Thursday, 3 January 2013

Two books about young women in war-torn Afghanistan

 In the autumn, to prepare for an assignment for my Social Studies class, I read a book called Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy.  I had chosen the themes of immigration and human rights to interest middle-years readers, given the kinds of multi-cultural environments in many of today's classrooms.  (Also, the curriculum expectations of the grade seven Manitoba Social Studies curriculum is focused on citizenship and human rights.)  One of the other books I then used as an English Language Arts resource for readers at a lower level was by an author named Rukhsana Khan.  In the intervening time, I have discovered another book by Khan, called Wanting Mor.  These two books have some interesting details in common... Reedy is a member of the American military, and Khan is a Canadian Muslim woman, who was born in Pakistan, emigrating to Canada when she was three years of age.  Both books provide insight into a world far removed from current Canadian teenage experiences, and are written with respect.  I am so intrigued at the similarity in subject matter, that I wanted to present both books.

Reedy's Book:  Words in the Dust

Hidden behind her chador, 13 year old Zulaikha hopes for a future that includes the opportunity to learn to read and write, to be beautiful like her sister, and to escape from the drudgery of her daily life.  Her stepmother resents her because of physical imperfections that stem from a cleft palate. Local boys taunt her, calling her “Donkeyface”.   NATO (U.S.) troops move into her Afghan village and an encounter with an American medical officer offer the opportunity for surgery that will improve her physical health and appearance.  Zulaikha’s dream of education is thwarted by issues of war, poverty, living in a post-Taliban Afghan community, and expectations of the roles of girls in rural Afghan society.  Her father is supportive of the surgery but her stepmother thwarts many of this teenage girl’s attempts to live outside the closed world of the family.  Zulaikha encounters her birth mother’s friend Meena, who secretly helps her learn to read.  The novel is based on the author’s real-life experiences.  Reedy, a member of the Iowa National Guard was conscripted to Afghanistan to assist with reconstruction after the war.

Khan's Book:  Wanting Mor
Jameela is a teenage girl living in a village in war-torn Afghanistan.  Her opportunities are limited, especially with regard to health care and education, and Jameela faces issues because of a cleft palate that was never medically treated.  But she has the love and support of her personal faith and her mother's love.  When her mother Mor dies, her father moves to Kabul with his daughter.  Life as she knew it falls apart. He starts drinking, remarries, enlisting her as a personal "slave" to his new wife.  He then abandons her in the marketplace after she is discovered learning to read.  Although this is a catastrophic experience, she ends up in an orphanage run by the foreign army who killed people in her community (I can't remember if it was American-run or not).  This provides her with an education, food, and shelter, and an operation to repair the untreated cleft palate.  She becomes a teacher's assistant and ultimately ensures her personal future.  Although all hope appeared lost, she did not give up on her personal dreams and need for self-fulfillment. Khan's website states that this was based on a true story.  


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