This is the first country in Wiki’s list, and ergo the first documentary I watched. I actually ended up watching two documentaries, because the first barely mentioned the women, and I wanted a well-rounded view.
I started with “Afghan Stories.” In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Taran Davies, a filmmaker, and Walied Osman, an Afghan-American, set off to Afghanistan to meet the people who had lived in a constant state of warfare for over 20 years. They started, oddly enough, in Queens, meeting with a member of the royal family who was tortured by the Taliban and escaped to the US during the 90s. They then went to Tajikistan, where they found Afghan refugees– a doctor, a journalist, and their four children–living in a one-room apartment. Their applications for visas to join relatives in Canada had just been rejected, and they were unable to find work due to their Afghan roots. The duo then entered Afghanistan and met a relief worker trying to rebuild his country one road and one village at a time, and an Islamic elder who dedicated his life to peace while his warrior son had fought alongside the Soviets. The son had sent his wife and children to Moscow for their safety and was set to join them in a few days, but 9/11 changed everything, and now he believes he will never see them again.
The second documentary was called “Daughters of Afghanistan,” and it highlighted the oppression women are still facing today, even after the fall of the Taliban. No woman ventures into public without a burqa, for fear of being attacked, raped, and even murdered for the “crime.” The documentary introduced us to several women: Dr. Sima Simar, who ignored death threats and defied edicts of the Taliban by providing healthcare and education to women, and became briefly, Deputy Prime Minister in the transitional government; Soghra, who lost everything to the Taliban and is now struggling to feed and clothe her five children; Hamida, a school principal determined to provide education to her female students; Camellah, an Afghan housewife living in a country whose laws make her a virtual sex slave to her husband. At the time of the filming, she had just given birth to her ninth child. She doesn’t want anymore, but her husband does, and he is the one who gets to decide; and Lima, a young orphan girl whose childhood has been lost to war. At 13, she is the sole provider for her four siblings, aged 4 to 11.
The documentaries show the different sides of Afghan life, but one huge underlying theme is survival. These are not people concerned with the future. These are people who struggle daily just to survive. Many of them know nothing but war, and barely dare to dream of the peaceful nation they had before the Soviet invasion, for they fear they will never have such peace again. Many are too young or uneducated to know anything about the world beyond their villages, and those who do have such knowledge seem to have given up on rebuilding. They want nothing more than to leave, and that, more than anything, more even than the Taliban, is what has the capacity to destroy their nation completely.
Note about the picture: That is the most haunting image I have ever seen. Ever. This picture of the 12-year-old orphan Sharbat Gula, taken in a refugee camp in Pakistan, appeared on the June 1985 cover of National Geographic and instantly became an icon. You can see the intensity in her eyes. The suffering she’s already endured, and the knowledge that much more is to come. And she’s no quitter. She’s ready to fight for every breath.