Sunday, 12 July 2009

Silent heroines - Post 45

My Feudal Lord by Tehmina Durrani certainly made Kacper think; more so, it challenged his views on situation of women in certain parts of the world. Obviously, before reading the book, he had had a good understanding that women are frequently underprivileged, neglected, not empowered, and subject to abuse, but this is My Feudal Lord that forced Kacper to imagine how lives of such women really looked like.

While reading the novel, Kacper got really upset quite a few times. ‘Men are bustards…’ – angrily and uncontrollably crossed his mind regularly throughout each and every chapter. Realising that the question of abuse and inequality of women is a very difficult and sensitive issue to be tackled, as it involved cultural, social and often religious considerations, he also felt that men consciously used the cultural factors to be their excuse of mistreating their wives, daughters, even mothers and other women far too often.

Kacper thought of women that he knew that suffered profoundly, just because of their gender. He didn’t need to look far. His own mother, both grandmothers, aunts, and some of his cousins did experience physical abuse from those, who they loved the most – their husbands, boyfriends, partners, but also fathers…It is true that while most of these courageous women, whom were in Kacper’s family eventually managed to stand up for their rights and take control of their rights, their fights were always dramatic, and often heartbreaking for themselves, and for other people that they cared for. ‘Now, if gender based violence is still a reality in Poland – where people are reasonably educated, and where abused women have to their disposal fairly many official, and less official tools, systems and resources to reinforce fair treatment and personal protection … how difficult it must be in places, where much less of similar systems are in place…?’ – the question kept on bothering Kacper’s consciousness.

‘Kacper, are you hungry? Shall we eat lunch together’ Ghazala encouraged him to go down to their office canteen. Ghazala was an extremely beautiful middle-aged woman, whose origins were of Lahore – the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab. The way she dressed, talked, and behaved showed that she must have come from a very affluent and wealthy family. Kacper soon learnt that Ghazala was very well travelled. She spent her childhood in various countries in Africa and Europe, where she lived with her family, whose head – Ghazala’s father worked for the diplomatic service of Pakistan. She was educated in some best schools, one could ever dream of, with her master’s degree obtained from the Harvard University in the USA.

‘I love my chicken kebabs here…the food is so well prepared and tasty’ Kacper started the conversation. ‘You should also try our chicken biryani’ Ghazala kindly suggested. ‘How is your week so far?’ she then asked. ‘I can see that you are very busy. It is difficult to speak to you, you are always running around doing something’ noticed Ghazala. ‘Things are fine, really. I am a bit tired, but things are actually going well’ assured Kacper. ‘Besides work, I have just finished reading My Feudal Lord…Do you know, which book I am referring to?’ asked Kacper, hoping that Ghazala would be happy to tell him what she thought of the novel. ‘Of course, I know it Kacper, many women in Pakistan know this book…’ she looked into Kacper’s eyes. ‘And what did you think of it?’ she asked. ‘Well, I loved it, but also found it disturbing, very disturbing’ he answered. Ghazala smiled… ‘It might be disturbing, but for us here, it is just a fair description of what ladies in this country go through every day, what our society finally needs to confront and deal with’ she noticed. ‘You will be interested to know that I know the author of the book personally’ she added with a smile. ‘Wow… how come?’ Kacper was impressed and curious. ‘I will tell you some other time…’ Ghazala’s face suddenly saddened. She remained silent for a while. Kacper didn’t want to rush the conversation, so he concentrated his attention on his plate. ‘You know by now that I come from a very privileged background in so many ways… I travelled, received impeccable education, had money: more that I could ever spend…’ she started. Ghazala smiled at Kacper and went on talking, talking about her ordeal that she and her family went through…

When Ghazala went to the United States, her father already decided that right at the end of her course, she would return to Pakistan and get married. Her husband-to-be was 45 – over twenty years older than Ghazala. He was a very wealthy landowner, who seemed to rule half of Punjab. He also possessed properties in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, and Australia. Ghazala’s father couldn’t imagine a better candidate to marry her daughter. Hence the marriage deal was struck quickly. The only problem was that Ghazala was not at all aware of what fate her father was preparing for her. Needless to say, she had never heard of, not to mention meeting her future husband before they married. When she finally graduated, and was a proud holder of her degree, the news of her marriage was revealed to her. ‘But dad, I can’t marry now…You educated me, you let me experience the world, you taught me to be independent, and now you want me to get married to some man that I have never heard of… someone who is 25 years older than I am…? Never!’ she finally exclaimed. It was the first time in her life that she was hit… ‘Kacper, I was beaten many times in my life later, my husband bet me regularly – it was all horrible, but this first slap in my face, the slap from my own father, whom I had trusted and loved so much hurt me the most. It fact, it still hurts me’ she added with a profound sadness.

