In fact, I have reason to be paranoid.
I discover that mother-in-law has instructed the servants to stop boiling my drinking water. Because the sewage system consists of open irrigation ditches that are used as public bathrooms and for drinking water, I contract dysentery.
Perhaps she thinks I am already “Afghan enough” to withstand any and all germs. Perhaps she wants me dead.
She then begins her conversion campaign. She gives me prayer rugs and prayer beads and urges me to convert to Islam.
If I don’t, I think, will she continue her campaign to sicken and kill me?
The next day she barges into my room with a servant and confiscates my precious hoard of canned goods.
“Our food isn’t good enough for her — she eats from cans,” she says.
I am her captive, her prisoner; she, my jailer, might treat me more decently if I find ways to please her. This is difficult for me to write about but I did it. I repeat the words: “There is one God, Allah, and Mohammed was his prophet.”
I am now a Muslim — at least in my mother-in-law’s eyes — but that still isn’t enough for her. When she is angry at me, she spits at me. She calls me “Yahud” or “Jew.” When I complain to my husband, he dismisses me as being dramatic.
I must escape.
Looking both ways, I walk out feeling like a criminal. I board a bus and notice that all the other women are at the back of the bus wearing burqas. I am horrified, slightly hysterical.
Meanwhile, all eyes are on me. I am without even a head scarf or a coat. In this country, a naked face is almost the same as fully bared breasts. I am lost and dizzy with fear. My husband is informed of my escape, and he finds me and brings me home.
But the desire to flee still nags at me.
“I have been here for three months and have been allowed out only five or six times,” I write in my diary. “Is this imprisonment meant to tame me, break me, teach me to accept my fate as an Afghan woman? I want to go home.”
Abdul-Kareem is fed up with my unhappiness. “He has begun to hit me,” I write. “Had I known something like this could ever happen, had I known that we would have to live with his mother and brothers, I would never have come here.”
I attempt a second escape to the American embassy. But once I arrive, I’m escorted away. Without a US passport, I no longer have any rights as an American.
I try twice more to escape — one with a return to the American embassy and another with the help of a friendly German expat. But before I can set any plans in action, I fall deathly ill.
My temperature climbs to 105 degrees, but I receive no sympathy from my family. After days of struggling — and falling into a coma—a local doctor is called. He diagnoses me with hepatitis, explaining there’s nothing more he can do.
This is my lowest point. I fear that if I die here I will be buried in a Muslim cemetery, forever forgotten.
I continue to fight for my survival and beg to see an American doctor. My family agrees, but only if I am closely guarded.
The doctor, however, manages to get me alone for a brief moment and tells me that I must return to the States for treatment. Then he orders a nurse to give me fluids. The next thing I remember is someone tugging at my IV line.
It’s my mother-in-law.
I call out and am rescued by a sister-in-law, who sits with me through the night. I tell my husband about his mother’s attempt on my life. He dismisses it.
But he now realizes that if I survive this disease, I will leave him. So he contrives a way to make me stay.
That night, a he climbs into my bed when I am feverish and sick and forces himself on me. I’m too weak to fight back. He is trying to impregnate me because if I am carrying his child, I will not be allowed to leave.
Slowly, I recover. But I have missed two periods.
I have to get out and it has to be now. I have only one card left to play: the royal card. I must appeal to my father-in-law, who alone has the power to return to me to my home. I send word through a servant that I would like to see him.
He arrives and almost immediately says: “I think it will be best if you leave with our approval on an Afghan passport, which I have obtained for you. You have been granted a six-month visa for reasons of health.”
He must have decided that he did not want a sick — or dead — American daughter-in-law who was trying to flee on his hands. Perhaps he never wanted a Jewish American daughter-in-law at all.
He already has the passport in hand: #17384. I have it still.
I feel saved; I feel graced. My husband grows incensed and begins to hit me and call me names. But I stand my ground. Even when I board the first plane out, he still believes that as a dutiful wife I will one day return to him.
When the plane takes off, I am filled with more fierce joy than my body can contain. And when I finally land on American soil, I literally kiss the ground.
- My life of hell in an Afghan harem (news.com.au)
- A Nice Essay by Phyllis Chesler (iwantanewleft.typepad.com)
- Life Among the Barbarians (powerlineblog.com)
- Not All Cultures Are Created Equal (rightwinggranny.com)