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Afghan Women's Writing Project: A Voice in the World.

Photo of three women writing
Apple's Garden
You were laughing at me
You didn't know
I was afraid in
Our neighbor's garden.
I stole an apple
The gardener followed me
With anger
He ran fast after me
He saw the apple in your hands
He looked black at me
The apple you bit
Fell from your hand
You went ...
But still years passed
Your footsteps
Remain with me
And it hurts
I wonder why?

By Roya,
Afghan Women's Writing Project

We enjoy, here in the West, the freedom to speak our minds, to write what we want or need to write. We are, perhaps, at a place where we have, as Tillie Olsen mentions in Silences, "the conviction as to the importance of what one has to say, one's right to say it." Indeed, we demand a voice in the world. But, how easy it is for us to forget that there are still other places in the world, where such demands are met with neglect or oppression, where writing and speaking out can cost someone her life.

During a 2008 visit to Afghanistan, American novelist Masha Hamilton, author of The Camel Bookmobile and 31 Hours, saw doors, once again, beginning to close for women in Afghanistan. She first visited the country in 2004 and was inspired by the courage of the women she met. It was out of her concern that the voices of these extraordinary women would be silenced, that the Afghan Women's Writing Project, a program that pairs American women authors and creative writing teachers with women writers throughout Afghanistan, was born. "The Afghan Women's Writing Project was begun as a way to allow the voices of Afghan women — too often silenced — to enter the world," says Hamilton.

The AWWP maintains an active blog which regularly publishes excerpts of the compelling pieces these women produce. The blog features personal recollections, poetry, reportage, and fiction. The Afghan women come to the project through recommendations by the project's American contacts living within the country. They are then paired with the American authors and teachers who have generously volunteered their time to teach a three week online course. Security presents a challenge, especially for women who wish to further their education or who wish to openly tell their stories, and thus, the program publishes all the written work, which is submitted in English, without family names or specific locators. At the same time, many women, particularly those outside of Kabul, cannot get to an internet cafe, so the AWWP endeavors to provide these students with laptops and a jump drive. The women write their pieces and then ask a male relative to send the files from an internet cafe. The blog instills a sense of pride in the writers as they hone their skills, but also serves to educate the teachers and readers about "what the Afghan women's childhoods and young adulthoods were like under the Taliban, and what they feel about current conditions in their country," explains Hamilton.

Kerry Cohen, an author of a young adult book and one of the project's volunteer teachers says, "What I've found thus far is that these women are simply trying to live their lives - just like anywhere else - but the difference is that many have been witness to violence and suppression we can't imagine here in America. I'm so proud of these amazing women for sharing their sometimes shocking, sometimes ordinary stories."

Below are pieces from three different women from the project's blog. To read more works by the Afghan women of the project, visit their blog at where you can also sign up for the AWWP's newsletters, volunteer, or donate.

A Suicide Attack and a Job Interview
By Roya
June 10, 2009

I received a call from Omar, the program manager in NPC, for a job interview. When I heard his voice I already knew he was someone very close and special to me. His voice was like a song when you hear it for the first time. It was like the voice of birds singing alone on a tree at night. Who is he? I asked myself. Why do I feel he is so close to me? I wondered about how the interview would go. Lots of questions for which I had no answers were in my mind...

The next day I went to my math class, and while I was there one of my friends called me and told me not to go anywhere because the condition of the capital, Kabul was not so good. A group of suicide bombers had attacked the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Justice and two more places around the city...

My mother's job was at Ministry of Justice.

In one minute I thought, I am lost. I am no more in this world. I thought about my mom, mother jaan. Mother Jaan, my hopes of happiness are destroyed. I remembered my mother's smiling face and her kindness. How could I pass days and nights without her? Who would be kind to me? I cried and cried ... I took my mobile to call my mother, my heart beating hard as I dialed the number. Suddenly I heard a voice: sorry you don't have enough credit to call this number.

I left class and went to nearest shop to buy a credit card for my phone. I can't express how I was feeling. I only remember that I was not under my control. Evil thoughts were hurting me — your mom died, your mom died, she is no more.

I dialed my mom's number 0700-24-34. I forgot her number, so I checked my diary and dialed the number again. Finally the phone ranged. bez bez bez. Was there anyone to pick up the phone and say hello? I was unable to control my tears. Suddenly I heard a slow voice: Sana jaan, Sana jaan? Hello, hello?

My dear daughter, said my mother, I think they will kill us. We can't go anywhere. Sana jaan, take care of yourself, my sweet daughter. I love you. You ... know I will die. I am waiting, said my mother. And she started crying.

