This article was originally published by WireTap.
Ten days in the life and struggles of a young Afghan woman. Stargazing in Kabul
July 15, 2008
When 18-year-old Arazou Akbari grows up, she is going to be a star. She will wear long, flowing gowns that glitter, with purple high heels and maybe purple eyeliner. She will be all over the TV, peddling perfume and designer watches when she isn’t performing. They’ll sell her CDs in Kabul’s bazaars. Her face will be splashed across the covers of magazines. She will learn English. She will use her fame to help other Afghan women succeed and discover their own talents. As Akbari tells it, the world will one day be hers, reality permitting.
In some ways Akbari is special: She is tall for an Afghan woman, on the sunny side of five feet. She has an undeniable éclat, whether she’s wearing her form-fitting pinstripe suit or trademark purple nail polish. Usually a gemstone-studded headscarf frames her wistful eyes, and her young face reveals her Hazara ethnic background. She sings like a siren, and has a gift for playing instruments.
One more remarkable detail about Akbari’s present life: She is getting a divorce.
Akbari is also quite ordinary: She is young, in a nation where war has done away with many of the older generations. She has been married, like most women her age, and is currently unemployed. She has a best friend; they gossip, but she won’t tell you what about. She has never heard of Barack Obama. She is living in wartime, and doesn’t really support either side.
She is all of these things–a young woman in modern Afghanistan doing her best to survive as U.S. and NATO forces fight an ideological and territorial struggle with the Taliban. For six weeks this spring, Akbari tries to ignore them both and make her own way.
March 7, 2008
Akbari and I arrive at the Ministry for Women’s Affairs, nestled in central Kabul, early in the morning. She is here to petition for divorce–without a divorce, she cannot remarry, and without a husband, a normal life in Afghanistan is out of the question. The Ministry is abuzz; International Women’s Day is in a couple of days.
The Ministry is an invention of the new Kabul government, formed with the United States’ backing after the fall of the Taliban. It’s one of the few places in Kabul you can actually see women; clutches of them draped in encompassing hospital-blue burqas wait patiently to see an officer in the complaints department. I try to talk to one of them but her minder, a slight, nattily dressed man, barks something in Persian and the woman walks away. After about an hour Akbari emerges: there will be no divorce proceedings today. The officer tells her to come back with a lawyer, a process that will take a few more weeks.