I am Asma, twenty-three years old, from Balkh province of Afghanistan, married to my fifty year-old husband. We have never been satisfied in this marriage, but still I was condemned to perform all the missions of a wife.
We spent our life together with fights, suffering, differences, and conflicts, until it made my husband divorce me after five years of living under the same roof. Now ten years have passed since the fateful day of our wedding. We have two children, one born before the divorce and the other after the divorce. I thank God for these beautiful gifts, my two children who make me breathe and endure a harsh and humble life. I don’t really remember my last laugh from the bottom of my heart, and I feel indifferent and numb in the face of pains and sufferings.
This story started on the day when my teenage sister Ayesha, who was engaged to our forty year-old cousin, ran away with another boy a few days before the planned wedding. Although everything seemed fine until then, in one day and one moment everything changed.
I was a rebellious thirteen year-old girl whose whole world was her lessons, homework, and her family. We lived in a house far outide the city, with only two rooms for four people. We had a big yard with five hens. Feeding the chickens was my duty every morning, and I loved it. Daulat Abad, where we lived in the Balkh district, was dry and hot. We had to pass a long distance to go to the city centre, and rarely did so. My whole childhood was sacrificed in that house. I had big dreams in my head. I was a first class student, I wanted to become a doctor, and for myself, my family, and my community, to be someone, like other high-flying women. I wanted to take care of my own expenses and make my own life. But maybe my imagination was crude or it was fate that my life turned out to be the opposite of my dreams.
On the day when my sister ran away, I came back from school and opened our gate with the same mood as every day, but the atmosphere of the house was not as on previous days. Heavy silence reigned. I found my parents sitting, angry and sad.
Our aunt and uncle, whose son my sister Ayesha was supposed to marry, were angry and raging, saying that the family of the boy who took Ayesha as his bride must either pay them 600,000 Afghani to cover all the money spent in preparation for the cancelled wedding or else provide them with another bride—a replacement for Ayesha. Or maybe my family would have to pay them, having failed to give them Ayesha. Something had been stolen from our aunt and uncle, and they wanted compensation. They said this, and didn’t give much time for my family to make a decision.
I was worried and didn’t know what would happen next, or what my parents would decide. I missed my sister, and every moment I wanted to see her and understand how she was and how she felt. But my wish to be an independent, high-flying woman was so strong and irresistible that I was sometimes indifferent to her suffering.
After a few days, the house felt almost back to normal. I was happy and satisfied with the current situation, until one day my mother said: “Asma Jan, instead of your sister, you have to marry your old cousin. Because your sister is not here and she ran away, we have no other choice.” I was shocked by my mother’s words and her decision. I begged and screamed, I even apologised. I spent days and nights crying, but no one supported me or accepted my words.
Although my father’s economic situation was good at that time and he was able to pay back my sister’s engagement expanses, my parents preferred to keep the money and give me away. Don’t be surprised, this is Afghanistan, a country where thousands of children and girls, like I was then, are sold for money.
Time was moving fast. One month later, when I was still thirteen, I married a forty year-old man, my cousin. My husband was tall and big, but I was short and thin. Every time I saw him, I was filled with fear. On the wedding day, people who didn’t know about our story were surprised. Everyone said something: that bride was looking tall and fat before, but now she looks small and thin…. Their words hit my heart like a razor blade and wounded me from inside.
The wedding ended. I went to my husband’s house, but our quarrels had just begun. I was tortured every night because I did not want to have sex with him. No one supported me, neither my parents nor my husband’s family. Six months had passed since our wedding night, when finally one night my husband tied my hands and feet and had sex with me by force. I can never forget that horrible night. After it, I hated myself. I tried to kill myself. I took several types of pills, but even death eluded me. I suffered alone, burned inside, and turned to ashes without having committed any sin. So hard was my suffering that maybe no one can understand the depth of it, and even I don’t have words to express it.
Our differences became more severe every day and I felt afraid of his presence. In my opinion, my husband was a terrible monster who only tortured me and gave me insulting words. Life went on with its bitterness and misery, and then we had a son.
The feeling of being a mother gave me a little encouragement, but our fights and quarrels were endless. We spent five years like this until one day my husband divorced me. I was satisfied with the idea of getting rid of him, and I said so to my parents and apologised to them for having to shelter me in their house. I said, “I just want you to house me, but I will work for my money and take care of myself and my children.” But my parents, as always, ignored my words.They threw me out of the house with curses and bad prayers. This time I found myself poorer and more helpless than ever. I felt suffocated. I wished I would die so that all my pains and sufferings would be put to an end.
I now have two children. My life is still going on in the same difficult way. I was wed to someone with whom I had no emotional connection. My husband and I are not mahram, meaning that Sharia and Muslim tradition condemn our union, and if we had continued to be married we would be shunned and excluded. The share of life allotted for me and my children is spent in narrow, dark rooms, often in homelessness, seeking a bite of bread to keep us alive. My sister has an ideal and good life; since she can help my parents financially, she has good relations with them. But I will burn to ashes for a crime I did not commit.
This is called victimisation and that’s it. Don’t get used to these stories, it is the life routine of many women in my country!
20 January, 2023