Since beginning my work with the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, I have struggled with various manifestations of disconnection.
As I read the E-mails, essays, and poems penned by these wonderful and brave women, news feeds from Afghanistan flash across my computer screen. The offensive in Helmand is the first step in what has become America's second Afghan war . . . A 24-year-old Illinois soldier was killed by a roadside bomb Sunday fighting the war in Afghanistan . . . The line between life and death has become dangerously thin in Afghanistan's bloody war zone.
I get these feeds because I requested them; I had to search them out.
Unless you have a loved one deployed there, the situation in Afghanistan is not a part of the American consciousness. It’s not a Twitter trending topic. I rarely see the subject roll by in my Facebook live feed (but tons about Michael Jackson). Lately, TV pundits have been spending their time yukking it up over a quitter named Sarah Palin; they’ve reduced Afghanistan to a sidebar.
Then I read the women’s words. And I am struck with the complexity of their lives, at how disconnected Americans are from the realities of our fellow humans on whose soil we wage—rightly or wrongly—war.
In their words, I spy a gentleness of spirit that I do not believe I would possess if I walked in their shoes. I spy courage and determination; hope and sadness; wisdom and fear; and perhaps most important, a wily insistence on maintaining—against huge odds—a relevant voice in their society.
Americans, by and large, tend to think of Afghan women as victims who need to be saved by the West. When I read their words, I know that they are survivors whose circumstances must change and that they will be and must be the ones who define that change.
These are women who have lived through unspeakable trauma yet they—in ways great and small, in moments hidden and revealed—insist on soaring.
Read their words and you will spy, as I do, a beautiful thing: ascension amid the rubble.
(This essay was first published in the Afghan Women's Writing Project July Newsletter).