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Dear Zari: The Secret Lives of the Women of Afghanistan

Updated on July 13, 2016
Most young men would wake up to the sound of her jewelry and their hearts would beat a little harder . . .
Most young men would wake up to the sound of her jewelry and their hearts would beat a little harder . . . | Source

Kargar, Zarghuna; Dear Zari: The Secret Lives of the Women of Afghanistan; Sourcebooks, Inc., Naperville, Illinois; 2012 ISBN13: 978-1-4022-6837-3

I first became sensitive to the plight of women in the Middle East when I served as editor-writer to an Iranian dental intern in 2004, about the time when Ms. Kargar began her work with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The intern often needed counseling to lift her out of the depression and fear triggered by the ingrained sociopolitical views demonstrated by the men of her country here in America. She eventually became president of the Iranian-American Dental Association and opened her own dental practice.

Iran is not Afghanistan, but the underlying current of attitudes toward women in many cultures rank them as second citizens or property. Even in the United States today, many women still receive lower wages on the average in comparison to men performing the same functions in the workplace.

Where is the goddess within to be recognized as the glorious counterpart to God's male creation? Some of her lies hidden in the pages of this book.

Zarghuna Kargar, an inspiration toward the freedom of Afghan women and, ultimately, suppressed women everywhere.
Zarghuna Kargar, an inspiration toward the freedom of Afghan women and, ultimately, suppressed women everywhere. | Source

About the Author

Zarghuna "Zari" Kargar grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan, a developed city where men and women co-worked in factories and major institutions. The city became under the rule of the Taliban shortly after Zari's family fled to Pakistan. Between the years 1996 and 2001, she became a freelance writer for BBC.

Zari lists her education at LinkedIn as Kabul and Peshawar. She has extensive experience in radio and television broadcasting.

Where is Kabul?

Kabul, Afghanistan
get directions

Zari's hometown city, a developed urban environment.

The Chapters

  2. SHARIFA'S STORY: The Family of Girls
  3. NASREEN'S STORY: The Boy Next Door
  4. SHERENJAN'S STORY: A Daughter's Sacrifice
  5. SAMIRA'S STORY: The Carpet Weaver
  6. ILAHA'S STORY: The Wedding Night
  7. ANESA'S STORY: A Marriage of Convenience
  8. WASMA'S STORY: The Injured Wife
  9. JANPARY'S STORY: A Mother's Story
  10. LAYLA'S STORY: The War Widow
  11. MAHGUL'S STORY: A Family of Kite Makers
  12. BAKHTAWARA's STORY: The Boy-Girl
  13. GHUTAMA'S STORY: A Love Story

The book also has an epilogue and glossary of Anglicized Farsi terms used in the stories.

Favorite Words from the Glossary

BURQA The full-length robe worn by some Muslim women.

CHADOR A big scarf.

CHARMA KARI A golden lace.

DOHL A drum.

HIJAB A head scarf.

JONGI A baby camel.

KHEENA PATCH A glittery, triangular cloth wrapped around the bride's hands in weddings.

KUNJED A sweet from the Balkh province.

NOOR means "grace."

NOWROOZ The Afghan New Year.

PAKOL An Afghan hat.

SALMAIKUM "Peace be with you."

TANOOR refers to an oven.

TAVEEZ means "amulets."

Ethnolinguistic Map of Afghanistan

This map shows the cultural mix of the peoples in Afghanistan. In Kabul, the author saw Hazaras, Pastuns Tajiks, Uzbeks, Sikhs, and Kuchis.
This map shows the cultural mix of the peoples in Afghanistan. In Kabul, the author saw Hazaras, Pastuns Tajiks, Uzbeks, Sikhs, and Kuchis.

There are six million Kuchis living in Afghanistan (out of a population of twenty-five million) and they are mainly Pashtun and Baloch nomads.

— Zarghuna Kargar (Ghutama's Story)

Sample Excerpts from DEAR ZARI

I felt helpless. I could do nothing to save this eleven-year-old girl. I asked the aunt how Pana was feeling and she replied, "This is how it is for a daughter of such an unfortunate mother. Pana's still a child and doesn't realize she will be going to this house forever, and once she's there she'll not enjoy the usual privileges of a bride because she's going there to settle a dispute. --Shareenjan's Story, p. 68

"Khala Shah Gul, is my baby all right? Do you know what's wrong with her? Why won't she wake up?"

