Photo by Sohaib Ghyasi on Unsplash
by Yvonne North
It is my first day teaching at the University of Kandahar. I am nervous, so I sit down to have my daily doubt duel with my Heavenly Father. "Abba, what were you thinking?" "You picked me, a North American woman to teach English to the medical and engineering students in this University." "What could you possibly have been thinking?"
As I prayed in the corner of the room, students filed in and sat down quietly, waiting for me to say something. All sorts of things came to mind; should I apologize for being an American, a woman? For letting my face show, and my feet shod? “Abba, help; what now?”
A young man (all were young men) in the second row kicked the ball forward. "Were you praying?" he asked. "This is Afghanistan; we are 100% Muslim; we pray five times a day.”
“It is good to pray, I am a follower of Isa. I pray all the time as well." Bacha, my student, nodded and smiled. This is not the opening conversation I had envisioned, but as my time in the university increased, I found openness to ideas, thought processes, and reflection I had not expected. English lessons allowed us to share our passions. My students, whether Muslim, Followers of Isa, or something else, Afghans are passionate about their belief systems.
It is Tuesday; there are no classes today. Iftikar, my Maharam, a man assigned to protect me, gathers me up, and we proceeded to the local hospital. At the hospital, Kelly, my partner, had triage in full swing.
Upon entering the exam room, a sea of blue burkas blanketing women who were sitting or squatting materialize at my feet. Since male doctors are not allowed to see or touch a woman unless they were family, these women are stuck with us, the nurse practitioner, the paramedic, and the interpreter. With babes in arms, children clinging to their burkas and mouths covered with cloth, they tried to reveal the symptoms that plague them or their children.
Culture dictates that women’s voices should not be heard, so most women whisper all the time. Whispers warred with crying babies and children shrieking during treatments making it very difficult to hear as they revealed their ailments. Women will wait for hours, draped in oppressive heat and stifling garb to ensure health care workers saw their children. Afghans are passionate about the care of their children.
Afghan suppers are grand events, and Kelly and I are honored guests at the table of the men. Many Afghans in conservative Kandahar Provence stick to the traditional lifestyle of purdah, where men and women live separately. Women remain isolated during meal times, usually with the children, so it was unusual that Kelly and I were included at the table.
Struggling to keep both my hair and feet covered and my Texas-sized mouth quiet, I marveled as platters of rice, goat meat, and grilled chicken and orange watermelon were set before us. Kelly and I were included in conversations about politics, the Taliban and its lasting influence in the country, education, and any number of weighty subjects. Supper was enlightening and delicious. Afghans are passionate about governance.
I am very excited! Today we go visiting. We will leave the compound with our mahram in tow and visit with the women of the community.
Lailah’s house is not far from our compound, so we walk. Her seven children are playing in the courtyard; joining us will be her co-wives Fareeha and Pekah. Total count, four women, one man, and seventeen children. Of course, Iftikar, our Maharam, will wait outside with the children while the ladies visit. Unfettered by burkas and safe in the women's lodging, the atmosphere is light-hearted. We drink tea, sort and wash vegetables, cook, laugh, and talk about life, marriage, and kids.
Our guards are down; we are all women, sisters in an unforgiving and cruel world. As sisters, we can share our joys, pain, and even our dreams for the future. We are comfortable with each other. Afghans are passionate about hospitality.
Millions of shared moments revealed to me the passions we have in common as human beings far outnumber the forces that divide us through culture. Most of us want the same things, to belong, to live in peace, to raise good, healthy kids, and to have the respect of those around us.
So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.