Ghazala was forced to marry, but she didn’t turn out to be a wife that is easy to have powers over. ‘Right at start, I told my husband that I would never love him, and that I wanted to have as little to do with him as possible…’ she explained. Her resilience was punished. She was regularly beaten and abused. The husband’s family tried to keep her locked in their mansion, limit her movements, reduce contacts with friends, and her own family. Ghazala became a prisoner, a prisoner of her own husband. Soon, she gave birth to their first son. ‘He was my sunshine, he made my suffering bearable’ she emotionally admitted to Kacper. When she looked after her newborn, she decided that her ordeal needs to finish. Ghazala knew that she needed to do something that could make her happy. ‘I came to a point when I only saw two options: either doing something to liberate myself, or I was going to die. I was ready to commit a suicide – this is how desperate I was!’ – Kacper noticed that her eyes became wet.

‘Kacper, you can’t imagine what was happening, when I filed for a divorce. I was abused even more, my father threatened me, he would cut all ties with me and he wouldn’t allow me see my own mother’ she recalled. Ghazala was lucky though to have some good university friends, who lived in England. They offered her financial support, but also in case she needed it, shelter in their house in London’s Ealing. ‘What I was really disappointed about, was that even if Pakistan officially doesn’t accept the abuse of women, and there are laws protecting women… they really mean nothing… These laws are made by men, and executed by men’ she added bitterly. She then explained how she lost rights to custody of her son; she was accused to be a horrible and incapable mother. She was stripped from all possessions, and left literally penniless within days. ‘It took me years to stand back on my feet again…I was in London for over a year, doing nothing… just trying to heal…’ – she said.

Her friends in London became her new family. She soon was granted an asylum in the UK, and managed to start working. She became a social worker, and provided counselling services to troubled youngsters in London area. Then, she met a handsome Lebanese guy, whom she fell in love with, and to whom she soon got married. ‘I was happy for a first time after so many years’ she recalled. ‘All what I needed was my first son, and my mother… I didn’t miss my father yet, and I certainly didn’t miss my first husband’ – she added. At that point, Ghazala learnt of her father’s death. He died of a heart attack, on his visit to Pakistan. She explained to Kacper that it was a very strange experience. ‘I suffered so much because of him, but when I learnt that he was dead, I felt like a part of me died too. I somehow loved him, and felt so sorry not to be able even to attend his funeral’ – noticed Ghazala. However, the death of the father made it possible for Ghazala and her mother to reunite again. The young couple with Ghazala’s mother settled in Bristol, in western England. They were also blessed with their son, Ghazala’s second baby. Then, she learnt of a job opportunity in Pakistan. She was recruited as a gender consultant in one of the British charities working in South Asia. Ghazala and her family decided to move to Islamabad. ‘This time, I returned to Pakistan as a free and independent woman… and such I have remained until today’ she finished her story proudly.

‘And one more thing Kacper… Just think of it, if life treated me in such a cruel way… imagine how difficult it is for all those women – millions of them, in this country, who come from more traditional families, without means, without education, and awareness of their own rights…This is why our work is so important…this is why your work is important too Kacper… We need to do all in our power to help these silent heroines…at least a bit… knowing that every little helps!’

It was time to finish their lunch break. Kacper went upstairs to his office. His mind was working hard thinking of Ghazala’s pleas of working hard for women in Pakistan. ‘What could I do? How can I contribute at least a little, to make lives of women at least a bit easier?’ Kacper didn’t know the answers, but was sure he would not let it go… he would try best he could!

PS. Kacper is watching Obama’s visit to Ghana.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Paternal love - Post 44

‘Daddy, my back is so sore… please hold my hand, and do not go anywhere!’ – demanded little Mo. ‘I am staying here, right here with you son’ answered Faisal fondly and smiled. They conversed in their native Farsi, and although Mo’s nurse couldn’t understand a word of the son – father interaction, she was touched seeing the paternal love that Faisal showed to his son. She approached Mo’s bed, adjusted tubes of his drip and handed him a teddy bear. ‘This is a little friend for you, and he will guard at night, when you sleep’ she said in English. Faisal thanked the nurse and explained to his son what the nurse had just tried to tell him. Mo’s eyes lightened up. He took his soft toy into his arms, looked at the woman and timidly murmured: ‘tashakor’ (thank you). ‘You are very welcome dear’ answered the nurse without waiting for his father’s interpretation. She left the room, and Faisal was again alone with his son. Mo was becoming tired, but the medicines made him feel less pain. He was falling asleep.

