Daily Archives: 04/30/2013

#13: The Favored Daughter: One Woman’s Fight to Lead Afghanistan into the Future by Fawzia Koofi

Prior knowledge and wild guesses about Afghanistan:

  • Al-Qaeda
  • Taliban
  • We’re at war with them?  We went there because something.  Bin Laden, I think?  I should know this.
  • We have troops on the ground.  It’s been like ten years.
  • We’re leaving now.  Have we already left?
  • People say it’s made up of isolated villages and cannot be considered a unified country because people who live there don’t even really know what a country is, let alone know that they live in Afghanistan
  • I read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini a long time ago.  Some women had more freedom and were forced to give it up when the Taliban came into power.
  • I read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.  I know that it’s about Iran, but I think there might be some similarities.  Maybe?
  • I could probably eventually find it on a map.
  • I really don’t know anything abut Afghanistan, but I think life there sucks, especially for women.

Favored DaughterI picked up The Favored Daughter after seeing an interview with Koofi on The Daily Show.  She was promoting her book, speaking about her plans to continue in Afghanistan’s government, and the importance of fighting for her country.  She was calm and serious and you could tell that she lives her life with clear purpose.  She doesn’t have time to waste time, especially knowing that people want to kill her.  She plans to run for president and knows her life will continue to be in danger.  John Stewart was clearly in awe of her and his sincerity and respect for her story made me want to get her book.

I wanted to know why she is willing to die for her country.

The Favored Daughter is a wonderful mix of memoir and history.  Koofi tells her life story through the politics of Afghanistan because she cannot separate the two.  When explaining why she had to drop out of medical school, she first has to explain how her country changed when other countries interfered.  She has to explain how quickly the Taliban moved in.  She needs you to understand that although it was a patriarchal society where women had little to no rights, some women did thrive in their households.  She knows she cannot explain why a husband would beat his wife so that they could both be proud, but she does want to show you the love and community of her people.  Families are huge and will always be welcomed and helped  however possible.

Her story starts out with her intended death.  Girls were useless and when her mother bore this daughter, she left her in the sun to die.  Koofi did not die and her mother vowed to love and protect her more than any of her children.  Koofi’s father had several wives and she had many brothers and sisters.  Her mother ruled that entire household and it was amazing to see how she managed the other wives in a way that created a family and kept jealousy and anger away.

Koofi was born willful and stubborn.  Refusing to die was the first of her many steps to change her life.  She persuaded her parents and brothers to allow her to attend school.  She was rarely dissuaded from goals.  She would achieve as much as her brothers, for she too was her father’s child.  In fact, she was the only girl child her father asked to see.

As Koofi got older, she saw the power and danger of politics.  Her father served as a government official and people respected him a great deal.  However, this also made him a target and he was assassinated.  During this time, Koofi’s older family members and their neighbors did their best to protect the younger children, especially the boys.

As war explodes in Afghanistan from within (and yes, I still cannot explain the specifics), Koofi and her mother go to Kabul where they are safe.  Koofi loves it there.  She is free to go to school, to wear shorter skirts and a bit of makeup (as long as her brothers don’t see) and walk the streets with her girl friends.  She is a strong student and plans on becoming a doctor.

And then the Taliban move in.

And they move in fast.

She hears tales of this extremist group but no one seems to understand the threat or see what is about to happen.  One day she was happily out with friends and then the very next day she wakes up to young members of the Taliban who refuse to let a woman leave her house without a burqa.  Men and women are randomly gathered to be beaten.  No one can figure out the rules.  A Taliban soldier might decide he’s bored and target someone for not upholding the tenets of what it means to be Muslim.   Men and women are whipped in the streets, their homes are raided, stores are destroyed and forced to close, and anyone can be sent to jail at any time, simply because the Taliban is suspicious of something.

Koofi’s heart breaks when this happens.  She is furious with this perversion of  her Muslim faith.  These men are extremists and she hates how they’ve twisted words to gain power and how they’ve poisoned the minds of Americans and others into believing that this is what it means to be Muslim.

