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Fiction by Norwegian Women

Friday, May 13, 2011

Afghanistan, Women and the Problem of Self-Immolation

My dad often said, if you want to know about a people, read their poets. This month, Words without Borders introduces its readers to some phenomenal writers from Afghanistan. These writers provide for us an intimate look inside a country most of us know only from news sound bites, war correspondents and politicians with agendas. This special issue offers us an opportunity to see Afghanistan as a society that this complex, nuanced and worthy of being understood on its own terms.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “If we are to reach real peace in this world… we shall have to begin with children.” Last year, the National Constitution Center, in Philadelphia, organized an exceptional and unparalleled project. Working with a select set of high school students from a local school in Philadelphia and a set of students from a school in Kubal, Afghanistan, the center prepared students to document, using a camera, their everyday lives. Both groups came together in Philadelphia to meet each other and to select the photographs that would comprise the exhibition “We the People; Afghanistan, America and the Minority Imprint.”
For more about this project and to see some of the photographs, click the following link to Sojo’s Trumpet.

Audre Lorde said, “I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We've been taught that silence would save us, but it won't.”

My the poem, An Engagement for Burning, which originally appeared in Damazine; A Journal of the Muslim World, and which will be included in my forthcoming collection, Where My Birthmark Dances, is my small attempt to shed light on the growing problem of Afghani women, particularly in the province of Heart, burning themselves- self-immolation.

Here’s a link to a series of news article about this problem.

An Engagement for Burning

By Octavia McBride-Ahebee

I took her
within the boundaries of my burka
buried beneath the world
I took Billie* with me
a haggard chorus of one
a voice tied to silk and twisted hemp
that cut my ears with a melodic charm
her stretched out words
the ones that never stood to be sounded
were an incantation
pouring my despair across a crop
drugged and lying in wait for me
she squeezed herself through an iPod
a euphonious amulet
energized by currents of expectations
a gift given by a visiting girl from the West of Philly
to encourage my heart
a girl who came to Herat
with beaded hair
braided in the shape of a halo
carrying the world in a Wal-Mart duffel bag

we are both Khadeeja
the supposed complement of someone else
she taught her sisters an ambitious grammar
tied to a human history
told through Holiday’s songs
amid the redolence of the musk-scented roses and orange blossoms
in the hall of fields flushed with swaying poppies
poppies naked in their fearless redness
red like the hardened candy apples I lick through my cloth cage
a cage with no delicious opening
for my tongue to peek out
and taste the world.

I will burn myself today
when the sun is its most vain
amid the opulence of candy-colored poppies
between the embrace of voluptuous pining trees
with Billie plugged in my ears.
I will pour from a returnable Coca-Cola bottle
dinner’s petrol
over my whole existence
and wish
that someone
with hands that are enlightened
will rub the sweetness of honey into my wounds.

*Billie Holiday, American jazz singer

Let’s raise up our voices.

1 comment:

  1. I love the presence of Billie Holiday in this poem. Your words inspire me to "raise up" my voice!