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Afghan Voices
Monday, March 20

Mar. 19, 2023

by Lia Gladstone, text and photos

We, the United States, supported the Mujahideen against the Soviets. They in turn created madrassas that spawned the Taliban. We bombed women and children in villages that had never heard of Bin Laden or the World Trade Centers. We stayed for 20 years, claiming, among other reasons, that we did so to ensure that girls got an education. And then suddenly we left, not even offering asylum to all those translators, fixers and military personnel who supported us for 20 years. M., the daughter of one of those supporters is now in neighboring Kazakhstan with an expired visa, terrified of being forced to return to Kabul, where her father, a former general who worked for the US, is afraid to leave his house.

I was in Kabul from 2009 to 2011, first as a professor at American University and later on a contract with the US State Department to teach theater to youth around the country. In collaboration with one of my Afghan students in 2012 I wrote a one woman play, BURN, I am My Father's Fire. It's about a typical Afghan woman's life. All the stories in BURN are true. All the stories shared in this article took place before the US left Afghanistan. Here is an excerpt:

"Baba's friends praised the qabuli palau my mother let me sprinkle raisins into before I served it to his friends. They said it was sweet because Rabia (that's me) planted the raisins. They said I was pretty and how could such an ugly man like Baba have girls as beautiful as me. They talked about who among them was going to marry me. I thought they were joking."

These photos were taken 10 to 12 year ago. Some of the girls were performers in the Kabul Children's Circus. They needed to audition for the circus. Along with training to perform, they received an education. Many of them came from poor families and would have otherwise been unable to attend school. The US presence in Afghanistan created an environment where this was possible, for 20 years. The lifetimes of these girls. They are young women now. If you will, please imagine what their lives are like now that we have abandoned them to the Taliban. Even now, twelve years later, I'm afraid to use their names.

When I worked for the State Department, I was often asked to work with orphans. As you might imagine, the country was full of them. I'm sure it still is.

This is a wedding dance they taught me. F.'s (front right) not so startling quote: "All Afghan girls want to be boys."



One of the theater games I often played with the orphans was instructing them to invent a different use for their head scarves. Most of them turned the scarves into turbans.


We taught these little girls the wedding dance and my translators went to the market early one morning and bought all of them these lovely costumes for a performance scheduled for the embassy that evening. At the last minute the mullahs canceled the performance, declaring that girls could not perform in public.

Another excerpt from BURN:

"When I was eight, my nine year old sister came home crying. A boy in the neighborhood had beat her with a stick. I grabbed a big rock, climbed up on the wall surrounding our house and dropped it on him when he walked by. He was severely injured. His parents came to see my father. Baba put my right arm in boiling water. I was in the hospital for six months."


I was able to help five of these young women get asylum in Sweden and Berlin in 2012. The young woman in the center of this photo is now a hip hop artist in Berlin.


An ad hoc group of internationals has formed to help Afghans gain asylum. If you are interested in knowing more about this group and/or being a correspondent and friend to an Afghan seeking asylum or supporting them in any way, please come to an informational meeting. Kathy Kelly, who has brought us all together, will speak via video. I will be sharing stories about the two young Afghan women I have befriended.

Global Justice, Monday, March 20, 1pm
Community room at Quinta Loreta, Loreto 15


Lia Gladstone's most recent endeavors include producing and directing My Body No Choice, preceding the 2022 election: eight monologues by playwrights Eve Ensler, Sarah Ruhl and others, commissioned by Arena Stage, Washington, DC. 2022 also marked the publication of her children's art book, Bella Blue, about a beloved heritage tree in a California mining town. Her heart and mind is with Afghans, Hondurans, Salvadorans, Hatians and all people seeking home.


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