Afghan women were once compared to as sleeping lions, that when woken, would play a major role in social revolution. I now think that you can take the Afghan label away and simply say, WOMEN are the sleeping lions. And we need to wake up and ROAR.
Here we are, living in United States, the so-called bastion of equality, in the year 2011. We have the vote and the legalese to ensure our place among men as equals.
The talk this week around the water cooler by a group of men that should know better, tears apart my motivations and abilities to work in Afghanistan. The comments at the bottom of online news stories that call me an unfit mother or rant that I have no right to do what I do because of the ongoing military conflict, have so far been all men. I know I’ve read them all and took them to heart.
You want to hear me roar?
Call me a barbie. Say I’m naive. I’m crazy. I’m reckless. Tell me its impossible.
Dismiss me by my blond hair, my gender, or my audacity.
Damn right I’m audacious. I’m also unconvential, impulsive, direct, and fearless. I’m also a woman. And a mother. You act as if that’s a bad thing. No, you act as if I don’t have the right. BECAUSE I’m a woman and a mother. The controversy isn’t that I risked everything to start working in Afghanistan, or that I did it without a degree in international development, or that it means I have to spend time away from my daughter, or that it without security, or that I became the first person to bike across the Panjshir province. The controversy is my gender.
Men are doing what I do. Fathers are doing what I do. I don’t hear the same commentary. I don’t see their experience, motivations, or mental sanity questioned. Its the same in the mountaineering world. Men risk their lives to climb the highest peaks in the world, and many die every year. They are sung a heros song, celebrating their lives as trail blazers. And the women? Those that climb the same peaks have their motivations and their motherhood questioned, and the few that meet the same unfortunate demise are vilified as irresponsible and reckless.
Sitting on the sidelines has never changed the world. Turning a blind eye doesn’t bring justice to those victimized. I’m not going to do either just because I’m a woman and a mother. I refuse to bow to apathy. I’m going to jump in, and when you jump, there’s risk.
But here’s what you don’t see when you seeing me leaping, seemingly reckless, into the deep end. I checked the water when you were looking the other way. I know how to swim in these depths. I made sure of it.
Don’t dismiss my blond hair and broad smile as one of a Pollyanna thinking she can change the world with rainbows and unicorns. I’m doing it with sweat, blood, and tears. Covered in mud, under headscarves, fighting injustice in the murkiest waters, where others dare not swim.
Reckless I am not. Impulsive? You bet. Do you know that I studied Afghanistan for years before I ever started working there? Did you know that I lived abroad for ten years, living in other cultures and learning how to swim in their waters? Did you know that I worked for myself since my early twenties, creating a job and later a business, out of sweat, guts, and sheer stubborness? Do you know the relationships I have developed with Afghans and how their invaluable advice and opinions have shaped the prism in which I measure risk, and give me the freedom to ride my bike in a country where women don’t. It was Afghan’s that taught me and encouraged me to ride a motorcycle in the back streets of Kabul. It was Afghan’s that invited me into their homes to discuss girls education and rural health care. It was Afghans that offered me the chance to ride a buzkahsi horse before a match, and taught me to fish in the Panjshir river. It was Afghans that told me, yes you can ride your bike here.
That doesn’t make me reckless or crazy. It makes me curious, adventurous, and yes, audacious.
Naive? Definitely not. Idealist? maybe. I know that the realities. I know the risks. I know that this is a country that may not be able to claw its way into the 21st century, much less back to where it was in the 1960’s. The cards are stacked against me and others like me, succeeding. There will be women and girls that are still raped, abused, and victimized, but guess what. That happens in our own country. But I am not going to throw my hands up and say ‘its impossible’. The lives we affect, are forever changed, and those lives will affect others, and so on.
You want to throw labels? Here’s one. Coward. You stand back, safe on shore, have never spoken with me, and base your assumptions on my appearance and my gender? How dare you. That you would fall back on the basest of stereotypes in order to dismiss me is an insult to men and women alike.
So stand back and watch, because the dye has been cast. Crazy isn’t a fact – its an opinion. So is impossible.
While you are standing there watching, open your ears, because the sleeping lions are waking up – and man are they going to roar!