Sunday, March 1, 2015

Afghan Culture: Creating a Balanced Life Afghan Style



Everything has a meaning. It is up to us to acknowledge a practice or values we hold, determine its meaning based on simply knowledge and life experience and the level of importance of bringing it into ones life. Following or participating in a particular culture, we have to compartmentalize certain traditions based on religious beliefs and social expectations and also bring together universal traditions that have a deep meaning connected to how we choose to live our life on a daily basis. 

Being part of the community that strongly believes in keeping up Afghan cultural values and traditions,  the process for  implementing those values that have a historical past in Afghanistan and practicing current societal expectations and demands of America can be a challenge. The biggest challenge of implementing Afghan values and morals standards outside Afghanistan is  for young adults as many of them don’t have a point of reference. Sure, parents can be great role models for today’s young afghans, however, it is their peers they learn the most from. The majority of Afghans under 30 years old ( most afghans fled after the Cold war in late 1970’s) were born outside Afghanistan and have only  the culture of whichever country their families migrated to. Some  have adopted that culture as their own as daily life might have warranted it. This Is easy to do, however, it is up to the parents to teach them and guide them and instill those values they were raised with and witnessed for most of their lives, they will have something to pass down to their own children as many of us are experiencing parenthood and demanding careers.  We are trying to figure out our own bi- cultural identities so that our children have a strong frame of reference and avoid confusion of what is truly  important in ones life regardless of any cultural identity, such as education. As Aforementioned, peers play a great role in our cultural beliefs and practices, and being involved and part of a local Afghan community becomes key. Local Afghan communities are usually structured by family association and business.

For Afghans to live a balanced cultural life,  their faith, family orientation and values,  Afghan cultural traditions (we all love to do the Attan!) and current societies expectations and innovations have to come  into focus and prioritized. Today’s young Afghans are lucky to be able to pick and chose what they like about each culture they are apart of to implement within their own lives and their future families. Living bi-culturally has great benefits as we are the agents of change within both societies. In the American society, we can educate and live as Afghan role models that our grandparents and their parents as well as our own, would be proud of us regardless of how we labeled ourselves culturally. Being bi-culture can create a deeper understanding of a different society and its practices and being the bridge that helps understand and accept oneself and each other. Being able to choose cultural traits of our family background and our daily life, we have to dig further to understand the meaning of what is cultural and what are merely our habits and what is important to us and our faith and family?

Young Afghans get to create their own culture. We get to ask ourselves, what is important to me? What do I like about our culture? What do I do everyday that’s part of my current culture and meaningful to me?  What do I want to teach my future kids and practice daily as a family? Faith should play a big role. This is our responsibility to our children and theirs as Afghanistan might merely become a word to them without personal association. It is important to keep this identity alive as it has so many beautiful cultural traits and traditions that include our faith and the togetherness of family and creating love for each other. This is what a balanced life looks like, whether you want to call it Afghan or something else.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Afghan Culture: Creating Food as a Family Tradition


The beautiful aspect about Afghan culture is the formation of family and community life as one of the most important intrinsic values of the Afghan society. We love to be around family and value traditions that have been passed down to us by our Afghan parents and grandparents  and other elder members.  The afghan people have settled in different parts of the world and yet are very much connected through the culture of its people who reside outside Afghanistan. One of the biggest ways, Afghans have kept their identity strong and alive even while living elsewhere  is practicing and living in a community where these same traditions are taught and practiced daily by members. The most favorable tradition is food, as cuisine  is used to maintain the national identity of Afghans throughout the world as a staple of our culture and traditions. My favorite family tradition is that of always being around Afghan food when visiting family or Afghan friends. I love our 4-5 course meals served in gatherings, whether for one guest or 100 guests!

The first course of the Afghan meal for house gatherings starts off with a light refreshments, such as tea and dry fruit or baked goods. Depending on the weather or affinity of guests, a nice, cold juice with fruit will be served until the rest of the guests arrive for the meal. The meal can be served at lunch time or dinner. Breakfast is another wonderful event!
The second course is the buffet! We love our different options and freedom to choose what we eat and how much. Most every buffet in an Afghan gathering will include rice in different varieties and some kind of meat, beef, lamb, chicken, goat, maybe some fish, seasonal vegetables and something most of us love in any form, bread or nan.  The main difference between afghan food from neighboring countries and culture is the use of particular spices and the cooking process for each dish. Cumin is widely used in rice and meats such as lamb and beef are steamed in a pressure cooker and seasoned with fresh blended vegetables.
After the main meal, comes course number three with green or black tea, sometimes even milk tea (Sho Do Chai) paired with delicious sweets of homemade rice pudding, freshly baked gourmet cookies, dried fruits and nuts, cheesecake, paneer (cheese)  and raisins.
This is really the time to relax with the guests and family members and usually it is accompanied by music, a favorite tv, show, dancing (if its in all women gathering) and is really the social part of the evening as the hustle and bustle of the main course is done with and  cleaned up and both hosts and guests can relax and enjoy the company and atmosphere. Afghan people love to be around music and laughter and lots of food at family celebrations and gatherings.
The fourth course consists of seasonal fruits, cut up and arranged beautifully on a platter and served in large decorative dishes and passed around for guests to help themselves to large portions. Afghan people have a tendency to offer and give and will consistently offer more tea, food, sweets to their guests even after they have refused.  

For the guests who like to stay late when visiting an Afghan home , the fifth course of tea and sweets is brought out one last time to say our good byes and prepare for the journey back to where we came from and end the visit with how it started : kindness. One thing my friends always loved, especially my best friend in high school, was that she knew to come to our home hungry and leave extra full! It is through cuisine and hospitality that Afghans have used in generations past and still practice that brings us together as one. The great thing about afghan culture and its importance on hospitality is that it extends to all from every culture.

Written by: Afghan Wife
Afghan Food Pictures: www.instragram.com/afghanwife

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Afghan Girl: The Role of the Afghan Girl before getting Married


Afghan  Parents look forward to the day their son/daughter will get married from almost the moment they are born. The partner that they will marry isn’t really a question of whom as it is assumed they will be a” good afghan, from a good family with a good education”.
 Most  Afghan parents’ thoughts are consumed by the wedding reception itself! How beautiful it will be, what they will wear and how they are going to dance all day because after all it’s their child’s wedding! An unmarried girl in the Afghan culture is simply a girl waiting to be married, regardless of their situation. We have put a lot of pressure on ourselves and our family members and friends to get married as that is the one honorable role anyone can have in life. This is true to an extent, however, the role that a young Afghan girl has before getting married is quite diverse and much needed in her family. 
This post is geared towards understanding the unique position Afghan girls all over the globe face when it comes to their life as an unmarried girl and how they are viewed from relatives and friends. Back in the day, as with most traditional cultures, girls were seen and treated as burden to the family if they were not married. In the Afghan culture, it becomes more of an honorable issue. Parents are more concerned about a girl’s ability to bring unnecessary shame to the family, i.e. having a boyfriend, having a child out of wedlock or creating a negative reputation in the community for themselves and worse, their families. After all, reputation is everything to Afghans, as that is how marriages are formed and business deals done.
We forget to acknowledge that the role of an Afghan girl before marriage, is just as important as being a wife. These roles range from being caretaker for their families, whether it’s to elderly parents and relatives to younger siblings. They make themselves available to attend doctor appointments with family members to make sure language is not a barrier and the best medical treatment is given their loved ones. The role of being a breadwinner and financial assistance to their families through their professional work and dedication to their education has been an emerging role with girls now getting advanced degrees.

Afghan girls who are not married yet give endless support and love to their families. They serve as  inspirational role models for their peers and siblings and for generations to come. Sure, marriage is a path most girls want in their lives when the time is right and the person is right for them, however in the meantime, Afghan girls are motivated to improve their lives and the lives of those around them through their daily hard work and struggle to succeed. This type of motivation steeps into married life, because after all it is the habits of people that will stay with them throughout their daily lives. Afghan girls should be encouraged to get an education and spend their time before getting married on improving their intellect, taking advantage of educational opportunities, and making a difference by contributing to their communities and being a productive member of society. These are the traits that will make them great wives and mothers as they will implement them in their married and future family life. Educated mothers raise well rounded, healthy children, after all, we become their daily teachers and advisers.