She watches as men who are against what is happening are forced to join in so they can get a job to feed their families.  Some are willing to help quietly, knowing that they could be beaten or imprisoned themselves.  The theme of community and family come up again and again as Koofi shows the kindness of her fellow Afghani.  On the other hand, young men who had no power before the Taliban came in are now greedy with their new positions.  They happily and mercilessly beat women in the streets.  They gleefully collect contraband and destroy it in front of families.  The report everyone they see.  They’ve been given power and it corrupts them quickly and completely.

Koofi watches in horror and shame as her country destroys knowledge and culture.  The Buddhas of Bamiyan are destroyed.  Colleges are shut down.  There is no entertainment.  Wedding ceremonies and celebrations are forbidden.  It’s painful and nearly unbearable, especially since such a short time ago Koofi and other women were able to go to school, to learn, and to begin better lives than their mothers had.  They still have moments of love and safety behind closed doors, but bombs have begun to fall and no one knows where the next threat will come from.

Koofi’s brother arranges a marriage for her, and she is pleased with the man, Hamid.  He came several times to seek Koofi from her brother and was turned away again and again.  He finally persuades the family and they are married, but without the traditional ceremony and celebration, which Koofi aches for.

They have two daughters.  Hamid is delighted with the first, but angry at the second for not being a boy.  Koofi never gets over this betrayal and anger.  However, she does not have much time to dwell on her hurt.  Soon after they marry, Hamid is thrown into jail by the Taliban.  Koofi goes there every day, demanding his release.  She doesn’t not know what the charges are or what is happening to him.  He is finally released and comes home, sick and weak.  She becomes pregnant with their second daughter, but he is taken in again.  This time he gets tuberculosis and they both know he will not live long.

As her story continues, she explains the changes in her country and her different levels of freedom helped me understand what was happening.  The women have their rights taken away, given back, made strong, made weaker, and all of this spurs Koofi into action.  A new government is being formed and it is time for her to take her family’s place.

She seeks the approval from her brothers, and of course is told she is forbidden. They have chosen the family’s candidate and will not let their sister be involved. Like always, she simply refused to hear the word “no” and pushes and pushes until they back down.  Although the ballots were tampered with, she wins.

And then she soars.

Watching her come into her own power is amazing and fantastic and humbled me greatly.  She’s given up everything in order to give others more.  She knows if she continues to work and work and work and make people from her country and from other countries listen, she will make Afghanistan stronger.  She loves her country.  She loves her countrymen.  She loves who she is and what she can do.

It’s beautiful.

I  hate that I’m waiting to hear a news story that she’s been killed.

She has been attacked several times and knows that her convoys are being monitored.  She travels throughout her country to speak with different members of different villages.  She is shocked into tears many times when elders greet her as her father’s daughter and respect her because they loved him.

Each chapter of the book starts out with a letter to her two daughters, Shuhra and Shaharzad.  She talks to them briefly about her history, their country’s history, and why she must dedicate her life to the people.  She often speaks candidly about the fact that people want her dead.  She acknowledges that she feels like she is abandoning them when she travels.  She lets them know how proud of them she is and how her mother would have loved them so much.  It’s inspiring and sad and makes me realize that I really don’t have any idea what’s happening in our world.

Again, I really liked how she tells her story through Afghanistan’s story.  She simply cannot separate the two because she is the child of her country and this connection has brought her through the terrifying times and pushed her through the ranks of Parliament.  There is much corruption in Afghanistan (and really, anywhere there are politicians) and she seeks to end it.  The largest part of her platform is women’s rights.  She is a threat to many in the country and this just makes her stronger.

If you know little to nothing about Afghanistan (that would be me!) then this is a great book because it explains things without being too overwhelming.  I’m not much interested in further reading, but I bet many people have gone on to read more about the country.  If you know a lot about Afghanistan, then I think this book will still be good for you because you get to follow one person and see the changes from a first hand view.

This was a good read.  It wasn’t a quick one, but it was fascinating and inspiring and I look forward to seeing what else she will do with her life.  I hope that it will be a long life.