Faisal was exhausted but moved, and very happy. A while earlier, he spoke to the doctors, and they told him that the operation of his son had been very successful. It was likely that Mo would suffer from some nuisances throughout his life – he might not be able to regain control of his physiological needs, and he will always need to use nappies, but he will live, and he will be able to walk! Faisal looked out of the window, looked at busy streets of New York, and for a first time, he properly realised that he actually was thousands of kilometres away from home, away from his wife, and other children. They arrived from Afghanistan to the United States just mere two weeks earlier. They came here on invitation of one of the USA’s medical organisations, which helps running a paediatric ward at the Indira Ghandi Hospital of Kabul. It was where a group of American doctors met Mo and Faisal, and this is where, after initial examinations; they offered Mo’s family that he could be taken to New York for a highly specialised spine surgery.

‘You can’t even imagine, what I was going through with Mo, before we finally went to the USA’ – Faisal continued telling his story at Kacper’s hotel room in Islamabad. ‘It was all so strange… before Mo was born; I nearly hadn’t noticed that I was a father to four kids. They were all healthy, and my wife looked after them most of the time, while I was busy supporting the family financially…’ Faisal stopped and sipped his tea. He then explained that one day Mo started crying and he would simply not stop. At first, the parents thought that perhaps, their baby’s teeth started growing, but then realised that their son was simply unwell. They visited many doctors all over Kabul, however no one could really find out what the reason of constant crying was. Mo in the meanwhile was getting worse. Soon, the horrified parents realised that their little one was getting paralysed.

Faisal and his son eventually ended up in one the capital’s hospitals, whose doctors mainly came from France. After initial investigations, they advised that Faisal should arrange for his son to undergo more advanced check-ups in Pakistan’s capital – Islamabad. Luckily, compared with many other Afghans, Faisal was relatively well off, and he actually had means to travel to the neighbouring country, and pay for necessary medical procedures. Faisal and Mo soon set off to Islamabad, where they stayed with Faisal’s Pakistani friend’s family, who looked after them, and helped them enormously by driving them around the city. The investigations were completed in just a few days, and Faisal and Mo were on their way back to Kabul soon after.

Faisal handed a big brown envelope with results of his son’s investigations to the doctor. After a while of studying, the doctor bluntly announced to Faisal that Mo’s spine was attacked by a tumour that grew on it. The tumour pressed some of his son nerves, which in turn started causing Mo’s lower parts of his body being paralysed. ‘At that point, I passed out’ recalled Faisal. ‘Kacper, this was like the end of the world to me… my hope vanished… How on earth was I to help my son? How could I help him in Afghanistan?’ – Faisal was still disturbed, when he talked of his experience.

The doctors advised that Faisal returned to Pakistan immediately, and that Mo’s tumour is removed at Islamabad’s hospital. ‘Unfortunately, we do not have facilities in Kabul to perform such a sophisticated surgery here… I am really sorry for this news’ added the doctor.

Two weeks later, Mo was operated in Pakistan, and the doctors declared the full success. The boy was barely stitched, but the doctors decided to sign him off from hospital. ‘You can now go back to Afghanistan – the sooner the better!’ – instructed the Pakistani doctor.

The journey home turned out to be long, difficult and tiresome. They travelled in a rented car. Mo was having a very high fever, and Faisal was very worried, as his wound was bleeding a lot – more than Faisal expected to be reasonable. When they reached Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Faisal discovered that American troops involved themselves in some heavy fighting with the Talebans, and the road home was impassable. Somehow desperate, and extremely worried about Mo’s high fever, Faisal and the driver decided to reach Kabul using an alternative route, leading through small villages, and extremely uncomfortable and dangerous hills. They reached Kabul hours later. Little Mo was already unconscious. ‘I was convinced, I was loosing him!’ – Faisal was extremely distressed. ‘We went straight to the Indira Ghandi hospital… I handed Mo to the doctor, and he was already motionless…I couldn’t stop crying’ – he went on.

The doctors discovered that the wound had reopened completely, and that Mo needed another operation really quickly to close it. They decided to perform it there, though they had little tools to do it properly. ‘Somehow, they managed to save my Mo…I was so relieved’ – carried on Faisal. ‘A few days later, the American doctors happened to arrive to the ward, where Mo was’, he smiled. ‘Everything went so quickly afterwards’ – he referred. ‘Ten days later, Mo and I were on our way to New York…’

Kacper looked at Faisal, rather proud of his friend. ‘You are an amazing father, and I am so happy you never gave up on Mo’ he remarked. ‘Mo will never forget you that…just like I will never forget my parents fighting for me, when I was a kid’ he added. Faisal got up from his chair. ‘I need to go back to my friend’s place to check on Mo… He is still so tired after the flight from New York’ he said. ‘I am quite tired too, and need to rest before we start travelling to Kabul again’ – he offered a good-bye hug to Kacper.

PS. Kacper is receiving news of multiple bomb attacks in various places in Pakistan