Women, Childbirth, Boy-Magic and Bacha Posh

Amazon.com

This book is amazing. It’s one of those books that did not turn out the way I expected – and it was a very happy surprise.

While the individuals interviewed and profiled are all located in Afghanistan, the author traveled all over the world and found ‘Bacha Posh‘, or girls living as boys, in many regions where women are oppressed and living lives defined by the requirement to give birth to boys.

The author makes the following comment:

“The way I have come to see it now is that bacha posh is a missing piece in the history of women…We have an idea of how patriarchy was formed. But back then, a resistance was also born. Bacha posh is both historical and present-day rejection of patriarchy by those who refuse to accept the ruling order for themselves and their daughters.”

After reading the book, I fully agree with her. I also agree with many comments made by individuals interviewed who expressed frustration over government and NGOs who fly into Afghanistan and proceed to lecture local women about the nature of gender and the changes they should be making without ever taking the time to learn about the people, culture, history and (most importantly) needs and objectives of those trying to carve out lives in a war-torn region of the world.

From the description and the cover, I thought I was going to be reading about an underground society in the western-sense. Teenagers and young adults meeting in clandestine places and taking risks to express themselves or attempting to achieve goals not commonly allowed by society or family. While there were elements of these things, they were a very small part of the book as a whole.

This journalistic investigation is an examination of both an aspect of Afghan culture AND western perspectives on gender, human rights and women’s equality. It is as much an examination of our own misconceptions as it is an exploration of a tradition and a concept that is inherently foreign to people living in present-day western society.

It’s an excellent read. I highly recommend it.

To provide a sense of the cultural background that defines the lives of the bacha posh, here are a few quotes about women, childbirth, boys and magic:

“Having at least one son is mandatory for good standing and reputation here. A family is not only incomplete without one; in a country lacking rule of law, it is also seen as weak and vulnerable. So it is incumbent upon every married woman to quickly bear a son–it is her absolute purpose in life, and if she does not fulfill it, there is clearly something wrong with her in the eyes of others. She could be dismissed as a dokhtar zai, or “she who only brings daughters.”

“The literacy rate is no more than 10 percent in most areas, and many unfounded truths swirl around without being challenged. Among them is the commonly held belief that a woman can choose the sex of her unborn baby simply by making up her mind about it. As a consequence, a woman’s inability to bear sons does not elicit much sympathy.”

“Esmaeel came to the family through divine intervention, she explains. When her sixth daughter was born, this desperate mother decided that the child should be presented to the world as a son…Her mother had been told by friends and neighbors that if she were to turn her girl into a boy, it would bring her good luck. Good luck, in this case, was a real son…Telling her story of giving birth to a son after dressing a daughter as a boy for two years, the mother looks immensely pleased. Her sixth daughter, who had been a bacha posh, died shortly after her third birthday, but she had fulfilled a greater purpose.”

The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg

Lying is a Virtue

Amazon.com

I suspect that it goes without saying, but I shall say it anyway: Mark Twain is one of those rare authors who can actually get away with saying something like this. And, in true Twain fashion, if you read the entire work, you will find the quote means much more when read in context.

I wish I could write half as well.

Quote:

No fact is more firmly established than that lying is a necessity of our circumstances–the deduction that it is then a Virtue goes without saying.

On the Decay of the Art of Lying by Mark Twain

Camel Racing and Child Slavery

Amazon.com

This is an excellent book about an extremely difficult topic. The main character is a young orphan boy who is sold into slavery by his uncle because the family is poor and cannot afford to care for the child. A rich Sheikh purchases the boy and forces him to work as a camel racer.

While the book does not describe the grisly deaths that camel racers often face, or the beatings and abuses that come with being enslaved, it is clear the child is not surrounded by nice, much less loving, people.

It also has a fairy tale ending, which makes the harsh realities easier to handle.

QUOTE:

“That evening, as Azad and Asfur sat with the Bedouin around the fire, one of them played on his rababa. He sang about a brave little boy and his camel…who had found a home at last.”

Azad’s Camel by Erika Pal

Deserving of Poverty

Amazon.com

I am convinced it is impossible to select single quotes from this book. I have highlighted almost everything. Honestly, I am caught between posting the entire book and posting nothing but a link to the text and a suggestion that others read for themselves. (sigh)

That said, the following quotes highlight the intersection of race and poverty during the 60s and 70s. THese are media-manipulations and political maneuverings that continue to haunt members of the lower middle and lower classes, to this day.

QUOTES:

Thus in the late 1960s and early 1970s, two schools of thought were offered to the general public regarding race, poverty, and the social order. Conservatives argued that poverty was caused not by structural factors related to race and class but rather by culture—particularly black culture.

The “social pathologies” of the poor, particularly street crime, illegal drug use, and delinquency, were redefined by conservatives as having their cause in overly generous relief arrangements. Black “welfare cheats” and their dangerous offspring emerged, for the first time, in the political discourse and media imagery.

