Once, I was an interpreter for a lady who was making a story on women’s lives in Afghanistan. We went to the Herat Shelter for Women. There, I heard different stories. One is the story of a young Hazara (an ethnic group in Afghanistan) living at the shelter.
“I am happy that I am here with my son, and hope for a much better future for both of us,” said Sara, a twenty-year old woman with eyes full of happiness and hope. “I don’t remember that much of my childhood. I know my mother was pregnant with me when I lost my father. My father was a general and he died in war. After that, my mother remarried because she could not afford living alone and providing for herself. She gave me to a family, and from that time I was living with them and knowing them as my parents. My late father had another wife too, and I had two step brothers who I hadn’t seen.
“My house was in a city outside Bamiyan. It was a muddy house. We just had two rooms. My family was very poor and they couldn’t provide the things I needed. I was around 13 years old when one of my step-brothers found me. He was living in Kabul. He came to my city and wanted to take me but my parents wouldn’t let him. So he bought me from them. He gave them money and they let me go. I didn’t know whether to feel happy or sad. But I was a little happy because he was my brother somehow and now I had a real family with me.
“I lived with my step-brother’s family for almost two years. My step-brother’s family was poor too. They couldn’t even afford their daily needs and my step-brother was deeply in debt. I was around 15; it was a dark and rainy day, early in the evening, when my brother came home half wet. It was raining very hard like somebody was pouring water from the sky. I made some tea for him. He started talking to me in a very nice way like he hadn’t before. I realized he wanted tell something very important that related to me. He was telling me that one day every girl has to marry and go after their own fate. He told me I had to get married. I was surprised because I was still very young to be married. But my step-brother told me I didn’t have any other option. I went to the other room and tears started to come down from my eyes like a river. I was crying so hard that I was shaking. I wished that my parents were with me so I could put my head on my mother’s lap and she would caress me. She would tell me nice and hopeful things. She wouldn’t let me get married at this early age. I cried and cried until I went to sleep.
“A few days later, I realized he had sold me to a married man who was living in Iran with his family. I tried to think positively. I still had hope. I told myself maybe this time I would have a good life; maybe I am going to taste the happiness that I haven’t tasted in my fifteen years. After a long journey, we arrived in Iran, my step-brother and I. He took me to my husband’s house. When I first saw him, I couldn’t believe my eyes. My husband was much older than me. He was Afghan but he had an Iranian wife with four children. His oldest child was twenty years old, older than me.
“I had thought I might have a happy life but that didn’t happen. My husband always told me: ‘Your brother took a big amount of money from me, but you didn’t bring anything with you from Afghanistan.’ (There’s a tradition that when a girl marries, she brings some trousseau to her husband’s house.) His rival wife didn’t treat me good either. I was like a servant at their house. My husband would beat me sometimes, and when I argued with him, he beat me more.
“I couldn’t tolerate more, so I went to the home of another step-brother who lived in Iran. I stayed there a few days. One day when nobody was home, I opened the gas. I didn’t want to live anymore. I was fed up with this awful living, all this violence, beating, crying, shouting, arguing and nobody there to care about you and love you.
“But my step-brother came home early and found me unconscious on the floor. He took me to the hospital and I survived. He took me back to my husband’s house. My husband’s behavior was even worse than before. He was beating me more with different things like his belt, a broom…
“Again I tried to commit suicide. I threw myself from the second floor of my step-brother’s house, but again I survived with lots of injuries. But this time, when they took me to the hospital, I found out that I was pregnant. Oh, I couldn’t believe it. My step-brother took me to his house. I was at his house until I got better. When I was well enough to walk, I left my brother’s house with no clear destination. I was walking along the side of street paying no attention to my surroundings, very lonely, tired and disappointed with my life. Suddenly, I heard a crash and I was unconscious. When I awakened, I found myself at some stranger’s house. There was sitting a middle-aged lady with a scarf on her head and a tray of rice before her which she was cleaning. I tried to sit up. She came and helped me. She asked: ‘Why did you want to commit suicide?’ I told her my story and she said she would help me. I told her that I would never go back to either my husband’s house or my step-brother’s.
“She took me to the police station and told them I am an Afghan who wants to go back to her country. So they deported me to Afghanistan. I didn’t have any close relatives to live with. There was my step-brother, but I didn’t want to see or live with him. From the border, they sent me to a women’s shelter.
“It’s been more than three years that I am here. I delivered my baby a few months after my return. Now he’s almost two years old. Whenever I see his round, cute, innocent face, I think what is going to happen to him in the future…
“When I came here, I didn’t know how to read and write, but in here I took literacy classes. When I was illiterate I thought I had no identity, but now that I am literate I am happy and more hopeful. Now I am living my life for my son, Mujtaba, with a hope for a better future for him.
“My husband called me a few times and asked me to go return to him. But I didn’t want to. I told him about our son and asked him to come and take him but he didn’t. He said ‘I have my children here and I don’t need any more children.’ I told him that because I thought my son would have a brighter future with his father, since I am not able to provide the things that my son needs, and that way my son might be able to experience having a real family.
“I told him to divorce me but he resisted and told me: ‘I won’t divorce you till your hair turns white like your teeth.’ So I applied for absent-divorce. The process is long, but hopefully at the end, it will be the way I want it to be. In absent-divorce, the officials call for the husband and if he doesn’t come for three years to the police or to court, then they announce the divorce. Now my case is in Supreme Court. I am going to get my freedom papers, my divorce papers, pretty soon.”
It was her story. It brought tears to my eyes, although it is usual to hear such sad stories in Afghanistan. She thanked the staff of the shelter for all the good things they taught her and for being such a nice family to her. She doesn’t know what she wants from the future. She says, “Whatever God has ahead for me, I would go with that.”