Tag Archives: burqa

Bridging the Gap: Why Afghan Women’s Rights Are Our Rights

“Remember that being a woman is different in Afghanistan.”

I was getting yet another opinion on my decision to travel to Afghanistan. The statement was made out of love, wanting to remind me that I should be aware of my surroundings and behavior, that just because I was a strong, independent woman, I should remember to respect local culture. But it was also coming from someone that had never traveled to Afghanistan.

In the day and age of the internet and television we can know a lot about the rest of world, without ever leaving our homes, and that gives us the illusion of being informed. Like many of my peers, I too had a certain view of what “women in Afghanistan” meant. Visions of burqas and limited rights came to mind. But I also knew that on the other side of the world, we often only hear one side of the story. We are limited by what mass media feeds us. So I made an effort to go into Afghanistan with an open mind an open heart.

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Buying a Hat for Obama

_mg_9107So today, I went to see a man about a burqa.

I wanted to see how they were made, how they are worn, and understand why many women choose to wear, what to us in the West, is the archetype image of women’s oppression.

I knew going in that ‘back in the day’ village women sometimes chose to wear a burqa when going into town.  It was a symbol that due to its awkwardness, they were above toiling in the field.  It also served its purpose of keeping away unwanted male attention.  During the Taliban era in the late 90′s, the burqa became the fashion de rigeour as it was forced upon all females and became a symbol of the Taliban’s desire to make women invisible and irrelevant.

I see many more burqas than I expected to today in Kabul, the majority being the painfully beautiful bluebird color, but occasionally a pure white one emerges from a crowd.  So, I asked my translator, Najibullah to take me to a burqa maker to learn more.  A task even more important due to my dear friend, Christiane’s, request of purchasing one while here for her to use as a teaching tool with her work with Pennies for Peace.

We go to a quiet market, made quieter since the suicide bombing at the Indian Embassy that it shares a street with.  Upon entering – we see a row of burqas hanging on the wall – periwinkle blues, whites, and to my surprise, a vibrant purple alongside several shades of tangerine.   I am informed that the color is often related to the region.  Mazar-i-Sharif is famous for the white, the south holds the tangerine, while Herat and Kabul typify the bluebird.  The shopkeepers are happy to see us and take several down for me to look at the elaborate embroidery across the bottom of the front panel.

I choose my purchase for Christiane and look around the rest of the shop.  There is a table full of hats, and the first I spot is a round, flat hat, that Najibullah informs me is a buzkashi hat.  Somehow this round disk stays put on the player’s head during this ‘extreme sport’ of horse polo and rugby combined with a dead sheep carcass.  Several more hats stand out as the ‘Karzai’ hat…the hat of boiled wool that President Karzai has made famous.  Often a symbol for elders and usually quite expensive.  These are a lower quality and as such are quite cheap…but apparently they can go upwards of $1,000.  Najibullah suggests we buy one for Obama.  He was the one to officially tell me the news of Obama’s win when he picked us up from the airport.  We have talked frankly of Afghanistan politics and our joint desire that a new leader could look beyond military tactics and into the heart of this region’s difficulties.

Laughing, I ask Najibullah to model one for me so that I can get the full effect.  He looks regal and my photographer-in-crime, nudges me that its not a bad idea, hell, what could it hurt.  So… I hand over some money and buy a hat for Obama.

photo Di Zinno

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Ghosts of Kabul

dayfourcolor_397Throughout the muted neutral shades of Afghanistan, bluebirds float along the streets.  They move through the crowds unnoticed despite their piercing pale blue color.  Unnoticed but impossible to miss.  They are the burqa clad ghosts of Kabul.   It seems amazing that these women wear a garment meant to make them invisible in such a vibrant shade that so obviously contrasts the bland environment.

You see them on buses and in cars.  They are dotted throughout the markets.  You see them by the side of the road often begging with their chidren, faceless with hands outstretched for food or money. Its a stereotypical view of Afghanistan, the mantel of women’s oppression during the Taliban.  Yet, despite the freedom to shed these garments now that the Taliban is not in power, some women throughout this country continue to wear them.

You are not allowed to photograph these women, or women in general, without permission.  Yet how could a photograph resist the temptation that these bluebirds create with every passing?  My photographer on this trip parallels these perriwinkle ghosts in an interesting dance I’ve witnessed throughout this trip.  Already we have a growing stockpile of these images, taken without notice, the ghost capturing the ghosts.

Tony dresses in the neutrals of the city, and with his beard starting to fill in, his new black and white checked kaffir scarf, he is blending into the city the longer we are here, despite his large stature.  He carries his camera unobtrusively behind his back, shooting those he is walking away from, or holds it at his hip while looking across the street.  “Shooting from the hip”, you might say.  In the car, its an ebb and flow of the camera coming out of his lap to shoot and returning to its resting place, unseen.   The camera may point out the front window but really he’s aiming for the rear view mirror and capturing the bluebirds beside the car.  Forbidden images captured without anyone being any the wiser.

I am taking in the city the same as him, yet not the same.  Despite my headscarf and head to toe black, I tend to draw a crowd of on-lookers wherever we go, being blond and taller than many of the men here.  I am noticed and that skews my view imperceptibly.  Meanwhile, Tony seeps into the background and is able to capture images of the women, children, even the police that roam the streets hanging out of the backs of jeeps.  He is the one carrying the massive camera and shoulder bag and no one bats an eye.  Pow wows in the back of the car while we are driving show me faces I didn’t see, scenes I missed.

As the unseen ghosts float around Kabul, this week they are joined by one more, a slightly larger, hairier version blending into their midst.

photo by Di Zinno

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