The time between ‘waiting to get married’ and actually getting married for an Afghan girl can be one of the most incredible and amazing time to really invest in oneself through education as they will always have goals and dreams to follow and look forward to achieving. Education for an Afghan girl will help her distinguish the type of man she hopes to marry. Rather than accepting any suitor who simply comes to ask for her hand in marriage and follows all of the cultural rules, will think twice about the person they are, understand the right questions to ask and in general have a feel for compatibility in lifestyles and future goals and obligations.
The traditional Afghan girl, is now the new modern girl who understands and appreciates the world around her, understands and accepts her family and is dedicated to their well being and happiness and can take care of those around her whether it is showing love and care taking duties or financially. The Afghan girl before marriage in the United States has endless opportunities available to her through attaining advanced degree and diverse roles that she must fulfill in her family.  Because of the aforementioned experiences, the unmarried Afghan girl is responsible, She is loved  and respected unconditionally , serves  a best friend to her siblings and parents, is supported in her every endeavors  and seen as a role model and not a burden. And what smart and successful Afghan man would not be proud to have someone like that to become his wife?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Afghan Fashion: what do we wear and why?


The media has painted an image of Afghan woman worldwide. The repressed and depressed woman in the blue burqa with only a small net across her face to view the world. This is the picture people may see when anyone mentions Afghan women. Yes, some women still do wear the burqa while out in public for many reasons and sometimes out of necessity. There is also another type of Afghan woman that the media has not shown, although they know they exist. However, it's the burqa clad illiterate women of Afghanistan that attracts attention worldwide,  not the educated and beautiful women of a country that remains undefeated.These women have a life, they have a voice, they have families, they have professions, they have strength to live everyday life in their struggle and still maintain a jovial outlook and most importantly, these women have hopes and dreams, wants and needs and did I mention beauty?!

Afghan women are some of the most beautiful creatures I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Our looks are diverse ranging from having blond and blue eyes to olive skin and dark hair with almond eyes. I am sure everyone remembers the National Geographic magazine cover with the Afghan girl on the front page with the piercing green eyes? Now picture her with her hair done, some nice makeup and a beautiful Afghan dress, she would and is more beautiful to me than any supermodel in Hollywood.

 When Afghan women get together it is like a fashion show! In Afghanistan, and like most cultures, women dress for each other. In public, yes we are covered, maybe with a shawl, a jacket, even a burqa! The fashion party starts when the women sit together and let their jewels sparkle,  let their shiny and voluminous hair down and let the dresses do the talking, although most are on the conservative side! This is the same both in Afghanistan and in the United States. Muslim women in general, whether in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc. dress quite conservatively in public where strange men may  gawk at them and as a way to deter any unwanted attention from males. However, we love to dress up for our family and friends at their homes or ours and at any celebratory events. In everyday life, fashion is quite similar to western styles for Afghan women.
 For an example, When I was teaching at Kabul University a few years ago, coming from the United States, I was confused on how to pick my wardrobe for the profession as well as for casual outings. Should I be wearing traditional Afghan clothes to work while in Afghanistan? Or would it be better to  wear a nice black suit? I was very naive about our country and the current fashion trends that I thought maybe just maybe I might have to wear a buqra!I thought about all the ways, I could have my potential burqa tailored to 'fit' me if possible. So I thought, if I am going to be wearing a burqra, I better be quite picky on my show selection since that would be the only accessory that would show! To my surprise, upon arrival on campus at KU, I saw the students dressed casually in jeans or fitting slacks with longer tops, say a mini dress. They looked beautiful in their matching scarfs and purses. In class, I was intrigued by the level of professionalism by the female and male students towards me and each other and their willingness to work hard both in school and outside their academic life.
 The only difference with daily fashion trends for Afghan women in Afghanistan and for those in the US, is the conservative factor. Women in Afghanistan do dress in western clothes (just look at current television news channels taped in Afghanistan) however, they show very little skin. They may wear jeans but with a blouse that is loose and mid thigh or longer. They may wear a western style dress, but will make sure it has sleeves and covers the legs. The main difference between the two locations for Afghan women styles is that in Afghanistan every women wears a scarf outside whereas in the United States, we don't. The women who usually do wear a scarf, usually wear a 'hijab' in the presence of non-familial males. Of course, daily wear for Afghan women in Afghanistan changes as you approach the different provinces or states. There are 34 provinces and as an old British friend said once while he was working in Afghanistan in agriculture, "you see, the afghans in the each province are so different from each other that each province should be it's own country!"
Women fashion in the provinces is more of a traditional dress, with longer colorful dresses and matching pants and scarves, which is heavily influenced by the climate.  The school uniforms for girls is that of black dress (to the knees) and white pants and scarf with black sandals. This uniform was what my mother wore to her school at the age of 7 and still exists today. Around the house women wear the aforementioned and for special occasions, such as an engagement party of wedding, women will break out their gold jewelry that every bride receives upon her wedding day and wear an 'Afghani' or Kuchi dress. The 'Afghani' dress is the main dress of Afghanistan and made of velvet (remember Afghanistan has mountains and snow so therefore the attire is influenced by this) and made with pure silver ornament's, that jingle when one moves in the dress. This dress is what I wore for the Afghan part of our wedding ceremony as most brides do in the United States. in Afghanistan, a bride may only wear the "Afghani' or may later change into it after wearing the white wedding gown.

  Because of Afghanistan's location between Pakistan and India, there is an influence of wearing Sari's (traditional clothes of Pakistan and India) that consists of a skirt and top) or beaded churidar suits and shawel kameez.
 In the United States, Afghan women have adapted the western dress as their main attire both for daily wear and special occasions. This is primarily based on supply and convenience. It's much easier to go to Macy's and pick out a few blouses and pants or an evening gown for an event, then to make your own! In Afghanistan, women go to the market and pick out their fabric and give it to a tailor to make them the outfits they desire. Tailors are a common commodity and are available in each shop at a very decent price. Our generation  in the US will wear 'Afghan clothes' for special occasions such as Eid or when we do the 'attan' the national dance of Afghanistan at a wedding! Then there are a few who still do wear the Afghan clothes of shawel kameez at home for comfort.
Afghan Fashion is diverse as its people. You have the new and you have the traditional. The main aspect of our fashion world is that of being modest and respecting your body and self.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Education for Afghan Woman: Girls in Afghanistan VS Afghan Girls in America

For those that have been following this blog, you can see that most of my writing is geared towards marriage and all the great things that accompany it. I am after all, a happy Afghan housewife (something that is rarely stated in the news media). A happy Afghan wife? Is there such a thing?! Well I am proof of one and I have created this blog to express my gratitude, share information about the Afghan culture especially customs that pertain to marriage and simple everyday life. My intention has been to remain positive in information sharing, however, I have to be realistic and give a wholesome picture of our Afghan culture, especially when it comes to marriage and education here in the states and in Afghanistan.

As the title states, lack of education and marrying young go hand in hand for many Afghan girls. I do not want to undermine any of my readers intelligence when it comes to Afghanistan's history, however, for those who may be unaware, Afghanistan was once a fully functioning society, i.e. had top universities where women made up half the student body, European influenced attire for men and women (think pencil cut black skirts and short sleeve blouses for women and 70's style suits and jeans for men. I have a photo of my father when he attended Kabul Medical University in huge shades (sunglasses) and a yellow polyester suit, bell bottoms and all!).

There were women doctors and teachers and literacy was encouraged for women even those living in the provinces which tend to be more traditional in nature than the capital city of Kabul. My own mother had a school uniform of white pants and scarf and a black dress and shoes which she wore everyday until she was taken out of school because she was 'mature' enough. This mentality existed before Afghanistan became a war zone, where a girl who reached a certain age or stage, say, high school, they were heavily influenced to quit school and get married instead. This is similar to American history, where women in the 70's and 80's had few college graduates as most became wives and mothers after finishing high school.

The great thing about America is that change can happen and now in 2011, more women graduate college then men! Whereas in Afghanistan, the access for women's education has taken a back seat. Maybe because they've had to deal with merely surviving first after 30 decades of war than to think of extracurricular activities, such as a higher education? Access to education for girls in Afghanistan is there but quite difficult. First, there is the mentality of the men: Girls need to get married once they reach puberty as 1) they will cause shame to the family (i.e. get involved with someone without marriage or worse yet, become pregnant out of wedlock) 2) They will become too old and will not be desirable after a certain age. 3)The family needs the money they get from the groom (which is not Islamic, rather cultural).

These concerns are legitimate for Afghan men and some women in that the family unit is a cherished unit in the Afghan culture. Every woman should have the security of a marriage and not simply have a boyfriend with no commitment and to produce and raise healthy children in a healthy marriage ( isn't having a solid family foundation a basis for a functioning society?) however, the issue is why do they have to do all the aforementioned at such a young age?

Here is my thoughts on why girls marry young in Afghanistan and sometimes in the US. Lack of Education. Limited access to resources. The heavy influence from the older men and women in the family and most importantly, the inability to support themselves. If a girl in Afghanistan or even in the states, has no formal education or training, family is pressuring her to get married, her own family is unable to provide for her anymore nor can she provide for herself and she is bored out of her mind day in and day out (what does a girl do everyday if she is not married, no kids, doesn't go to school or work?) Wouldn't marriage look desirable? At least, it's something to do.