I was not only crying. Blood was in my tears, not only for my mom, but for all the people who were with mom. I had the same feeling for them. That day had a bloody color. I thought no one would be alive. They would kill all. I didn't want to get off the mobile. I wanted to hear mom's voice.

Sana jaan, take care ... take care my sweet child.

I went to the street to watch this bad day of attacks on the TVs from the stores. Some channels were reporting live. Everywhere had a terrible picture. I don't exactly know, but I thought it was around four o'clock when mom was safe at home. She was in a bad condition. I went to the hospital with her. She was in shock from seeing a suicide bomber killed by a soldier in front of her eyes. After the doctors checked mom, we went back home. I looked at my mom's kind face and still couldn't believe she was with me.

I missed my interview. I forgot I was searching for a job. It was getting dark and I was still worried. I remembered I had an interview at 2:00 that afternoon, so I sent a message. I wrote that I was sorry, but I was worried for my mom. I told him she worked at the Ministry of Justice, and I couldn't come for the interview. He replied with concern. "Is she back home?" He also wrote that my interview would be rescheduled for tomorrow.

The next day I went to his office for the interview. I was worried. Would I get the job? Would I fail? How much would be the salary? Who would I meet? And suddenly I remembered his friendly voice. I interviewed successfully. I got the job. After three weeks, I was changed. I had nice dreams about him. He was like flowers. He was the most handsome man I had ever seen. He was intelligent. He was the only ideal man of my life. I think God created him that way.

During those days he asked me lots of questions. I didn't have the courage to ask him even one. I couldn't even look at his face. But why was I thinking so deeply about him? I thought about him all days and nights. Did I love him? Yes. It was not my fault. My heart loved him. Strange thoughts were hurting me. How do I tell him, I love you?

Finally I decided to be brave and tell him all my feelings. I called him. He was tired and his voice had a pain, a pain I could feel. I asked him, "Are you ok?"

He replied, "No, I am not ok. I think about my life. I miss her. I really miss her, Sana jaan. I miss my wife."

I asked him sadly, "Oh, you are married?" I can't express how sad I was when I heard it. Tears came from my eyes and I turned off the mobile and cried deeply. My green hopes, desires, and dreams were finished, and my heart was broken.

I have no one to tell my story to. I tell my story for myself. My strange soul is unknown for me. I am sure my loneliness makes a story of sorrow, sorrows from a lonely girl. Still, I want to be alive, as the birds like the trees. He appeared in my thirsty eyes, and disappeared like a secret.

Election Day in Farah
By Seeta

Thursday, August 20, 2009: Marina, a 19-year-old woman voting for the first time, was the earliest person to arrive at the Malai Miwand Girl's School, where the women's voting center was located.

"I have been looking forward to this day for three months," Marina said. "I am very happy that as an Afghan woman, I can participate in Afghanistan's future. I accomplished my role, which was to vote. I understand that our votes are very important, and I would like to thank Afghan security forces for preventing any problems."

Marina was one of millions of Afghans participating in the election pitting President Hamid Karzai against his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah. All over Afghanistan's southwestern province of Farah, voter turnout was strong, although nearly half the polls did not open due to security concerns. Preliminary results will be announced next week, and final results next month.

Security around the city of Farah was tight. Shops were closed so local police could control the situation. Two rocket attacks at 11 a.m. left one child injured, and fewer people went to the polls in the afternoon. Still, officials were upbeat. "It was not considered possible that such a large number of people would show up to vote in this round," said Hangama Sadid, a provincial council member in Farah.

"We had planned to open 250 polling sites, but we could open 135 because of security reasons," said Abdulwali Hamidi, an election officer in Farah. "But in all districts, we have two to three voting centers. Participation appears to be high, and everyone felt secure to vote in the center of Farah Province."

In Farah and elsewhere around Afghanistan, polls were open from 7 a.m to 4 p.m. Each polling site has five centers for women and five or six for men. In most places, five people work in the polling center.

Sadiqa Darwishe, 18, a Third District resident, said she voted with complete confidence. "I am very happy that I could use my vote," she said. "I voted to select our leaders who will go to work for our country. This is our responsibility. We have a big role in Afghanistan's life. Today there is no political difference between men and women. We are all voting, thanks in large part to Afghan security forces which made it safe for men and women to vote comfortably."

It was the second time Afghanistan has voted in a presidential election. The first was in 2004 and won by Karzai. "I am proud to vote for the future of Afghanistan," said Haji Baba Rahmat, a male voter. "I came and voted, and I am very happy that I did my national duty as an Afghan."