The late 1960s and early 1970s marked the dramatic erosion in the belief among working-class whites that the condition of the poor, or those who fail to prosper, was the result of a faulty economic system that needed to be challenged.

They repeatedly raised the issue of welfare, subtly framing it as a contest between hardworking, blue-collar whites and poor blacks who refused to work. The not-so-subtle message to working-class whites was that their tax dollars were going to support special programs for blacks who most certainly did not deserve them.

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Race, Class and Educational Amnesia

Amazon.com

The following quotes are much longer than those I generally post. However, they illustrate one of the most powerful responses I had to this book, specifically: this was not covered in history class.

I would really like to participate in a reading group, class or other discussions about this book and all of the issues it raises because of the direct (and devastating) effect class wars have had on people in the U.S., particularly (though not exclusively) people of color. This is infuriating on multiple fronts, not the least of which being the complete absence of this information from my many years of education.

Obviously, the above statements open up a huge landscape of potential commentary, but I will leave it at that (for now).

QUOTES:

Here, in America, the idea of race emerged as a means of reconciling chattel slavery—as well as the extermination of American Indians—with the ideals of freedom preached by whites in the new colonies.

Instead of importing English-speaking slaves from the West Indies, who were more likely to be familiar with European language and culture, many more slaves were shipped directly from Africa. These slaves would be far easier to control and far less likely to form alliances with poor whites. Fearful that such measures might not be sufficient to protect their interests, the planter class took an additional precautionary step, a step that would later come to be known as a “racial bribe.” Deliberately and strategically, the planter class extended special privileges to poor whites in an effort to drive a wedge between them and black slaves. White settlers were allowed greater access to Native American lands, white servants were allowed to police slaves through slave patrols and militias, and barriers were created so that free labor would not be placed in competition with slave labor. These measures effectively eliminated the risk of future alliances between black slaves and poor whites. Poor whites suddenly had a direct, personal stake in the existence of a race-based system of slavery. Their own plight had not improved by much, but at least they were not slaves. Once the planter elite split the labor force, poor whites responded to the logic of their situation and sought ways to expand their racially privileged position. By the mid-1770s, the system of bond labor had been thoroughly transformed into a racial caste system predicated on slavery. The degraded status of Africans was justified on the ground that Negros, like the Indians, were an uncivilized lesser race, perhaps even more lacking in intelligence and laudable human qualities than the red-skinned natives. The notion of white supremacy rationalized the enslavement of Africans, even as whites endeavored to form a new nation based on the ideals of equality, liberty, and justice for all. Before democracy, chattel slavery in America was born.

The system of mass incarceration is based on the prison label, not prison time.

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Halloween Capital

Amazon.com

Anoka Minnesota puts on a huge Halloween celebration every year. While I have not had the opportunity to participate, I have heard about it and driven through the town during Halloween week. It’s a big deal. Really. Big. Deal.

Halloween and Community

While browsing my public library for books on the upcoming Halloween holiday, I ran across this local history text and found a few fun quotes about Anoka and Halloween. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the history of this celebration is the amount of community building that it provides – even during difficult times like the great depression.

Quotes:

For most children in the early decades of the twentieth century, Halloween was a night for trouble making. The children of Anoka and their friends from the surrounding communities took this idea to a whole new level.”

On the morning after Halloween, 1919, early risers in Anoka, MN were greeted by an astonishing sight. Cows, it seemed, had taken over the town! Bovines were browsing everywhere...in September of 1920 the citizens of Anoka turned to influential men in the community to see how to best avoid a repeat of the previous year’s trouble.

The following decade of the economic depression that devastated the nation affected Anoka, but the hard times did not dampen their spirits when it came to Halloween. The 1930s brought a series of new events to the Halloween celebration, including an activity that acted as a form of group therapy, the burning of Old Man Depression.

GLBT Controversy

In the interest of fairness, I must mention the tragic events leading up to the Anoka Halloween parade controversy. In 2012, bullying of GLBT students in the Anoka schools lead to several suicides and a lawsuit, which made big headlines. It also spurred the creation of an Anti-Bullying task force and the non-profit Justin’s Gift. Unfortunately, Justin’s Gift was denied entry into the parade of 2012. According to the group’s website Justin’s Gift is hosting a Halloween party (no mention of the parade) in 2014.

Quotes:

Justin’s Gift still had a presence at the 2012 Grand Day Parade. The organization had a booth set up in the parking lot of a church on the parade route where they sold t-shirts, buttons, bracelets and other items. Floats from other cities also showed their solidarity with the group by mounting signs next to their waving princesses that read, “We Support Justin’s Gift.”

“Justin’s Gift was able to proudly walk among its community members in the 2013 Anoka Halloween Parade. The group was met with cheers and support from onlookers.”

History and Hauntings of the Halloween Capital by Roxy Orcutt