I remember when I was visiting Afghanistan , I came into contact with a wonderful and very bright young girl, maybe she was 15 at the time. She asked if I would talk to her older brother to letting her continue her studies as she was recently pulled out of school because she was "older" now and the boys were 'looking' at her when she walked to school. The walk to school was about 2 miles, which she walked with the neighborhood girls everyday. Since the other girls were no longer attending school, she would have to make the walk alone to go to school and that was something the men in the family would not allow as there had been gossip of 'men in trucks' picking up girls on the road.

After our conversation, I sat down with her older brother and he explained his side. He asked how would I feel knowing that my sister was in danger every time she left the house by herself to go to school? My simple answer: walk with her. His answer: I need to work to provide for her and her books. My question: Can she have a car come pick her up for school everyday? (yes, this is my US mind speaking) His answer: Will you pay for the car service for her and all the girls in the community for the next ten years and confirm their safety at school? (there had been news of a recent destruction of a nearby school). The infrastructure of Afghanistan has to be rebuilt before we can encourage education for women and wonder why they marry so young instead of going to school. Two years later, that same girl was married. If a young girl in Afghanistan can not be provided the transportation and safety to attend school, how will she be educated?

In the states, we have access to education freely, so why then are there Afghan girls not attending higher education or getting advanced degrees but instead continuing to marry at a very young age? It is the mentality of the older Afghans that has crept into the minds of the younger generation that encourage and influence early marriages. This should not be part of the Afghan culture! Our true culture and faith encourage us to seek knowledge! I remember my father telling me in elementary school, in middle school, high school and all throughout my college and graduate school days, that he will support me as long I was in school and making something great of myself, whatever it was (yeah, what can I say, I changed majors a few times in college). He would always remind me how proud he was of me and how much he supported my educational choices and would continue to do so until I reached an old age, had gray hair and beyond. Granted he would hint at marriage here and there, if he didn't, he wouldn't be an true Afghan parent! This is the kind of encouragement I would like to see from our elders to young Afghan girls, especially those who have access.

I am proud to say that the Afghan- American girls I personally know and interact with on a daily basis are the best of the best. Smart, educated, classy and still remain true to what they are and where they come from. These Afghan girls are the true example of what a 'real' Afghan woman is and what we would of had of our country was not destroyed. These young Afghan women have learned the language and culture of America, have exceeded in school and became today's engineers, doctors, teachers, journalists, lawyers and housewives who have an educated mind for positive interaction with family members and to teach their children and create strong solid family units with love, care and unconditional support.

I just pray and hope that younger Afghan girls will follow that same route and continue their studies instead of getting married so early, especially when they live in the US and have unlimited access to education and resources to be successful professionally. Marriage is an amazing place to be in, in your life, however, it feels even better when you have completed your education and can freely be successful in your personal and professional life and have real life skills( even if it's a housewife role you desire then be it! Building and maintaining a home with love and care takes more work than an outside career sometimes, as you will need skills of negotiating, time management, communication skills, creativity, literacy, etc). This energy will make your marriage strong, your family functional and society productive. You will attract a mate that will appreciate all your hard work and work with you in life so both of you are successful, healthy and happy and raise wholesome children through educated guidance and support.

If Afghan-Americans can use their resources rightfully and educate themselves while they are here in the US, they can turn Afghanistan around in less than 20 years aboard and create a more positive image of Afghans to the international community.So that in time, the Afghan girl in Afghanistan who wanted to continue going to school, can do so without a threat to her life. Afghans need to focus and educate each other to be successful, now wouldn't that make our Afghan forefathers proud who use to live in such a country?

Afghan Weddings: Whats the Cost? Whats the Purpose?

Should I cry or smile? I know that at my wedding, I couldn’t stop smiling. It was one of the happiest days of my life. Brides in the Afghan culture are told many things: look shy for the cameras, don’t laugh too loud, let your husband sit first and stay standing (shows the audience whose boss), make sure groom provides a lot of gold jewelry , etc. The list goes on. These days in the states, weddings are still momentous events and glamorous but also a competition between families and friends. I guess this phenomenon is the same in every culture (just look at Hollywood weddings!)

The thing that is truly getting out of hand is the expense ( some men can't afford to even get married, given current demands for an Afghan wedding. It's even more rigorous in Afghanistan when a dowry is placed on the girl, which is not an islamic practice, rather a cultural one, as Islam only has 'Mahr- a gift in any form given only to the bride by the groom) and the lack of focus on the main significance: a joining of two souls and hearts, of two people and their families to live a healthy, happy and prosperous life. If one has the desire to spend thousands and even millions on their wedding (hey it’s a once in a lifetime event! Although nowadays with separations and divorce, maybe it’s a two time event for some) and they can afford it without taking loans, then have the dream wedding!

I know my wedding was very glamorous and expensive (thank God no loans!) (my husband still refuses to tell me how much it cost). The problem with expensive weddings is when one has to ‘borrow’ or loan money to have the event, which is way beyond their means and they spend years back trying to pay it off. After the wedding, is when life truly starts and the expenses rack up. Whether it’s buying a home (one will need a down payment), a car (yes, your wife will need reliable transportation), going out for dinners and general entertainment (this is the time to get to know each other and have the freedom to travel without responsibilities, i.e. kids), buying gifts, furniture for your new place, health insurance, and If you add babies to the mix, well then you can do the math!

All I am saying, is that expenses don’t stop after the wedding, if anything they increase dramatically (hint: men get a stable career and save!). The purpose of this post is not to scare men or women away from weddings and marriage, if anything, I want everyone to have a great marriage (it’s probably the best thing in this world- a happy marriage). The purpose is to be realistic and be aware. Most arguments that happen with newlyweds is about management of money ( i.e. whose the spender and whose the saver?) , so be prepared to not disappointment yourself or your spouse.

In the Afghan culture, it is usually the groom who pays for everything, starting with the engagment party. These events are practiced by Afghans residing in the states and in Afghanistan. I just had a family member get married in Afghanistan and the cost was about the same to have a 300 guests wedding in the states or maybe slightly more, as one has to consider airfare for international travel for each member.

Here are some of the cultural events that go hand in hand with a wedding:

Engagement:
This event is almost as big as the wedding will be. Some couples will hold it at the girl’s residence, with both sides contributing to the cost or in a more traditional setting, the male pays for everything, starting with the engagement party. Some engagements are held in a hall or hotel ballroom. I had an engagement in a hotel ballroom with about 300 guests, so it all depends on ability and what is desirable ( we had guests coming in from out of state and my husband has a big family so it was beneficial to celebrate in a nice big formal setting). There is the dress, cake, flowers, invitations, really all the things that are needed in a wedding. Although with the engagement, the girl gets beautiful jewels too! I was presented with an engagement ring (we were getting engaged after all!). The bride is presented with beautiful jewels from members in the family and close family friends. Some couples have a nikkah (Islamic marriage ceremony performed at the engagement party) and some couples perform the nikkah ceremony the day of the wedding reception. The reasoning behind the choice is usually a personal one, however, it most likely so that the couple can “freely” interact with each other if it is done during the engagement period. This becomes a bit of a religious argument, as the nikkah ceremony makes you wife and husband before God, so if the engagement is broken off, one would have to get a legal/ religious divorce, however the process changes if the couple has not consummated the marriage. I would think it is best to perform the nikkah when the wedding takes place as then you live together and your duties as husband and wife can be performed as one wishes without restrictions. The period between engagement and actual wedding can be short as a week or long as it needs to be for the groom to afford a wedding. Sometimes, both sides designate a timeframe depending on school / work schedules or when their parents feel it is the right time.

Henna Night:
This is almost equivalent to the a bachelorette’s party. The Henna night is usually hosted the night before in a hotel ballroom or the bride’s parents home if it is large enough to host all the ladies that will be coming to the wedding. The Henna night can also be done on the night of the wedding as more modern couples practice. The Henna is brought in by the groom’s family (usually his aunts, sisters, cousins, anyone on the groom side). The night is filled with music, dancing and great food and desserts, which is catered often. The Afghan meal usually is buffet style which include main dishes like kabuli-palo, lamb and chicken kababs, salad, vegetables dishes, etc.

Nikkah:
Usually done before the wedding reception. The nikkah takes place with the bride, groom, both sets of parents and close family members and also a religious Muslim authority , such as Mullah to perform the the islamic marriage ceremony. Both sides decide on the amount of ‘Mahr’ which is a bridal gift given to the bride from the groom (usually in the form of money). Consent is asked and given by the bride and groom three times in the presence of witnesses. Sometimes, the bride’s father can act as a guardian if the bride gives him that authority. After the ceremony, attending guests receive a beautiful wrapped gift box filled with sweets, usually frosted almonds.

