Friday, January 1, 2010
Last night I was chatting to a couple of our Afghan staff, we were looking at pictures of the ashura celebrations, an event where large numbers of Afghan men gather in the streets to self flagellate in memory of the death of Hussain Ali (son of the prophet Mohammed). Hussain Ali was making a pilgrimage to Mecca with his family when they were killed by decapitation. Now the anniversary of these deaths is commemorated each year. Thousands of men take to the streets with whips which they use to beat themselves across the back. Lashing into the flesh, some reach a transcendental high, others sustain deep cuts, lose a lot of blood and collapse. It's difficult to imagine but some of our staff and our Afghan doctor, all friends from a village in Loghar province, travelled to the ashura to provide medical assistance. With graphic pictures they described to me how many of the men were brought to them in a makeshift emergency room on the floor of a mosque where our doctor and some helpers swabbed and stitched up the heavily lacerated backs, bright red blood soaking shredded shirts and smattering marble floors. Once repaired some of those receiving treatment then went back to the procession to continue with their flagellation.
Talking about customs in different countries, Ms wanted to show me a picture of his fiance. A very pretty girl, I asked "How old is she?", "16", he said, "She's still in school studying". How old are you I asked, "I'm 26" he told me. "Do you think that you're a bit too old for her?" I asked him. In Afghanistan that is normal, and anyway we are just engaged, I cannot marry her until I can pay her family for her, maybe $6000USD, it will take me a long time to save up the money". I think to myself how curious that the Afghan bride price is quoted in US dollars.... "So you're going to buy her?" I ask. "Yes, but it's ok because she loves me" he tells me."I don't like others where the family tell the girl she must marry him, where they sell her like an animal" he added. Ms asks me, "In the UK, do they pay the family for the woman?" No, I say, "Not really... In my head I'm thinking about the various ways in which people and families manipulate each other in marriage. It's not quite the simple transaction of a girl transferred from her family to her husband's family as a chattel, however pre-nups, vast sums on engagement rings and the sheer cost of some weddings means that we're not such a long way away from a cold hearted business transaction.