My mother eagerly sent this book to me (yes here in Afghanistan) because she knows how much my heart bleeds for people (read: women) who do not relish in the wonderful things we westerners take for granted.
At times, I applauded Debbie for taking a stand, and never in a million years would I critize her for leaving, because the folks who are the heaviest criticizers have NO concept of bombings, kidnappings, beheadings, and the like. It is truly one of the most horrifying things I have dealt with.
Now...Kabul...I am going to attempt to describe this large city in layman's terms so the average person can understand where I am coming from. I apologize for any hurt feelings or protests, but unless you can meet me downtown Kabul tonight for tea, please take this for what it is: a description of someone who is there.
Yes, some women still wear Burqas (chadris), but while I detest the things more than I can describe, many women still wear them to protect themselves from stares, fondling, cat calls, etc. This is not to say no woman is exempt from these things, but many prefer to wear it, much to their chagrin, because women by themselves are truthfully considered "whores" by many and thus "deserving" of being fondled and hollered at. One of the things I had to get used to as a western woman (obviously, I am rich and a prostitute because I'm not married..."obviously") is the CONSTANT gaping by young men. Truckloads of young men will physically hang out their entire bodies to gawk at a western woman. Shuras won't look at me, though (usually). I have gotten my hand shaken, however, which was considered a huge step up by many in my circle.
For those who wear it, the preferred chadri/burqa is a lovely shade of periwinkle, if only because white is nearly impossible to clean in a country that does not have running water, reliable electricity (only government offices and hospitals are required to maintain electricity; most homes only have the equivalent of a 40-watt light bulb in terms of lights...please note I said MOST), and proper (western) sanitation. You cannot stereoptype Afghans (NOT "Afghanis" like so many people have called them in these reviews) because like any other country, they are not all the same. Kabul is arguably the most "progressed" city, but there are other smaller provinces that boast more progress than Kabul, but I'll concentrate today on the capital. Kabul is a filthy city by western standards. I have lived all over the world (southwest Asia, the middle east, Europe, 12 states, etc.), and my passport is nearly filled with stamps. The nicest parts of Kabul, at least the public areas, are as nasty as the bad parts of big U.S. cities (this is a comparison so people who have never been outside the U.S. can understand...I'm sorry if I offend anybody. It's not my intent.) There is trash, feces, and dead animals along the pocked roads, but the roads are greatly improved since the Taliban was "thrown out." The Taliban is still present, and not a lot of Afghans approve of them in the least, but in some cases, it's like a pesty fly they just swat and and choose largely to ignore (for various reasons, including but not limited to, protecting their families, which is paramount.) In no other country have I ever seen such love for one's family, no matter how far apart the "cousins" are. It's truly heartwarming but can also be a downfall, like the author discusses in some cases.
However, amongst the sea of chadris are also the women who proudly wear high heels with their polished toes and glittering gold bracelets through the dirty streets, but I have never seen an Afghan woman in public without at least a head scarf. There are women in schools, colleges, and those who proudly work, and there is much reformation in parts of the cities. There are men who strongly encourage their daughters to become more educated, but just like any other family, there are some fathers who do not let their daughters do anything beyond their destiny, which is to get married and have sons. Like so many countries that take the Koran literally, the belief males are the dominant gender is held fast.
Every day is Market Day it seems, with thousands of people crowding the narrow streets filled with produce (tangerines are huge here...who knew?), Coca Cola by the liter (doesn't taste the same), nuts, carcasses of dead animals for sale with the head sitting in the middle of the shop to prove what kind of animal it is, children playing, people sitting around listening to the radio (still the most frequent way people get their news), carts pushed by men or donkeys, an occassional horseback rider who narrowly misses the old Opal cars on the side of the road, the useless traffic circle with everybody going whichever way he/she chooses, etc. etc. On Fridays, traditional Afghan music is blared throughout the markets while people noisily chat to one another. Mixed in with the robes and chadris is occassionally a child wearing a Mickey Mouse sweater and Nikes. It is a beautiful place, a dangerous place, and that brings me to my final point before I ramble too much.
I only gave this book 3 stars because, while I understood everything she discussed, I was alarmed about how blase Debbie was about certain cultures...she honestly at times came across as The Ugly American. I wanted to like her, and I loved what she did, but I cannot comprehend why she thought it was okay (spoiler) to put her friend in danger in the market. Nobody is as indignant about being touched by strangers as I, but she did not think about how her actions could have put her friend in danger, or in the very least, embarrassed her. Embarrassment in the U.S. is easily overcome; in this part of the world, you rarely get second chances (Debbie was alloted many because she is a "heathen" American). Why after so long she didn't understand that, or chose to, baffles me.