This event, depending on the number of family and guest attending the ceremony requires a different space then the wedding hall. I had mine in a hotel ballroom that was especially designed for the nikkah ceremony. In the Afghan culture the bride wears a beautiful and modest green gown with a green shawl. The Quran is recited and a special prayer is performed for the new couple. Afterwards, everyone congratulates the couple and their families and the bride goes to change into her white wedding gown to go to the reception where hundreds of people have come to celebrate.

Wedding:
The Afghan bride wears a white wedding gown, given their family background, most gowns tend to be more modest then American style gowns. It usually has sleeves and the back is covered ( I had my mom add sleeves and a back to my strapless, mermaid cut gown) although there are some brides who dress in all traditional Afghan Kuchi Dress or in all American gowns with arms and back showing. The events I am explaining are what moderate Afghans do, who tend to have a more traditional background. The bride is given more jewelry and both couples read the Quran together under a shawl. Some modern Afghan couples do a bride and groom dance ( not like ballroom dancing!) to upbeat Afghan music where they don’t really touch each other. It is important to say that in Afghanistan, the bride does not dance on her wedding day (remember she is leaving her dad's home for the first time and going to her husband's home, so she is to be sad! I might have disappointed a couple of people when I couldn't stop dancing at my wedding! Some cultural traits change over time, especially if they don't hold true always. I mean come on, who is suppose to be sad on their wedding day?! I guess if it's forced upon you, then maybe.....Which brings me to a very important point, marriage can not ever be valid Islamically, if the bride and groom do not consent to it.

As aforementioned, the bride is asked three differet times if she agrees to the marriage and if she says no, then a nikkah can not take place. We hear about forced marriages in Afghanistan all the time and in reality, if the girl has not agreed, then it is not a valid marriage islamically. I love the Afghan culture, however, we are muslims first and must practice what is in our faith before personal customs, as it is the religion who should influence culture.

So back to the wedding: The wedding usually has some famous / well known Afghan band or solo artist and plays throughout the night. The bride and groom are first to get food in a buffet style dinner ( think lamb and chicken kababs, different types of rice, salad, veggies dishes, mantoo- afghan dumplings and much more) while the cameras and family look on. After dinner, the bride can change into a more traditional afghan dress (kuchi dress) and the henna is brought out by the groom’s family all wearing kuchi dresses. Of course, there is the cake cutting and final goodbye to everyone. Gifts are usually in the form of checks or cash (it used to be boxed gifts, but more and more people understand the expense of things and starting a new life, so money is greatly appreciated instead of, say, a toaster! Then, it’s off to a honeymoon! I know we had a beautiful honeymoon in a different country, however, not all families and couples do. Most couples spend the next few days visiting people and attending more parties to celebrate their union! If you have any afghan friend who is married, trust me, they will be more than happy to show you their beloved wedding video to you of all the aforementioned in action!

Advice on weddings: Be aware of costs, stay true to the purpose (beautiful union of you and your spouse) and incorporate Afghan culture in the festivities!

Here is an article from NPR about Afghan weddings:

http://www.npr.org/2011/04/08/134628479/for-afghans-wedding-costs-put-marriage-on-hold

Article written by Afghan Wife
Email: Afghan.wife@gmail.com

Friday, May 11, 2012

Pregnancy in the Afghan Culture: First comes Marriage, then comes the Baby!

 There is a saying in the Afghan / Islamic culture that "Heaven is under the Mother's feet, so treat her kindly". This stresses the importance of women, especially mothers in our culture and the kindess, respect and love they should be given if we truly want to be  righteous. In honor of Mother's Day, I felt this would be a perfect time to write about the special moment, when a woman can call herself a mother. The wonders of pregnancy are simply amazing and countless. My focus on this article will be on the pregnancy process and how it’s viewed in the Afghan culture and the expectations and celebrations that come with it. Remember Afghans just want a reason to celebrate! I should note that this article will highlight aspects of the afghan culture that some Afghans no longer practice given their exposure to different cultures and living in the states.
Remember the three month rule? Don’t tell anyone -especially outside the family, if a young woman is pregnant during the first trimester as there is a higher chance of miscarriage or inviting 'nazar' the evil eye from outsiders.  This rule not only extends to three months, for some traditional Afghan women, it extends until the actual birth of the baby. It is almost seen as an act of honor and modesty to ‘hide’ the pregnancy until the baby is born.  I  remember an older Afghan woman telling me her story of how proud she was that no one knew she was even pregnant until she came home from the hospital with a baby! This method as seen by some older Afghans can be seen as protecting both the unborn child and the mother from nazar or simply being conservative and modest.
This concept is rarely practiced in the US with Afghans, because every Afghan woman I have known to have fallen pregnant has announced the news in the first three months or shortly after ( it's too exciting to keep just to yourself!) The announcement of pregnancy is never done formally, rather through family and friends. Usually the husband’s family is one to officially confirm the pregnancy to curious souls within the family and to friends. One thing I found out the hard way, was that a pregnant Afghan girl should not go her conservative Afghan father  to announce the pregnancy and all the details of the first sonogram in the first couple months!
Is it a Boy or Girl…does it matter anymore?
 When a young Afghan woman gets married, the most common ‘prayer’ she will hear from older  Afghan women and her in-laws on her wedding day and until the day she gets pregnant is “ I wish you many sons”  or “ May God grant you 5, 6, 7, 10 sons”.  Having a son in our culture is extremely important especially to Afghans living in Afghanistan. It is with a son, that parents will ultimately live with if they already don’t live together in an extended household. It is with a son, that they can count on someone generating an income for their current and future financial needs and it is with a son, that will guarantee an increase in family members (his wife and kids  will most likely move in or live close byand carry the father's last name).
Also, given that Afghanistan is highly an agricultural society, Afghans desire physically strong sons to take over the family’s farming needs and provide for the family when the  parents no longer can and the daughters are married off.  Since Afghanistan’s economy and rule of law is officiated by men, a woman in public is seen as more honorable if accompanied by a man, whether her husband or son. A son provides protection for the family.
Now, in the states, some Afghans have that same mentality especially when it comes to upholding and carrying on the family name and also providing for the parents. However, times have changed and nowadays, both females and males leave the parents home when they get married. Both males and females are educated and can provide financially for themselves and their parents and both genders have a choice in their living situation including location.
The wish for a  healthy child outweighs the preferenc for a boy or girl. The desire for a certain gender is now more socially personalized rather than  of  mere need. Some mother’s desire a baby girl, someone to always count on and be best friends with. A girl to share their life stories with ( as well as all the clothes and jewelry collected over the years!)  It is with a girl that the Muslim Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said that if a man raises four righteous and successful daughters, he will have a place in heaven.  Now that’s some reward! Some fathers desire a boy so they can teach them how to play the sports they played as a child, someone to look up to them and admire them and overall,  a desire for a  baby boy or girl who is healthy, kind, successful, respectful and appreciative of their parents when they grow up.
What happens after the baby comes?
In Afghanistan, a baby has a higher chance of being born at home, a birth attended by local midwives then at the local hospital. One of the biggest reasons for this occurrence is the absence of trained and professional female doctors and lack of facilities as well as transportation in rural areas of Afghanistan. Also, many young  women in Afghanistan are embarrassed to be seen by a male doctor during delivery along with the aforementioned, the infant mortality rate has been the highest in the world. I hope  that this will change with the infrastructure of newly built facilities and  the creation of educational programs for both midwives and local female doctors.
When a baby is newly born, the new mother stays in the house with the baby for 40 days. This period is reserved for the health of the mother and baby as both are quite fragile at this time. The 40th day is marked by some kind of celebration usually consisting of a small gathering of women in the family and eating delicious foods. The Afghan sweet bread “rote’ is baked and distributed amongst the gathering and other sweet desserts. At this time, the new mother can resume her daily prayers and fasting (if Ramadan falls around that time) if she wishes and is able to, although some may not fast during the month of Ramadan if they are nursing. They say that after a baby girl is born that angels circle the home of the parents (or wherever the baby is residing) for forty days! This brings about divine protection and countless blessings to the home and to the family.
Now in the US, young Afghan women do things a little differently when it comes to birth and the aftermath. The birth almost 99% of the time takes place in the hospital and with hectic school and work schedules, the new mom may have to return to the field before the forty days and if her family or in-laws don’t live close by, the celebrations may have to wait until everyone can get together. The abovementioned still happens, it’s just that with an increase of working women, the timeframes have changed, although the celebrations still occur.
 Also, most Afghans have the baby shower or “shaw-e-Sash” when the baby is six months old. This event is attended by all family and friends to celebrate the birth of the baby. The attendance can be in the hundreds and celebrated in a banquet hall with gifts, music, food and dancing. Another monumental event at the six months stage is  shaving of the baby’s hair! This marks new life and beginnings (usually done in the spring season of their six month) and it has proven as a way to grow healthy, thicker, shiny and more beautiful hair for the baby! It’s fair to note, that some Afghans literally celebrate every moment of the child’s early and most precious moments. I have attended celebrations ( I am talking banquet halls and all that jazz) for a an Afghan woman finally being blessed with a baby boy after five daughters, a celebration for the appearance of the first tooth, for the first walk and of course the yearly birthday celebrations! Children are truly cherished in our Afghan culture as they are our future and we don’t hold back when showing our love and appreciation for them! How will you celebrate a child today?
                                                 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Modern Afghan Living: The Cost of Pursuing Education..Alone

Most Afghan females and males really don't have the opportunity to live on their own. Alone. This lifestyle was not an option even a few years ago for young Afghan males and females residing in the states. In Afghanistan, it has never been an option, especially for a female. The process was simple and is still practiced in Afghan communities in the US: live with the parents, get married, and live with the husband/wife. Sure, one could still pursue academic and career interests as long as they were within commuting distance from home.