Khala Shah Gul was completely untroubled. "My child, your baby is fine; she's just in a deep sleep Fro what I can see I think you've just given her a bit too much opium." --Samira's Story, p. 81

"Please never change the fact that God has given you a girl. You might be able to change her appearance or the way she lives but you'll never be able to change the natural feelings God has given her." --Bakhtawara's Story, p. 225

Aftermath of Taliban Rule in Afghanistan on Women

The following video parallels many of the stories in Dear Zari. Although life for women in Afghanistan has improved since the fall of the Taliban, traditional practices and attitudes influenced by them continues among the poor and uneducated.

Author's note: Please excuse the occasional grammar errors in the English subtitles. These are minor in comparison to the seriousness of the subject presented. The video is dated December 2012.

Author's Afterword

The book is captivating with a conversational tone and an easy read. Considering myself skilled with my native American English, I only noticed one or two places in the entire book that felt awkward because of word order or semantics.

Upon reading, I gained a greater appreciation of being born in the United States. As a baby boomer from a rural area in the Midwest, I can relate to the trials of these women. Generally, girls in my hometown married soon after high school. I was an exception to the rule and agree with the theory that young women secure careers better if they attend an all-women's college. Frankly, my grades would always drop whenever I became engaged in the dating process. That's just the way it was for me.

Personally, of all the stories, I most closely related to Bakhtawara, the boy-girl, and Ghutama, the nomad who chose her own husband. I had grown up on a farm and had worked closely with my three brothers in the fields but felt a deep loss and confusion when my mother declared to my father that I could no longer work in the fields. She was concerned that I would look like a man if I continued such labor. We weren't nomads, but I remember at least one or two springs when we had to drive the young steers and heifers on foot from a pasture about three or four miles away to our main pasture at our home. I admire Ghutama's steadfastness in defying tradition and choosing her own husband. I never was so secure in my feelings relative to my parents and probably wouldn't have exhibited this Kuchi woman's courage.

I highly recommend this book to male and female readers to gain a better understanding of the culture in Afghanistan and to increase awareness of women's rights internationally. ***


Do you think women feel oppressed in the 21st century?

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    • Jonas Rodrigo profile image

      Jonas Rodrigo 21 months ago

      I've never heard of the book but I think it has a good idea/concept. And your review was very informative too.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 21 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Very interesting. Us humans sure have a long way to go and a lot of work to do to get there.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 21 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for introducing the book. The excerpts you quoted are mind-boggling. We really need to pay attention!

    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 21 months ago

      I think a presidential election is a perfect time to get the people and the potential presidents to think about the plight of third world women.

      All politicians should be asked what are their plans to halt violence against women around world including:

      1) Female genital mutilation

      2) Punishing rape victims

      3) Honor killing

      4) Strapping bombs to children

      5) Sexually enslaving women

      6) Murdering homosexuals

      7) Child marriage

      8) Domestic Violence

      9) Disciplining or Punishing Wives

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 21 months ago from Victoria, Australia

      A very interesting article and thank you for the insights it gives. Although women do experience greater freedom than in especially the first part of the last century, we are far from equality in many areas.

    • Michael-Milec profile image

      Michael-Milec 21 months ago

      Mari, attention begging story!

      Interesting and educational in my opinion too difficult to read the book being aware of problems never be able participate in solving.The fact is, men need to be educated of their roll creating or adding to generally practiced exploitation ,abuse and mistreating women in - well, have to admit in every corner of the globe, including ' western civilisation.' Not only are women less paid for equal position, they are mostly lied to by men creating their way of dressing code, opening stupid clubs advancing men's beastly appetite for pleasure, extending their "right" to fellow- mas-murderers of future generation , mentioning only a few... Our civilisation under falls perception is on down fall since accepting concept of "freedom " without absolute morality , thus disrespecting the Supreme as well as any authority...

      No. I won't continue... ( Sorry)

      Voted up,beautiful, interesting.


    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 20 months ago from California

      This is such a moving article!

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