court, my husband’s uncle is a warlord and he will decide my fate. If I escape and go to Kabul, I will have to live my entire life in a safe house where it is like jail. And besides that, then he will go after my new family and he will find them one day just like he found me, and I can’t even think of what he will do. I can’t ask them to live the rest of their lives in a safe house and destroy their lives. I want to thank you for being supportive and for everything. May God give you and your family peace.
Please don’t forget me.
Since this writing, our writer has escaped again from the village. She is currently in a safe location.
Photo by IDLO/Paul Hitchings
We will never, every, forget you. You have shown incredible strength of character and spirit. I know that we will hear from you, and there will be a day that your email is joyous, as you tell us that you are making your way in your life. Sending you support, encouragement, and prayers of strength and peace. Stacy
You are not the property of anyone. You have a right to freedom, happiness and self determination. I admire you. I pray for you. May God bless you and keep you safe. I wish you the ability to live your dream without fear. Do not give up.
You have accomplished so much and I’m so grateful to know you are safe. My thoughts are with you as you face the difficulties and challenges ahead. You are a truly powerful person.
Your bravery and determination lift my spirit and inspire me. I am so relieved to know that you are safe now. I will remember your writing always and pray for your continued safety and happiness.
With admiration, love and all best wishes, Nancy
You are not forgotten. I am thinking of you and sending you my wishes for your freedom, your safety and the opportunity to live a life happy and fulfilled. I believe in you.
You have achieved so much, stay strong, I am thinking of you often.
You will never be forgotten as your story has touched my heart and my life. You will be in my thoughts and prayers. Stay strong and keep the faith. I know it does not feel like it, but you are an inspiration. From woman to woman, from sister to sister, my heart will continue to be with you always.