Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Seeing Afghanistan through the eyes of young female writers and poets is an unusual perspective. Minka Nijhuis was inspired by four young women she met in the city of Herat shortly after the fall of the Taliban. In 2012 Nijhuis returned to Afghanistan with the financial support of the Dutch Postcode Lottery Fund. Read about her experiences in the special blogs she is writing for Free Press Unlimited.

By: Minka Nijhuis

In early 2002, I met four female students in a small library in the city of Herat. Dressed in blue burqas, the four young women entered the building like shapeless anonymous creatures. Inside the library, they quickly turned out to be young women full of ambition and energy. Their dream was to become poets. They were very excited about the fact that this dream might become reality one day, since the Taliban had left the city.

The excitement and happiness about the turnaround could also be felt on the streets of Herat. Its inhabitants cherish their age-old culture and history. Its inhabitants have therefore always despised the underdeveloped and conservative Taliban more vehemently than citizens in other regions of Afghanistan. This animosity was intensified by the fact that the Taliban rulers were mainly Southerners from the Pashtun area, from whom the citizens of Herat ethnically differ.

Apart from several religious works, there were hardly any books available in the city library. Nonetheless, the future female poets assured me that the shelves would soon fill up again, as all over the city, book lovers for many years had been stowing away precious works.

The four students had been encouraged to write in secret by one of their university professors and had been exchanging their work with each other. Despite being the most silent of the group, according to her friends, Nadia had been writing the best poetry.

Three years later I discovered that Nadia had passed away. It was not altogether clear how she had come to her end. According to some sources she had been killed by her conservative husband, who apparently was also very jealous of his wife's literary success. According to other sources, Nadia had put an end to her life to escape the misery of her marriage.

During my travels through Afghanistan I occasionally recalled these young women, who had been courageously smuggling their tender verse through the Taliban checkpoints. It had become clear by now that even in today's Afghanistan, Afghan women would have many enemies. I wondered how the girls were doing. But as is frequently the case in my hectic profession, I never got round to returning to the site of these memories. This time I am in Afghanistan with only one objective: to find out what has become of Nadia's friends and all those other women who are trying to describe their everyday lives in Afghanistan in their literary works.

In my backpack, I carry with me one of Nadia's poems,

'One day I will write a poem, a big romance
Sweet as a palm tree, enchanting like the moon.

If society allows it,
I will lard all my notebooks with poems.'