However, with more access to resources, communication and opportunities to pursue education outside of our hometowns in the US, an increasing amount of young educated Afghans are moving away from home for the first time and experiencing living alone. It is still quite uncommon for Afghans to continue living alone after the completion of their education. Usually, upon graduation, we are encouraged to come back home and live with our parents until we are married and move in together with our future spouse. To my American acquaintances, this concept seems fairly common and the practice for many of them, however, as young Afghans, we are still trying to escape the negative stigma that is associated with moving away from home to pursue an education.

When I first got the opportunity to study out of state, I had to 'hide' the fact that I was living alone and pursuing graduate school as my reputation and possible future suitors would be diminished in the Afghan community, something all Afghan parents carefully honor and protect.

I remember when I had to move across the US to attend graduate school and my 'move' was associated with many of my parents Afghan friends telling them not to let their youngest daughter ( I was 22) out of their sight as so many things could happen: I could disappear and get hurt without them by my side, I could move and never comeback, my future marriage prospects would decline because after all, who wants a girl who is educated, well traveled and independent? The older Afghans also stressed that I would bring shame upon the family for doing such a thing, etc. ( I come from a pretty tight Afghan knit  traditional community, where I was one of the first girls to pursue graduate school in general, so moving across the states alone was an even bigger issue as most girls were married with a kid or two!)

My parents put aside everything they heard and encouraged me to continue my educational pursuits even if it meant I had to move and live away from them until graduation. We made a pact that I would study hard and come home every chance possible ( I did fly back home once a month sometimes twice a month on the weekends, until my father asked me not to since it was costing them too much!). While away and studying, my parents never really publicly announced that I was studying out of state (how does one even announce that? The local masjid?). With time, people noticed that I was away and wanted to know what school I went to, Why I went there, what I was studying, Why I was studying that and of course, what I did everyday and of course when I was coming back, etc. The gossip extended to everyone in the Afghan community in a short time about my departure . Some simply said that “ I left home” which in the Afghan culture is something very harsh and disrespectful when it comes to talking about a young, unmarried girl. They didn’t chose to believe the real fact: I moved to attend graduate school and would come back when finished.

During that time, I didn't hear any of this as I was busy with school, yet my parents had to experience it. What I learned during my time away from home is something I will forever have with me and has made me a better person today. I learned to be independent and understand daily life and providing for oneself (bills, cooking, cleaning, hosting, safety). And of course getting a graduate degree!

I, like most Afghan females growing up in the US, had everything provided for and all I had to do was go to school . I never really understood the daily work of my parents inside or outside of the house and truly to this day, feel grateful for what they have done for me. Sure, I probably didn't need to move out of state to realize that, however, I was given an excellent opportunity to study and meet people from around the world, which has helped me in my professional and personal life.
So, why is it so bad for Afghan women to pursue educational options that take them away from home?

With scholarships opportunities around the country and access to prestigious institutions, why are Afghans still hesitant to agree to send their adult children to pursue opportunities and continue to hold on to cultural beliefs about not living alone. As my readers know, I try to present a balanced view of our culture, so I have to be fair and state why these beliefs came into play.

First reason, is the question and concern for safety, especially for females living alone. I have educated friends who currently live alone (by choice) and one of the main reasons, they would prefer to live with a male/husband/parents, is to feel safe and not experience life alone, to be able to share their daily experiences and come home to someone. Afghan parents are aware of this human need as they themselves come from intergenerational homes and never really had the opportunity to live alone, they can't quite understand how it can be beneficial.

Another reason is the expense that is associated with living alone. Given that our culture thrives on community and sharing resources, Afghan parents sometimes simply cannot afford to pay rent for their child who wants to live alone in a safe neighborhood, pay for their transportation, insurance, school, books, phone, personal needs, etc. The costs of living alone can be quite expensive and our parents do not see the usefulness in that, especially in today's economy. So, not only does living alone have a cultural stigma associated with it, it may not seem logical to some, given the expenses. However, even if all expenses are taken of and provided for by a scholarship or other means, Afghans still continue to look down upon the simple act of moving away from home (without marriage) and living alone (i.e. on campus or an apartment) for the duration of their studies.

Slowly, this cultural negativity will change as more young Afghans embrace education and the opportunities given to them. I am still an advocate for living with one's parents until marriage takes place (why pay unnecessary bills?), however, if given an educational opportunity to study elsewhere that is of more value to your future and career, then, living away from home is just another experience in what we call life! Now in Afghanistan, this same issue is a current topic when it comes to education for women. Now that universities, such as Kabul Universities have dorms to house female students, parents are very weary of letting their daughters continue their education because they do not accept the fact that females will be living alone before marriage.

Yes, it may be a question of safety, however, with my interactions with Afghan students there, it is more of a cultural issue first and the stigma associated with 'those girls' who study and live alone ( it’s pretty safe in the US and yet still the same view exists towards it). We can change this cultural view if we ourselves, who have studied away from home, come back home and be successful in our personal and professional lives because of this experience. I think what this negativity comes from is the thought process of our elders and not having the experience themselves and only having the media and other people’s negative experience shadow their minds about what campus life and living alone really means.

We have to show them that we didn’t lose our values or morals because of our relocation, instead we learned from it and have a greater appreciation for the family members and friends we had to leave behind to pursue our goals away from home, to show them that we came out with something in the end, an advanced degree and career to better our lives and theirs and a mind frame to pursue and do good in this world regardless of what people say about your choices and to accept who you are, where you are from and thank our parents for rising above their cultural stigmas to support our life choices, no matter how it is viewed by the Afghan community

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Big Afghan Move: Who Relocates after the Afghan wedding?

With most marriages in the Afghan culture, both in the US and in Afghanistan, it is common for the woman to relocate to her husband's place of residence. This relocation can be of several forms. With marriages that take place in Afghanistan, the girl will most likely move in with her new husband and in laws into their home to start her new life. Usually, a separate space of the house in designated especially for the bride and her husband. Sometimes, depending on social status and income, a separate home is constructed for the new couple that is on the same piece of land (remember homes in Afghanistan are built differently than in the US. They tend to be more spacious and open, separate bedrooms and a shared courtyard). Sometimes, several families are housed in the same home and each family has their own bedroom (s) and share the remaining of the home. It is quite uncommon, for a new wife and husband to live away and separate from the husband's family, especially in Afghanistan. In the US, some Afghans continue to practice this form of lifestyle, however, with jobs in different locations, accessibility and affordinbility, young Afghans that are newly married, will live on their own, away from both sets of parents. Although, even in the US, one can easily find a newly married couple living with the husband's parents, this may because of cultural upbringing, financial ability or mere separation anxiety!



An Individual who relocates to the US from Afghanistan, to be with their spouse, will most likely live with their in laws, until further notice. In my opinion, this is a great way, to immerse into the US society, while still being around an Afghan household (i.e. speaking Pushtu or Farsi, eating familiar dishes, dress, mannerisms, etc). as most likely they came from a home with several siblings,parents, grandparents, etc. For those coming from Afghanistan a couple living alone right away is rare and can be extremely difficult as they are not accustom to the US culture or lifestyle, language and will most likely not be able to work right away. To be able to leave a country and your family and everything familiar and live alone with your spouse in a different country where one is unfamiliar, can be extremely daunting, especially as their US raised spouse will be at work for most of the day.



Afghan couples raised in the US, will most likely live in their own apartment or a house after the wedding (remember Afghans don't live together before marriage!). This concept is still fairly new in the Afghan community and is usually practiced by Afghan couples who are use to the American way of life and embrace individuality, privacy and their own work needs. I know that my new husband and I moved into our first apartment together upon our arrival from our honeymoon. I walked into a newly furnished and beautifully decorated apartment that night after our arrival. I honestly didn't know what to expect about our living situation as I was raised in a pretty conservative community of Afghans in the US, where it was common for females to relocate to her husband's place of residence. Nowadays, given different communities of Afghans in the US, men also move to accommodate their wives choice of residence depending on career or school or simple affinity for a certain location. This way of thinking and living life (i.e.compromising and assessing personal needs of both husband and wife without blindly following cultural traditions) makes me a proud member of our evoling Afghan community.



