“We are who we must be” is a quote taken from The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan, a book due out on September 16th by award winning investigative journalist Jenny Nordburg. I recently received the galley and found it absolutely enthralling. The book introduces readers to a previously unknown to me phenomenon called “bacha posh” , which means girls who pose as boys. Ms. Nordburg’s interviews provide intimate portraits of girls in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan who are forced by their sonless families to present themselves as boys, so that the family’s reputation and honor will be preserved. It’s a thought provoking, well researched, and insightful account of a well known but yet not openly discussed practice which exists in a culture that views the birth of daughters a sorrow, and the procreation of sons both the meaning of life and the sole purpose of women.
Reading this book made me think of the many roles which each of us assume in our own lives and how “we are who we must be” in each of those. With no negative connotations attached to that fact, I’m both simultaneously and alternately, a daughter, mother, sister, aunt, cousin, grandmother, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, mother-in-law, friend, and wife. My chosen career requires me to be a teacher, mentor, and role model. Different behaviors are exhibited when acting in each of those roles, but the essence of who I am when I act in those roles remains the same. When all else is stripped away, I’m a female/woman. But what if my culture told me that being born a woman was a cause for sorrow, unless and until I could produce sons? Would my emotions and actions in each of those roles be affected by that? I’m in no way declaring that the fight for equal rights has been totally won for women in my own country (USA), but I can only begin to imagine the sadness that would envelope every waking moment and haunt the darkness of my nights if I were raised in a culture that so overtly devalues its daughters.
My heart goes out to all of those who “must ” for reasons of freedom or survival be something or someone other than that which they truly feel in their hearts. That pain is the choking kind.
Peace and Love