Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign

This is my son in the arms of Sima, our housekeeper and my closest companion in Afghanistan. Being house bound a lot during our two years in Kabul, I spent almost everyday in the company of Sima in our old, large, rambling house in Wazir Akbar Khan.

We would sit together in the kitchen in companionable silence sorting out the day’s dusty vegetables from the market while she taught me simple Dari. Or we would all sing along to Barney being played on the CD. Sometimes we would make potato bulanie, an Afghan flat bread stuffed with vegetable filling and lightly fried on the pan. And she would tell me about her lifestory. And we would laugh and weep together.

A widow with four children, she is the sole breadwinner for her family. We come from different worlds. Our paths and life circumstances carved out for us from our births. And yet, we chattered and giggled like schoolgirls. We laughed and snorted at how smelly some men were and how terrible it must be to be their wives. She filled my days and our home with a sturdy presence. She loved my son as her own. And I had never doubted for a moment, she loved me dearly too.

Sima wears a burqa. The world is fixated with the burqa – the ultimate symbol of all that is foreign.  It represents an Afghanistan which remains as one of the world’s last bastions yet to be conquered, subdued, reformed and changed. And so we all rush in with our great plans and big ideas to blast this country into the 21st century.

The Afghan culture is not perfect but it is ancient, rich and complex. I often wonder in this day and age, are we repeating the same awful, arrogant mistakes which had wiped out entire cultures and people groups simply because of our insatiable need to make the world instantly conform simply because it all looks foreign from our point of view?

All I know is that the woman behind this burqa is an intelligent, strong soul whose spirit remains unbroken through some of life’s greatest tragedies and yet looks on with hope. With or without the burqa.

I left Afghanistan with a pain in my heart because it was like being torn away from one of my own. So, if you ask me what do I actually think is foreign to the human spirit? It is unkindness. It is selfishness. It is prejudice. It is hatred. That is all.

Because honestly, there is nothing truly foreign about you and I.

O Children of Men!

Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest.

~ Bahá’u’lláh

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