To be unbiased here, I have to add that in certain Afghan communities in the US (think small Afghan locations in the Midwest or extremely traditional Afghans regardless of where they live) will continue to encourage intergenerational households, where the men bring in their wives to live with his parents and girls move away into their husband's family homes, regardless of the couple's or parents needs). This is fine, if all parties involved agrees it is the best choice. My more American self, will side with the needs and wants of not only the new couple but also the parents. For instance, if the parents of either side, need looking after, then of course living together would be the right thing to do. Or if financially it is not feasible at the time, then save on rent and live together or if the parents need financial assistance. If both parents are healthy, stable and enjoying life, and the couple is able to afford a place of their own, then why not give the parents their home back and build your own so they can happily come visit whenever they want and always have another home to go to!



Not only does weddings and everything before a marriage take place have certain cultural ideas attached of how to go about in the Afghan community, life after the marriage has many cultural traits as well. These traits have to be considered in the Afghan community so that the elders are happy, the young understand why certain things are done and the middle ones (us!) do what is right given their residence in the states, Afghan culture and the needs and wants of both generations. After all, we ourselves, will have children that will learn our way of life and what would we want them to do in this situation, given our culture background and American lifestyle. Culture does evolve with time with the needs and wants of time, however, the reasoning behind each culture trait is for the best, which is to keep everyone together as one and love and support each other no matter where you live.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Afghan Identity: What are we?

When I was growing up in the states, I was always told by my parents that I was simply ‘ Afghan’ and was taught Pashtu as a first language to speak with my family. Granted I was not exposed to many Afghans while living in our small town and ran with the idea that I was just an Afghan. As I grew up and went to College and was exposed to different groups of ethnicities, I was starting to reflect on the idea of ‘ who really am I(remember those times in college?).

I guess I should back up here and really tell you the whole story that brought me to that thought. I was looking for student groups to join on campus and on the top of the list, I see “Afghan Student Union”. I quickly signed up and the next day, the ‘president’ of the organization called me to welcome me into the group and arrange a meeting. I will never forget what I saw when I walked in: a group of several African-American students, some Chinese, Hispanic and several other ethnicities. I quickly turned around and left, thinking I had walked into the wrong room and distracted their meeting.

A few minutes of waiting in the hall, a Chinese looking student came up to me and introduced himself and said he was Afghan and that everyone else in there was not but they were there to support the Afghan Student Organization as there were scare amount of Afghan students on campus. I sat quietly throughout the meeting and couldn’t wait to call my mom and ask here, “ I just met an Afghan and he didn’t look like us at all, rather he looked a little on the Chinese side (no offense to any of my readers here). She quickly explained about a group of Afghans called ‘Hazara’ who migrated to Afghanistan from Mongolia hundreds of years ago. I had always heard the term but hadn’t met anyone who was Hazara, rather I grew up with Afghans who were by largely close to the same province as my own parents and family.


My trips to Afghanistan really opened my mind into the world of diversity within our culture. I quickly learned that Afghanistan consists of about 34 provinces. Each province basically has it’s own tribal group identity and it’s own dialect of either Pashtu or Farsi. During my time there, I met a British older gentelmen who was doing some type humanitarian work, who said, “ the provinces in Afghanistan should be separted into different countries because they are so different from each other!”

Well, given this differences in tribal groupsin Afghanistan, we can either A) Embrace it, love it and work together or B) Fight.

It’s safe to say, that most tribes tend to keep to their ‘own’ even in the states. I know that there was farsizban (Afghans who speak farsi) where I grew up in the states, however, there was little interaction as most of the gatherings included pashtuns (Afghans who speak Pashtu). One of the main differences between the two can be political however, I tend to think it more a cultural issue.

You see, Pashtuns tend to be more on the conservative and traditional side and usually reside in the outskirts of Kabul and provinces such as Jalalabad ( think limited access to travel and communication). Women tend to act upon the traditional role of housewife and raising children, while the men handle outside work. Pashtun women are more conservative in their dress and were wearing the ‘Burka’ in Afghanistan before it was imposed. Even in the states, pashtun families are more in tune with traditional roles and it’s safe to say, some may be different. Pashtuns are the largest tribal society in the world.

Farsizabans are Afghans who generally speak farsi (or dari in Afghanistan) and reside mostly in Kabul, and provinces such as Herat. Several groups of ethnicities in Afghanistan and in the US speak Farsi such as Tajiks and Hazaras. Given that Kabul in an international city, Farsi speaking groups are more diverse in nature and are exposed more to the international community given their residece in Kabul, therefore their dress style and other ways of living are more influenced by their international community and not so traditional. It’s common to find an Afghan who speaks both Pashtu and Farsi, as Farsi is the language of study in Afghanistan (it use to be Pashtu).

At the end of the day, when someone in the states, asks me where I am from, I still respond “ Afghanistan” even though I was raised in the states. Afghans are proud people and they will forever hold their identity. Kids who were born and raised in the states, will proudly say they are Afghan ( even if they have never been to Afghanistan). So no matter, what kind of Afghan we think we are given our parents residence back in the day, we are still Afghans. Only an Afghan will ask another Afghan, Where in Afghanistan are you from? From this information, they can easily assess your parents background and easily your own just by a mere location. My wish is that Afghans will once again be united regardless of where in Afghanistan one is from and where they currently live , will support and love each other.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Education: Afghan-American Girls VS Afghan Girls in Afghanistan

For those that have been following this blog, you can see that most of my writing is geared towards marriage and all the great things that accompany it. I am after all, a happy Afghan housewife (something that is rarely stated in the news media). A happy Afghan wife? Is there such a thing?! Well I am proof of one and I have created this blog to express my gratitude, share information about the Afghan culture especially customs that pertain to marriage and simple everyday life. My intention has been to remain positive in information sharing, however, I have to be realistic and give a wholesome picture of our Afghan culture, especially when it comes to marriage and education here in the states and in Afghanistan.

As the title states, lack of education and marrying young go hand in hand for many Afghan girls. I do not want to undermine any of my readers intelligence when it comes to Afghanistan's history, however, for those who may be unaware, Afghanistan was once a fully functioning society, i.e. had top universities where women made up half the student body, European influenced attire for men and women (think pencil cut black skirts and short sleeve blouses for women and 70's style suits and jeans for men. I have a photo of my father when he attended Kabul Medical University in huge shades (sunglasses) and a yellow polyester suit, bell bottoms and all!).

There were women doctors and teachers and literacy was encouraged for women even those living in the provinces which tend to be more traditional in nature than the capital city of Kabul. My own mother had a school uniform of white pants and scarf and a black dress and shoes which she wore everyday until she was taken out of school because she was 'mature' enough. This mentality existed before Afghanistan became a war zone, where a girl who reached a certain age or stage, say, high school, they were heavily influenced to quit school and get married instead. This is similar to American history, where women in the 70's and 80's had few college graduates as most became wives and mothers after finishing high school.

The great thing about America is that change can happen and now in 2011, more women graduate college then men! Whereas in Afghanistan, the access for women's education has taken a back seat. Maybe because they've had to deal with merely surviving first after 30 decades of war than to think of extracurricular activities, such as a higher education? Access to education for girls in Afghanistan is there but quite difficult. First, there is the mentality of the men: Girls need to get married once they reach puberty as 1) they will cause shame to the family (i.e. get involved with someone without marriage or worse yet, become pregnant out of wedlock) 2) They will become too old and will not be desirable after a certain age. 3)The family needs the money they get from the groom (which is not Islamic, rather cultural).

These concerns are legitimate for Afghan men and some women in that the family unit is a cherished unit in the Afghan culture. Every woman should have the security of a marriage and not simply have a boyfriend with no commitment and to produce and raise healthy children in a healthy marriage ( isn't having a solid family foundation a basis for a functioning society?) however, the issue is why do they have to do all the aforementioned at such a young age?

Here is my thoughts on why girls marry young in Afghanistan and sometimes in the US. Lack of Education. Limited access to resources. The heavy influence from the older men and women in the family and most importantly, the inability to support themselves. If a girl in Afghanistan or even in the states, has no formal education or training, family is pressuring her to get married, her own family is unable to provide for her anymore nor can she provide for herself and she is bored out of her mind day in and day out (what does a girl do everyday if she is not married, no kids, doesn't go to school or work?) Wouldn't marriage look desirable? At least, it's something to do.

