‘Why was I born a girl?’ An Afghan poem inspires US students

KABUL: When Fariba Mohebi, an 11th grader, learned in September that most Afghan girls would not join boys returning to school under Taliban rule, she shut the door and windows to her room. Then she broke down and sobbed.

From her despair, a poem emerged: “Why Was I Born a Girl?”

“I wish I was a boy because being a girl has no value,” Mohebi wrote. Afghan men “shout and scream: Why should a girl study? Why should a girl work? Why should a girl live free?”

Mohebi’s poem found its way to Timothy Stiven’s Advanced Placement history class at Canyon Crest Academy, a public high school 8,000 miles away in San Diego. It was relayed via Zoom calls between Canyon Crest and Mawoud, a tutoring centre that Mohebi attends in Kabul, where girls sit in class with boys and men teach girls — testing the limits of Taliban forbearance.

Periodic Zoom sessions between the Afghan and American students have opened a window to the world for girls at Mawoud, hardening their resolve to pursue their educations against daunting odds. The calls have also revealed the harsh contours of Taliban rule for the California students, opening their eyes to the repression of fellow high schoolers halfway around the world.

“If I was a 10th as courageous as these girls are, I would be a lion. They are my heroes,” Diana Reid, a Canyon Crest student, wrote after a Zoom call this month in which Afghan girls described navigating bombing threats and Taliban interference.

For the Afghans, the Zoom sessions have been a fun novelty, and a reminder that some Americans still care about Afghans five months after US troops withdrew in chaos and the US-backed government and military collapsed.

“We are so happy we are not alone in this world,” Najibullah Yousefi, Mawoud’s principal, told the San Diego students via Zoom. “There are some beautiful minds on the other side of the world who are concerned about us.”

The Zoom calls were arranged in April by Stiven and Yousefi. An early topic of discussion was Mohebi’s poetry, translated by Emily Khossravia, a Canyon Crest student and published in the school magazine. “Why Was I Born a Girl?” prompted an in-depth education in Afghan realities for the American students.

The class has learned that Afghan students risk their lives just by walking through the tutoring centre’s fortified gates. Mawoud’s previous location was levelled by a suicide bombing that killed 40 students in 2018. The school’s new building, tucked into a tight bend in a narrow alleyway, is protected by armed guards, high walls and concertina wire.

Most of Mawoud’s 300 students are Hazara, a predominantly minority group ruthlessly attacked by the IS group in Afghanistan, ISIS-K. Hazara schools, protests, mosques, a New Year’s celebration and even a wrestling club have been bombed by ISIS-K since 2016, killing hundreds.

Two mosques attended by Hazaras were bombed a week apart in October, killing more than 90 people. ISIS considers Hazaras apostates.

Since the Taliban takeover, several commuter minibuses used by Hazaras have been bombed in the Hazara district of west Kabul known as Dasht-e-Barchi. At least 11 people have been killed and up to 18 wounded, most of them Hazaras, the Afghan Analysts Network reported. The Taliban, who persecuted Hazaras in the past, are now responsible for their security.

The analysts’ independent research agency described the Taliban government response as tepid, saying it downplayed the strength of ISIS-K, which claimed responsibility for most of the attacks. On January 14, Afghan media reported that a young Hazara woman, Zainab Abdullahi, was fatally shot at a Taliban checkpoint just five minutes from the Mawoud center.

The San Diego students have learned, too, that attending class is a leap of faith for Mohebi and her female classmates, who make up 70 per cent of Mawoud’s student body.

Mawoud prepares students for Afghanistan’s rigorous university entrance exams. But there is no guarantee that girls will be permitted to take the annual exams — or to return to high school, attend a university or pursue a career in a country where the Taliban have begun erasing most women from public life.

The Taliban have said they hope older girls will return to schools and universities, under guidelines, by late March. Except for some schools in northern Afghanistan, most Afghan girls above the sixth grade have not attended school since August.

Yousefi said that Taliban officials who have visited the tutoring centre have not laid down specific rules, as they had at some public schools. He said they have merely stressed adherence to “values,” interpreted as separating boys and girls and requiring girls to cover their hair and faces.

— The New York Times

The writer is an American journalist and author. He was a foreign and national correspondent for the LA Times from 2001 to 2016, focusing on Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya

Source : OmanObserver

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