Narrow Escape
By Freshta
July 10, 2009

It was the 4th year of the Taliban government, and sometimes when I was alone on the way to my school, I wore a burqa because I was tall for my age. I was studying school subjects in a secret school that was far away from our house (one hour walking). I and my young sister, who is in college in the US, would both cover our books in cotton, the same way we cover our Holy Quran so that the Taliban wouldn't know that we were studying. They would think that we were trying to learn only the Holy Quran. We decided that if we were asked by the Taliban, we would tell them: "We are studying the Holy Quran." I told my younger sister, who wore boys' clothes, about this, and she nodded. I was afraid maybe my young sister, who was so much younger, would tell them the real fact, but she was so smart, keeping the secret forever.

One day while I was walking toward the secret school alone, groups of Taliban were inside a Dixon car, which is like an open Toyota. They followed me because they suspected I was going to study school subjects. They drove their car slowly and just followed me. They wanted to know where I was going every day and to find the secret school. (During the Taliban regime groups of school teachers started to teach secretly without Taliban permission.)

I didn't look at them and went to another street, hid myself among the trees growing in front of the houses, planning to show them that I was entering the house, but by chance they lost me. They searched for a while but couldn't find me. I was also waiting; my eyes followed their car until it disappeared. When I was convinced they were gone, I decided to go to school, but I was very afraid. Even now, when I hear such a car voice, it reminds me of that day and scares me.

The next day, they changed their method. They didn't follow me, but when I was leaving the school to go home again alone, they were standing in my way. Thank God that they couldn't see my secret school. Otherwise they would have beaten my teachers and sent them to jail. But I was lucky. They didn't see me when I entered my secret school. As I entered the street, I saw them standing near the shop. I was about to escape from them, but one saw me and again started to follow me. When they reached me, they called: "Stop walking!" But I continued walking as if I didn't hear them. My heart was shaking and my clothes were moist with sweat which came from my body like rain. I felt eventually they would arrest me and beat me with the whip. I breathed faster and faster, recited my secret Holy Quran verses from the second Sapara, the Ayato-l- Koorsai Verses, and requested help from Allah: "Save me from them, especially if our neighbors or relatives will know that the Taliban has carried me off or beaten me ... what will happen to my family?" It is shameful in our culture when the police or Taliban arrest women. Before knowing the facts, there will be backbiting: "Allah only knows what happened to her that the Taliban arrested her. Maybe she did something." Our people would whisper like this.

I was worried about this and told myself that if this happens to me, then I don't need an education. I was immersed in my worries when suddenly again they called to me: "Stop! Hey girl! I am talking to you!" Again I ignored them and continued walking. I saw them from the corner of my eye. They were about to reach me. Some said "let her go," but others said, "no, look, she didn't respond to us as if she didn't know. Go and stop her and tell her do not come alone next time."

As I heard, my legs couldn't continue walking. I was about to fall down on the ground. Suddenly one of them, who had a big white Turban and a long beard with a mustache and black long eyebrows and sorma on his eyes ( a kind of dark make-up which Islamic people use to line inside their eyes,) jumped from the car with his gun and appeared in front of me. "Where you are going?" I was afraid and didn't have the ability to speak, as though my mouth was suctioned closed. I told him I was going to learn the Holy Quran. "She said she is learning the Holy Quran," he told the others.

"Tell her that next time we shouldn't see her alone. Otherwise she knows what will happen," said a person who was sitting inside the car wearing a dark Turban. And then they left the place.

"Thank you, God," I said, "that you accept my prayer." I started walking fast towards my house. As I reached home, I threw off the burqa and found myself next to my grandmother who was sitting under the shadow of the trees in our yard with a flower in her hand. She smelled the flower and she put the flower on the ground and looked towards me. "Welcome. What is up, my dear daughter?" she said kindly. I started crying and while I was crying, my mother came.

"What is wrong with you?" asked my mom. My grandmother put my head on her bosom, caressed me and told me, "Don't cry, my dear daughter," then told my mother that the Taliban had stopped me and told me that I shouldn't walk alone.

I told my mom, "I am not going to the school."

"Look, my dear daughter," my mother told me. "Our country has had lots of war and those women who are educated suffered a lot, so now if you want to be a literate woman like your mom and other Afghan women, then you should struggle a lot and not take care over these small issues. Instead, try to learn knowledge. Otherwise you will be like a blind person who can never see."

For a few days, I stopped going to the school because I was in shock and my goal was that the Taliban would forget me. Then I started going to the school. But I couldn't forget that day when I was afraid.