I remember when I was visiting Afghanistan , I came into contact with a wonderful and very bright young girl, maybe she was 15 at the time. She asked if I would talk to her older brother to letting her continue her studies as she was recently pulled out of school because she was "older" now and the boys were 'looking' at her when she walked to school. The walk to school was about 2 miles, which she walked with the neighborhood girls everyday. Since the other girls were no longer attending school, she would have to make the walk alone to go to school and that was something the men in the family would not allow as there had been gossip of 'men in trucks' picking up girls on the road.

After our conversation, I sat down with her older brother and he explained his side. He asked how would I feel knowing that my sister was in danger every time she left the house by herself to go to school? My simple answer: walk with her. His answer: I need to work to provide for her and her books. My question: Can she have a car come pick her up for school everyday? (yes, this is my US mind speaking) His answer: Will you pay for the car service for her and all the girls in the community for the next ten years and confirm their safety at school? (there had been news of a recent destruction of a nearby school). The infrastructure of Afghanistan has to be rebuilt before we can encourage education for women and wonder why they marry so young instead of going to school. Two years later, that same girl was married. If a young girl in Afghanistan can not be provided the transportation and safety to attend school, how will she be educated?

In the states, we have access to education freely, so why then are there Afghan girls not attending higher education or getting advanced degrees but instead continuing to marry at a very young age? It is the mentality of the older Afghans that has crept into the minds of the younger generation that encourage and influence early marriages. This should not be part of the Afghan culture! Our true culture and faith encourage us to seek knowledge! I remember my father telling me in elementary school, in middle school, high school and all throughout my college and graduate school days, that he will support me as long I was in school and making something great of myself, whatever it was (yeah, what can I say, I changed majors a few times in college). He would always remind me how proud he was of me and how much he supported my educational choices and would continue to do so until I reached an old age, had gray hair and beyond. Granted he would hint at marriage here and there, if he didn't, he wouldn't be an true Afghan parent! This is the kind of encouragement I would like to see from our elders to young Afghan girls, especially those who have access.

I am proud to say that the Afghan- American girls I personally know and interact with on a daily basis are the best of the best. Smart, educated, classy and still remain true to what they are and where they come from. These Afghan girls are the true example of what a 'real' Afghan woman is and what we would of had of our country was not destroyed. These young Afghan women have learned the language and culture of America, have exceeded in school and became today's engineers, doctors, teachers, journalists, lawyers and housewives who have an educated mind for positive interaction with family members and to teach their children and create strong solid family units with love, care and unconditional support.

I just pray and hope that younger Afghan girls will follow that same route and continue their studies instead of getting married so early, especially when they live in the US and have unlimited access to education and resources to be successful professionally. Marriage is an amazing place to be in, in your life, however, it feels even better when you have completed your education and can freely be successful in your personal and professional life and have real life skills( even if it's a housewife role you desire then be it! Building and maintaining a home with love and care takes more work than an outside career sometimes, as you will need skills of negotiating, time management, communication skills, creativity, literacy, etc). This energy will make your marriage strong, your family functional and society productive. You will attract a mate that will appreciate all your hard work and work with you in life so both of you are successful, healthy and happy and raise wholesome children through educated guidance and support.

If Afghan-Americans can use their resources rightfully and educate themselves while they are here in the US, they can turn Afghanistan around in less than 20 years aboard and create a more positive image of Afghans to the international community.So that in time, the Afghan girl in Afghanistan who wanted to continue going to school, can do so without a threat to her life. Afghans need to focus and educate each other to be successful, now wouldn't that make our Afghan forefathers proud who use to live in such a country?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hospitality: Hosting Guests the Afghan Way

Did you know that Afghans are considered to be the most hospitable group of people in the world? The central location of Afghanistan has a lot to do with the generosity and hospitality of Afghans. Afghanistan is accessible by Europe, the Middle east and far east (China) by foot, car, train and airplane. Notice, I didn’t mention a ship because is in a landlocked location. Given this central location of Afghanistan, groups of people have always come and gone and come back again to Afghanistan (and not just for military reasons!)

Back in the day, it was the meeting place for trade and commerce from all over the world. The Chinese and Indian followed the silk road into Afghanistan to trade spices with British in Afghanistan as it was an easily accessible location with a hospitable group of people who always welcomed everyone with open arms (even today). I personally think, it was the generous hospitality that kept everyone coming and staying in Afghanistan and not just business. Afghans are known to treat their guests sometimes better than their own family members!

If anyone has visited Afghan friends, you know exactly what I am talking about. Afghans are taught to host guests in the most generous and hospitable way. I remember three years ago, I visited Afghanistan and we went to visit a local family. The family was quite poor and because we were guests from ‘America’, they put their life savings together to buy meat for dinner for everyone( keep in mind they themselves probably hadn’t eaten meat in months given their financial situation and didn’t have their basic needs met). Afghans will give the very best to their guests even at the cost of their own lives.

Below I have outlined a few rituals that are extended to guests being hosted in an Afghan home. These cultural practices are what most Afghans practice regardless of where they currently live or their financial situation ( they make it happen for the guests even if they can’t afford to do it for themselves). I know after being raised in the states and newly married, I have come to practice what my own parents have done since I was a child.

The Guests Arrival:
When guests first arrive ( They might call you first), usually dressed in nice attire (some guests might bring fruit or a small dessert for the host as it’s always better to show up with something to give than empty handed). Guests are seated and entertained by the host until dinner is served. Sometimes, depending on familiarity of the guests, they will be separated, where men go to a separate living room and the women gather together. The woman of the house usually will excuse herself briefly after the guests arrival to serve dinner (some dishes are cooked in the morning while others might be cooked the day before, depending on the number of guests attending).

The Food cycle:
The Afghan meal consists of three courses with the first one being a buffet style dinner. Yes you read that right, first a buffet, then the courses! What can I say, we are a food loving people and enjoy serving one another. The buffet has the main dishes (lamb, chicken, different types of rice, veggie dishes, salad.etc. We don’t drink alcohol, so we substitute that with drinking tea later. After the main meal, guests compliment the cook on their favorite dish and for casual chatter, the woman ask the host for the recipe in the manner of “ oh wow, this is so delicious, what did you put in this? Mine never comes out this good!” (my mom always gives the correct recipe if someone asks, as some Afghan women don’t!) The aftermath of the meal is quickly cleaned up (usually if it’s a big group of people, the younger girls may help with the dishes or close family members).

Tea Time:
After dinner is my favorite part as the host, because it relaxes me knowing the main event went well and the guests are happy, then it’s time to relax and eat some more! The host will serve green tea with dried fruit neatly placed in a glass dish, along with cakes and cookies for the guests. Sometimes, a wedding video is played for entertainment ( I know this was the case when we first got married! Who am I kidding, it's the case when we have new guests come over! My husband just rolls his eyes when it comes time for this. ut I know every Afghan female who comes to visit a newly married friend wants to see their wedding video!)

With more modern Afghans in the states (where the wedding video has been viewed several times) a nice current movie is played or a game ( I love playing taboo or connect 4!). Older Afghans, both men and women (think our parents) take this time to catch up on each other’s lives and everyday routines, share stories or watch Ariana TV ( the Afghan tv channel about Afghanistan). Each tea cup is refilled several times by the host for their guests and are encouraged to eat the sweets about every five minutes. Generally this came about, because traditional Afghans tend to kindly refuse to eat the first 2 times and have to continually be encouraged ( even if they have been eyeing the desserts all evening!) I remember my mom would always remind me to keep asking our guests to eat their desserts and take more and I always replied with “ if they want to mom, can’t they just get it, I mean the dish is right in front of them?”

I guess I always wondered why a 12 year old had to sit with the older guests all the time. Now, I realize it is done out of respect for the guests since they did come to visit everyone in the family. Each family member is seated with their guests until they leave, no matter what their age as a sign of respect for their guest(s). Also, it's a great way to learn about who we are and what we do. I remember my mom would always encourage me to 'learn' from their stories of being back home ( yes, every Afghan men and women our parents age has great stories to tell about their time in Afghanistan when they get together).

After the tea, the host brings out large trays of neatly arranged fruit with plates for each guest. The tray is presented to each guest and they are encouraged to take fruit. The types of fruit usually is whatever is in season. You can never go wrong with strawberries, watermelon, grapes, cherries, pineapples anything that can be cut up small and can be eaten easily. Mangoes, apples and oranges are usually placed in a different bowl (uncut) for decoration or if someone wants to eat them, they can.

About the time the fruit is finished it’s probably well after midnight and the guests prepare to leave. Of course the host always offers them their bed to sleep in if they wish to spend the night! If the overnight invitation is accepted (rarely is) the breakfast is another course!

