The Kandahar Lawyer

We were almost done with school when a Land Cruiser with UNAMA written on the sides drove up. I had a big smile on my face, because my mother was in that car. She got out with two of her colleagues. I stayed outside the principal’s room while she met with him. I usually waited for her while she met with the principal about their problems at school. My mother worked for the Gender Issues Unit of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan to help improve the lives of women.

When she came out, she said, “Yagana, my dear, I have to go to the Chinese Hospital.”

I knew there might be other women’s cases for her to review there. “Mom, can I go with you this time? You promised you’d take me with you sometime.”

Mom said, “You know I am not allowed to take you with me in my office car because of our office policies and security issues.”

“Can’t we take a taxi to the hospital?” I really wanted to go with her.

She finally smiled and said, “Okay, let’s go.”

At the hospital, we were taken to a room where a 19-year-old girl was lying with tubes coming from all over her body. I sat next to my Mom, who started interviewing the girl’s mother first.

The mother said, crying, “My daughter tried to commit suicide because we didn’t have money at home and her father tried to make her marry an old, rich man in our village. The man had promised to pay us 50,000 Afghani if we let him marry her. We had to accept this because we had to raise our other seven kids.”

I watched my mother write the report. My mother asked, “How did your daughter try to commit suicide?”

The mother replied, “She ate nails.”

We were shocked. “Why nails?” my mother asked.

“Because in our village we do not have any poison. There are no big buildings to jump from. This was the only option, I guess,” she said.

I suddenly burst in to tears. I realized my dream of becoming a lawyer was not a bad idea. I thought if I could become a lawyer, I could ask the government to help this family on regular basis or at least find her father a job so he could support his family. I thought of providing an opportunity for this girl to attend a literacy course so she could then teach the girls in her village. I thought of embroidery and tailoring courses. When I worked with the Afghan for Civil Society (ACS), we conducted workshops for women where they learned a skill and sold their work in the market.

After a while, a parliament lawyer came into the room. She shook hands with everyone. My mom whispered in my ear, “Yagana, she is a lawyer.”

I thought, wow, I’m finally seeing a female lawyer in Kandahar. But I was so disappointed when my mother told me she was not even a high school graduate. I felt as if I was somehow put here in this moment to observe the lawyer and witness my future job. The lawyer promised bunch of things to the family. Instead of trying to find out who that cruel old man was, she said “I’ll build a girls’ school in the village.” I was angry at the lawyer, because I thought, I am only a high school student and I feel she does not understand this family’s problem.

The mother of the girl said, “We don’t need a school at the moment. Just try to solve our current problems.” But the lawyer seemed to barely listen to the villagers.

It was as though she thought that just by saying she would build a school, it would fix all their problems. I wondered whether she thought about the larger problems building a school would create in a village controlled by the Taliban.

Most of the lawyers I knew seemed the same to me: they only knew how to deliver speeches and act as if they were being helpful. It seemed to me they weren’t really helping at all.

Later that day I decided that, God willing, I will fulfill this dream of mine of becoming a lawyer and solving my people’s problems. When I become a lawyer, I want to go to these villages that don’t have any access to the government, and introduce them to people who can help them. I want to really understand what their problems are, and hopefully take action to truly help them.

By Yagana

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6 responses to “The Kandahar Lawyer

  1. This is a heartbreaking story but I’m glad you’ve shared it — and I’m inspired by your resolve to do something positive because of it. Keep writing about these kinds of things so that others will be inspired by your example. Great writing, too!

  2. Dear Yagana,

    In a short piece, I think you capture in clear, crystallized way one of the major problems in the world: our refusal to truly listen to each other. This is the kind of problem you wouldn’t expect amongst the “helping professions” but exists there all the same: people want to come off as “good” or they want to look like they’re helping when in fact they’re not listening to what someone else wants or needs–they only offer pre-fab solutions (ones often devised in isolation, without seeking real input from those they intend to serve). I’ve seen this happen over and over with non-profits, NGOs, and local social services. I’ve seen it happen with myself–often when I’m feeling “maxed-out” with the demands of my own life. I suppose it’s hard to ask and truly listen sometimes because then we might be called to give something that we weren’t ready to give. But maybe should give.

    Thank you for writing about this. I am wishing you the best of luck in your studies and in your future. I am hoping that you’ll never have to encounter another young woman like this who thought suicide was her only hope. May all of us remember what you witnessed, and remember that listening is like a muscle: if we don’t flex and use it it will atrophy…

  3. thanks for opening up a difficult part of the truth.

    Allen Churchill

  4. Great Story!

    You are right, sometimes misguided assistance is no assistance at all.

    People who have an interest at heart all have good intentions but what is difficult is to try and channel those intentions into doing the “right” thing as apposed to doing just “anything.”

    In my field of work I see this often with NGO’s , IGO’s, donor agencies and even the UN.

    The trick I think is to listen to the people concerned, to really listen. And to me it sounds like you will and I hope you achieve all you set out to do.

  5. Thanks for sharing it!Actually,i had the same dream when i was younger.But,not a lawyer,a judge.I thought i was going to solve everything by being the “Justice Itself”. After some years,i found the “law area” has many problems too,and i’m now more balanced to work with ngos.I’m actually graduating in Political Science-International Relations,and working as a volunteer for some.I got tired of waiting a degree to feel i was able to do something,and i’m trying my best to do something the way i can.

    Thank you for sharing this,great post!!!

    Raquel Lins – Brazil.

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