Photographer's Note

I dedicate this post to Gert as it makes me think of the characters from his book - Walls of Maimana.

She was one of the first group of kids we met in Wakhan. They came running to greet me but, while she followed the others, she showed little interest in the photos, except that she seemed slightly surprised that my lens was directed at her almost all the time. Her beauty stood out, in spite of her, typical for the children of Wakhan, rough skin damaged by malnourishment and exposure to severe weather.

Children of Wakhan rarely have smiles on their faces or happiness glittering in their eyes. Even when they pose for foreign tourists. These kids were no different, they were not a cheerful crowd (see WS) but the deep sadness in her gaze was exceptional even in such unhappy surroundings.

It’s a widely known fact that the situation of women in Afghanistan is not great. Not in all cases - educated, progressive families let children choose their future spouses and marry at a reasonable age of 20+. Azim, my guide, was one example, as his school sweetheart was to become his wife a month after my trip to Afghanistan. Even after their marriage, in November 2019, she keeps working as an English teacher. She does, however, require her husband’s permission to remain in employment.

I’m pretty sure that in small villages in Wakhan this kind of modern approach to young people (arranged marriages affect all genders) would be unthinkable. While waiting for my Afghan visa in Khorog, on the other side of the border, I heard stories of Tajik men visiting Afghanistan to choose their wives, while they were still young children, 9 – 10 years old. The future grooms would, allegedly, part with hefty sums of several thousand dollars, to pay for their future brides. A few years later they would go back to collect their “purchases” when they were at the legal age to marry in Tajikistan. And here is the paradox – those women, sold to marry abroad, were the lucky ones, to spend their lives enjoying the freedoms of the civilised world and, not any less importantly, the abundant goods such as nourishing food and medication that are in short supply in their country of origin.

While the rules of forced marriage apply to both boys and girls, women are the ones that suffer most because of poverty. I’ve mentioned before that there are no medical facilities in smaller towns and villages so the locals from Wakhan Corridor and Afghan Pamir have to travel to Eshkashim to see a doctor. And here is the thing, a woman cannot travel on her own. And what are the chances that her husband will abandon his work, such as ploughing the fields, that is intended to keep a multigenerational family alive, to spend a week getting medical help for his wife? This is not a hypothetical story. That’s what I heard when we stopped for lunch in one of the villages and I was asked if I could share my medication that would alleviate symptoms of food poisoning with a local lady. At my suggestion that the woman should see a doctor I was told that was not possible.

All this is not the case because Afghanistan is a Muslim country. I know of immigrants from Buddhist Sri Lanka, living in London, who, until recently, would make their children marry someone chosen for them by their parents. It’s also worth reading the book Burqa in Nepal is Called a Sari by a Polish writer Edyta Stepczak to understand the role of a woman in Hindu culture. All these issues are the result of extreme poverty so pronounced in Afghanistan, a country ravaged by a never-ending war that started decades ago.

Two more photos in WS.

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Additional Photos by Kasia Nowak (kasianowak) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 1591 W: 9 N: 3220] (16720)
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