The time that is spent with Afghans when they are hosting you is a time of pure pleasure and entertainment for them and for the guest. You can actually feel the excitement of the host and how much they appreciate you as their guest. I know my good American friends always loved coming to my home when I lived with my parents, because they were treated with the most respect and given great food and treatment no matter how old they were.

I love having guests and being a guest to my Afghan family and friends. I have to say, some of my American friends now follow the same food cycle, which is so nice.

Weight alert: Yes, you will gain weight being a guest in an Afghan home! I call this weight gain: Happy weight!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Afghan Weddings: Whats the Cost? Whats the purpose?

Should I cry or smile? I know that at my wedding, I couldn’t stop smiling. It was one of the happiest days of my life. Brides in the Afghan culture are told many things: look shy for the cameras, don’t laugh too loud, let your husband sit first and stay standing (shows the audience whose boss), make sure groom provides a lot of  gold jewelry , etc. The list goes on. These days in the states, weddings are still momentous events and glamorous but also a competition between families and friends. I guess this phenomenon is the same in every culture (just look at Hollywood weddings!)

The thing that is truly getting out of hand is the expense ( some men can't afford to even get married, given current demands for an Afghan wedding. It's even more rigorous in Afghanistan when a dowry is placed on the girl, which is not an islamic practice, rather a cultural one, as Islam only has 'Mahr- a gift in any form given only to the bride by the groom) and the lack of focus on the main significance: a joining of two souls and hearts, of two people and their families to live a healthy, happy and prosperous life. If one has the desire to spend thousands and even millions on their wedding (hey it’s a once in a lifetime event! Although nowadays with separations and divorce, maybe it’s a two time event for some) and they can afford it without taking loans, then have the dream wedding!

I know my wedding was very glamorous and expensive (thank God no loans!) (my husband still refuses to tell me how much it cost). The problem with expensive weddings is when one has to ‘borrow’ or loan money to have the event, which is way beyond their means and they spend years back trying to pay it off. After the wedding, is when life truly starts and the expenses rack up. Whether it’s buying a home (one will need a down payment), a car (yes, your wife will need reliable transportation), going out for dinners and general entertainment (this is the time to get to know each other and have the freedom to travel without responsibilities, i.e. kids), buying gifts, furniture for your new place, health insurance, and If you add babies to the mix, well then you can do the math!

All I am saying, is that expenses don’t stop after the wedding, if anything they increase dramatically (hint: men get a stable career and save!). The purpose of this post is not to scare men or women away from weddings and marriage, if anything, I want everyone to have a great marriage (it’s probably the best thing in this world- a happy marriage). The purpose is to be realistic and be aware. Most arguments that happen with newlyweds is about management of money ( i.e. whose the spender and whose the saver?) , so be prepared to not disappointment yourself or your spouse.

In the Afghan culture, it is usually the groom who pays for everything, starting with the engagment party. These events are practiced by Afghans residing in the states and in Afghanistan. I just had a family member get married in Afghanistan and the cost was about the same to have a 300 guests wedding in the states or maybe slightly more, as one has to consider airfare for international travel for each member.

Here are some of the cultural events that go hand in hand with a wedding:

Engagement:
This event is almost as big as the wedding will be. Some couples will hold it at the girl’s residence, with both sides contributing to the cost or in a more traditional setting, the male pays for everything, starting with the engagement party. Some engagements are held in a hall or hotel ballroom. I had an engagement in a hotel ballroom with about 300 guests, so it all depends on ability and what is desirable ( we had guests coming in from out of state and my husband has a big family so it was beneficial to celebrate in a nice big formal setting). There is the dress, cake, flowers, invitations, really all the things that are needed in a wedding. Although with the engagement, the girl gets beautiful jewels too! I was presented with an engagement ring (we were getting engaged after all!). The bride is presented with beautiful jewels from members in the family and close family friends. Some couples have a nikkah (Islamic marriage ceremony performed at the engagement party) and some couples perform the nikkah ceremony the day of the wedding reception. The reasoning behind the choice is usually a personal one, however, it most likely so that the couple can “freely” interact with each other if it is done during the engagement period. This becomes a bit of a religious argument, as the nikkah ceremony makes you wife and husband before God, so if the engagement is broken off, one would have to get a legal/ religious divorce, however the process changes if the couple has not consummated the marriage. I would think it is best to perform the nikkah when the wedding takes place as then you live together and your duties as husband and wife can be performed as one wishes without restrictions. The period between engagement and actual wedding can be short as a week or long as it needs to be for the groom to afford a wedding. Sometimes, both sides designate a timeframe depending on school / work schedules or when their parents feel it is the right time.

Henna Night:
This is almost equivalent to the a bachelorette’s party. The Henna night is usually hosted the night before in a hotel ballroom or the bride’s parents home if it is large enough to host all the ladies that will be coming to the wedding. The Henna night can also be done on the night of the wedding as more modern couples practice. The Henna is brought in by the groom’s family (usually his aunts, sisters, cousins, anyone on the groom side). The night is filled with music, dancing and great food and desserts, which is catered often. The Afghan meal usually is buffet style which include main dishes like kabuli-palo, lamb and chicken kababs, salad, vegetables dishes, etc.

Nikkah:
Usually done before the wedding reception. The nikkah takes place with the bride, groom, both sets of parents and close family members and also a religious Muslim authority , such as Mullah to perform the the islamic marriage ceremony. Both sides decide on the amount of ‘Mahr’ which is a bridal gift given to the bride from the groom (usually in the form of money). Consent is asked and given by the bride and groom three times in the presence of witnesses. Sometimes, the bride’s father can act as a guardian if the bride gives him that authority. After the ceremony, attending guests receive a beautiful wrapped gift box filled with sweets, usually frosted almonds.

This event, depending on the number of family and guest attending the ceremony requires a different space then the wedding hall. I had mine in a hotel ballroom that was especially designed for the nikkah ceremony. In the Afghan culture the bride wears a beautiful and modest green gown with a green shawl. The Quran is recited and a special prayer is performed for the new couple. Afterwards, everyone congratulates the couple and their families and the bride goes to change into her white wedding gown to go to the reception where hundreds of people have come to celebrate.

Wedding:
The Afghan bride wears a white wedding gown, given their family background, most gowns tend to be more modest then American style gowns. It usually has sleeves and the back is covered ( I had my mom add sleeves and a back to my strapless, mermaid cut gown) although there are some brides who dress in all traditional Afghan Kuchi Dress or in all American gowns with arms and back showing. The events I am explaining are what moderate Afghans do, who tend to have a more traditional background. The bride is given more jewelry and both couples read the Quran together under a shawl. Some modern Afghan couples do a bride and groom dance ( not like ballroom dancing!) to upbeat Afghan music where they don’t really touch each other. It is important to say that in Afghanistan, the bride does not dance on her wedding day (remember she is leaving her dad's home for the first time and going to her husband's home, so she is to be sad! I might have disappointed a couple of people when I couldn't stop dancing at my wedding! Some cultural traits change over time, especially if they don't hold true always. I mean come on, who is suppose to be sad on their wedding day?! I guess if it's forced upon you, then maybe.....Which brings me to a very important point, marriage can not ever be valid Islamically, if the bride and groom do not consent to it.

As aforementioned, the bride is asked three differet times if she agrees to the marriage and if she says no, then a nikkah can not take place. We hear about forced marriages in Afghanistan all the time and in reality, if the girl has not agreed, then it is not a valid marriage islamically. I love the Afghan culture, however, we are muslims first and must practice what is in our faith before personal customs, as it is the religion who should influence culture.

So back to the wedding: The wedding usually has some famous / well known Afghan band or solo artist and plays throughout the night. The bride and groom are first to get food in a buffet style dinner ( think lamb and chicken kababs, different types of rice, salad, veggies dishes, mantoo- afghan dumplings and much more) while the cameras and family look on. After dinner, the bride can change into a more traditional afghan dress (kuchi dress) and the henna is brought out by the groom’s family all wearing kuchi dresses. Of course, there is the cake cutting and final goodbye to everyone. Gifts are usually in the form of checks or cash (it used to be boxed gifts, but more and more people understand the expense of things and starting a new life, so money is greatly appreciated instead of, say, a toaster! Then, it’s off to a honeymoon! I know we had a beautiful honeymoon in a different country, however, not all families and couples do. Most couples spend the next few days visiting people and attending more parties to celebrate their union! If you have any afghan friend who is married, trust me, they will be more than happy to show you their beloved wedding video to you of all the aforementioned in action!

Advice on weddings: Be aware of costs, stay true to the purpose (beautiful union of you and your spouse) and incorporate Afghan culture in the festivities!

Here is an article from NPR about Afghan weddings:

http://www.npr.org/2011/04/08/134628479/for-afghans-wedding-costs-put-marriage-on-hold

Written by: Afghan Wife
Email: Afghan.wife@gmail.com