Hi there, Giovanna here again (not my real name, for security reasons…)
Here is part 4 of my blog ‘A personal reflection on ‘serving in Afghanistan” – if you missed the earlier parts, here they are:
I remember one Eid quite some years ago (QUITE some years ago i.e. about 1997) when a poor Pushtun lady we knew (let’s call her Laila) told us that they had been visiting the grave of a certain Pir (someone they perceived as a “saint” or holy person) at Eid to pray. The Taliban, who took over Afghanistan during 1996-97, were very conservative in their thinking and saw such things as unorthodox. So when they saw the poor ladies gathering round the graves they threatened them and tried to make them leave. The ladies were furious and shouted back. Finally when the Taliban wouldn’t give up bothering them, the ladies picked up stones and threw them at the Taliban…who left! I guess at that point they decided it wasn’t worth the trouble of getting hurt since the ladies were of no status anyway.
So why were the ladies visiting these graves? Superstition? Certainly some. But they were poor, vulnerable, weak, at the bottom of society. Women in Afghanistan are not usually allowed to go to the Mosque. These ladies were poor and needy so where could they go for help? Many did not believe that as women and especially as poor women they had any hope of heaven. How could they accumulate credit with God when their starting base was so low? Some poorly educated Mullahs even taught such things.
Their need for help and crying out to the Pirs (often wailing as at a wake) was all they had and their need was stronger than any fear they usually had of the Taliban. My poor friend laughed because they had “scared off the Taliban.” Usually they were very careful. How good that we can come to Jesus as we are, but it is so hard for Muslims to understand. Other friends of ours were heard saying how difficult their religion was and how easy ours was, but at that time they were seeing Christianity as a “lite” religion, not so worthy of respect. Later we found out they were studying the Bible secretly to find out who Jesus is.
Laila worked for us and besides her salary on religious festivals (the 2 Eids, one after Ramadan and one later in the year which commemorates the story of Abraham going to sacrifice his son) we gave her gifts of cloth so she could have new clothes. She said she was very satisfied with that as it was all she needed. (A sobering lesson for us in contentment and economy!). One Eid we gave her a pretty pink shawl which we considered very nice and soft. She ridiculed us…what was she, an old lady… going to do with a GIRL’S shawl? Pink was for girls! No thanks for us, but she said begrudgingly that it was ok she would give it to her grand daughter! Next time get her something more suitable! Ha! We had to learn that certain colours and certain patterns were not suitable for older ladies in her opinion.
Another occasion she was telling us in conversation that her elderly husband was sick so she was sleeping on the floor by his bed but she was so cold. I assumed because of the floor but then she said they only had one quilt and the husband needed it. She said “it is so hard to sleep when you are cold every night!”
Chagrined, because every night I was sleeping in my warm house in my warm bed, I went upstairs and got one of my two spare quilts which we kept for guests (guests we rarely had) and gave her it. She was pathetically grateful.
Next week I will tell you more about Laila and about another poor lady we knew, let’s call her Aisha.
p.s. Would you like to find out more about Christian mission in Afghanistan?