The Voices of Afghani Women

In betweenHighly recommended – this amazing glimpse into culture and life in Afghanistan published by the Poetry Foundation by Eliza Griswold. A combination of text and photos bring to life the spoken word poetry in the country. These poems are called landays.

“an oral and often anonymous scrap of song created by and for mostly illiterate people: the more than twenty million Pashtun women who span the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

The lines of verse gives glimpses into the eyes and minds of Afghani women, many of whom are illiterate and who are so often given their voice through other people. Through the landays they comment directly on a variety of modern day subjects from love to politics:

“the subjects of landays are remixed like hip-hop, with old words swapped for newer, more relevant ones. A woman’s sleeve in a centuries-old landay becomes her bra strap today. A colonial British officer becomes a contemporary American soldier. A book becomes a gun. Each biting word change has much to teach about the social satire that ripples under the surface of a woman’s life.”

The piece highlights the importance of poetry in Afghanistan today.

“These days, for women, poetry programs on the radio are one of the few permissible forms of access to the outside world. Such was the case for Rahila Muska, who learned about a women’s literary group called Mirman Baheer via the radio. The group meets in the capital of Kabul every Saturday afternoon; it also runs a phone hotline for girls from the provinces, like Muska, to call in with their own work or to talk to fellow poets. Muska, which means smile in Pashto, phoned in so frequently and showed such promise that she became the darling of the literary circle. She alluded to family problems that she refused to discuss.

One day in the spring of 2010, Muska phoned her fellow poets from a hospital bed in the southeastern city of Kandahar to say that she’d set herself on fire. She’d burned herself in protest. Her brothers had beaten her badly after discovering her writing poems. Poetry — especially love poetry — is forbidden to many of Afghanistan’s women: it implies dishonor and free will. Both are unsavory for women in traditional Afghan culture. Soon after, Muska died.”

To conclude, here are a few of my favourite landays from the article:
“When sisters sit together, they always praise their brothers.
When brothers sit together, they sell their sisters to others.”

Your eyes aren’t eyes. They’re bees.

I can find no cure for their sting.

How much simpler can love be?
Let’s get engaged now. Text me.
Widows take sweets to a saint’s shrine.
I’ll bring God popcorn and beg him to kill mine.
May God destroy the Taliban and end their wars.
They’ve made Afghan women widows and whores.

Disclaimer: Photos are from the Middle East/North Africa – not Afghanistan as I have never traveled there. See the original article for some great photos from Afghanistan by Seamus Murphy.

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