When I lived in Mazar-e-Sharif, our neighbor told me the story of her cousin, a seventeen-year-old girl named Fatima, who had lived in Kabul and had recently gotten married. Fatima’s mother had died in childbirth and her father died in a car accident when she was a child, so her aunt raised her. Her aunt had no children and she treated Fatima like her own daughter.
Fatima was everything to her and the aunt provided everything possible in terms of education and living. But one day, the aunt yelled at Fatima, saying, “Clean your room, it’s just a mess!” When she said this, the aunt didn’t know it would hurt the girl, her “own” daughter. Fatima, overwhelmed and angry, left home to go to her sister’s house in Mazar-E-Sharif. Along the way she met a woman who was very nice to her. The woman asked her a lot of questions—where she was from, why she was travelling alone, where she was going?
Fatima decided to lie and said that she lived alone and had no one but she was going to move into her sister’s house. The woman then invited her to stay overnight in her house located in Pul-e-Khumri, a small town in northern Afghanistan. Fatima agreed and stayed there for a night.
The family of that woman was so softhearted, simple and with good intentions. They treated Fatima like their own daughter and were very kind and hospitable.
Fatima was impressed by their kindness and thought she couldn’t find a better house than this. She stayed for three days, and decided she would marry one of the sons in the family. Everyone was shocked, but they thought Fatima was also kind and a good match for their boy, so they set he date of the Nikah (marriage day).
The Nikah required that at least one relative from the bride’s side attend, so Fatima called her sister to come to her wedding. Her sister told Fatima’s in-laws how Fatima lived with their aunt who was like her own mother. Fatima’s aunt accepted the wedding because she had no other choice—the girl’s happiness was everything to her. She invited Fatima’s in-laws to come to Kabul to ask for the girl’s hand, which was customary according to tradition. The in-laws agreed to come and after ten days, the date of the Nikah was declared. Fatima married and moved to Pul-e-Khumri.
She struggled to get used to her new rural life. Rural life in Afghanistan is tough, especially for people used to big cities like Kabul or Mazar-e-Sharif. Women are not allowed to attend school or even talk about universities. People lack access to conveniences like smart phones and the Internet and only those who are well off financially can afford a car and a good house. Women from a respected family are not allowed to work outside of the house the way they are in cities today. Women stay home doing house chores, hard work like baking bread in a tandoor.
Before her marriage, Fatima was used to wearing pants and being as free as a bird, but now she wore long dresses and stayed home all the time doing house chores. Her husband did not allow her to attend school. Even though Fatima’s husband loved her, she soon regretted her decision to marry without completing her school and university. But if she tried to escape the marriage, where would she go? She’d have to start over, finish school. She could go back to her aunt, but it was Fatima’s own decision to marry; her aunt had no obligation to help her. And it is not easy for a woman who decides the marriage is not right to then get a divorce in Afghanistan and start over.
When our neighbor went to Fatima’s house, Fatima told her how much she regretted marrying, but she felt at the time she had no other option. She ruined her happy teenage life with a fast and lame decision and now she realized how weak and naive she had been. Now she wants her children to live life to the fullest and get their degrees and have their own goals in life, not just marriage. They will understand the true value of making such a big and enormous decision, which takes a lot of thinking.
Marriage is a big decision for everyone, both men and women. A person cannot rush into marriage based on emotions that might only last a day or two. She should think about a marriage proposal many times and scrutinize every aspect of it in order to make the right decision.
Photo by Abdurahman Warsame.