Read Letters to My Daughters Online

Authors: Fawzia Koofi

Tags: #BIO026000

Letters to My Daughters


a memoir



Copyright © 2011 by Fawzia Koofi
First published in France by Michel Lafon Publishing

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Douglas & McIntyre
An imprint of D&M Publishers Inc.
2323 Quebec Street, Suite 201
Vancouver BC Canada V5T 4S7

Cataloguing data available from Library and Archives Canada
ISBN 978-1-55365-876-4 (cloth)
ISBN 978-1-55365-877-1 (ebook)

“A Historical Timeline of Afghanistan” on pages 271–274
adapted with permission of BBC online

Copyediting by Lara Kordic
Jacket design by Naomi MacDougall
Jacket photograph © Reza

To my mom, who was the kindest, most talented teacher in the world; to both my daughters, who are the stars of my life; and to all women of Afghanistan

{ contents }

September 2010
· · ·
Just a Girl
Stories of Old
A Terrible Loss
A New Start
A Village Girl Again
When Justice Dies
The War Within
Losing Her
· · ·
One Ordinary Thursday
Retreat to the North
Everything Turns White
A Taliban Wedding
An End before a Beginning
The Darkness Pervades
Back to My Roots
A Daughter for a Daughter
The Darkness Lifts
A New Purpose
A Movement for Change
A Dream for a War-Torn Nation
A Historical Timeline of Afghanistan

· · PROLOGUE · ·
September 2010

THE MORNING I wrote the first letter to my daughters, I was due to attend a political meeting in Badakhshan, the province I represent as a member of the Afghan parliament. Badakhshan is the northernmost province of Afghanistan, bordering China, Pakistan and Tajikistan. It is also one of the poorest, wildest, most remote and culturally conservative areas in the country.

Badakhshan has the highest rate of maternal mortality and child mortality in the world—partly because of its inaccessibility and the crippling poverty of its people, and partly due to a culture that sometimes puts tradition ahead of women's health. A man will rarely seek hospital treatment for his wife unless her life is clearly in danger. By the time she reaches hospital—often after days of agonizing labour while travelling on the back of a donkey over rocky mountain tracks—it is usually too late to save both mother and child.

That day I was warned not to travel to Badakhshan because of a credible threat that the Taliban planned to kill me by planting an improvised bomb under my car. The Taliban dislike women holding such powerful positions in government, and they dislike my public criticisms of them even more.

They often try to kill me.

Recently, they have tried even harder than usual, threatening my home, tracking my journeys to work so that they can lay a bomb as my car passes and even organizing gunmen to attack a convoy of police vehicles assigned to protect me. One gun attack on my car lasted thirty minutes and killed two policemen. I stayed inside the vehicle, not knowing if I would emerge alive or dead.

The Taliban and all who seek to silence me for speaking out against corruption and bad leadership in my country will not be happy until I am dead. That day, however, I ignored the threat, just as I have ignored countless others. If I didn't, I could not do my job. But I felt threatened and afraid. I always do. That's the very nature of threat, as those who use the tactic know very well.

At 6 A.M., I gently woke my elder girl, Shaharzad, who is twelve, and told her that if I didn't come home after this trip of a few days, she was to read the letter to her ten-year-old sister, Shuhra. Shahar-zad's eyes met mine, full of questions. I placed my finger to her lips, kissed her and her sleeping sister on the forehead and quietly left the room, closing the door behind me.

As I tore myself away from my children I knew I might well be murdered. But my job is to represent the poorest people of my nation. That mission, along with raising my two beautiful daughters, is what I live for. I could not let my people down that day. I will never let them down.


Dear Shuhra and Shaharzad

Today I am going on political business to Faizabad and Darwaz. I hope I will come back soon and see you again, but I have to tell you that I may not.

There have been threats to kill me on this trip. Maybe this time these people will be successful.

As your mother, it causes me such bitter pain to tell you this. But please understand I would willingly sacrifice my life if it means a peaceful Afghanistan and a better future for the children of this country.

I live this life so that you—my precious girls—will be free to live your lives and to dream all of your dreams.

If I am killed and I don't see you again, I want you to remember these things.

First, don't forget me.

Because you are young and have to finish your studies and cannot live independently, I want you to stay with your aunt Khadija. She loves you so much and she will take care of you for me.

You have my authority to spend all the money I have in the bank. But use it wisely and use it for your studies. Focus on your education. A girl needs an education if she is to excel in this man's world.

After you graduate from school, I want you to continue your studies abroad. I want you to be familiar with universal values. The world is a big, beautiful, wonderful place and it is yours to explore.

Be brave. Don't be afraid of anything in life.

All of us human beings will die one day. Maybe today is the day I will die. But if I do, please know it was for a purpose.

Don't die without achieving something. Take pride in trying to help people and in trying to make our country and our world a better place.

I kiss you both. I love you.
Your mother

· · ONE · ·
Just a Girl


EVEN THE DAY I was born I was supposed to die.

I have stared death in the face countless times in my thirty-five years, but still I'm alive. I don't know why this is, but I do know that God has a purpose for me. Perhaps it is for me to govern and lead my country out of the abyss of corruption and violence. Perhaps it is simply for me to be a good mother to my daughters.

I was the nineteenth of my father's twenty-three children and my mother's last child. My mother was my father's second wife. When she became pregnant with me, she was physically exhausted from the seven children she had already borne and depressed at having lost my father's affections to his newest and youngest wife. So she wanted me to die.

I was born out in the fields. Every summer, my mother and a host of servants would journey to the highest mountain peaks, where the grass was sweet and luscious, to graze our cattle and sheep. This was her chance to escape the house for a few weeks. She would take charge of the entire operation, gathering enough dried fruit, nuts, rice and oil to sustain the small party of travellers for the three months or so that they would be away. The preparations and packing for the trip caused great excitement. Everything was planned to the last detail before a convoy on horses and donkeys set off across the mountain passes in search of the higher grounds.

My mother loved these trips, and as she rode through the villages her joy at being temporarily free from the shackles of home and housework, able to breathe in the fresh mountain air, was obvious.

There is a local saying that the more powerful and passionate a woman is, the nicer she looks sitting on a horse in her burka. It was also said that no one looked more beautiful on horseback than my mother. There was something about the way she held herself, the straightness of her back and her dignity.

But in the year I was born, 1975, she was not in a celebratory mood. Thirteen months earlier, she had stood at the large yellow gates of our
, a large, sprawling single-storey house with mud walls, watching a wedding party snake its way down the mountain path that wound through the centre of our village. The groom was my mother's husband. My father had chosen to take a seventh wife, a girl just fourteen years old.

Each time he remarried, my mother was devastated—although my father liked to joke that with each new wife my mother became even more beautiful. Of all his wives, my father loved my mother, Bibi jan (literally translated as “beautiful dear”), the most. But in my parents' mountain village culture, love and marriage seldom meant the same thing. Marriage was for family, tradition and culture, and obedience to all those things was deemed more important than individual happiness. Love was something no one was expected to feel or need. It only caused trouble. People believed that happiness lay in doing one's duty without question. And my father genuinely believed that a man of his standing and position had a duty to marry more than one woman.

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