By Khadija Abbasi
Summer 2015, Sayed Abad, Mazar-e Sharif
I was in a photo studio to take a picture for my Uzbek visa application. There was a power cut. I was asked to come back in 30 minutes. When I went out of the shop, I looked around to find a way to entertain myself. I saw the door of Kobra’s parents’ house on the other side of the street. I thought I had no excuse not to let Kobra or her mother know that I was back from Europe.
Kobra’s mother opened the door and recognised me immediately. She invited me in, saying that Kobra’s son was there and if I waited, I would be able to see Kobra picking up her son on her way home. That looked like a pleasant coincidence. Finally, I saw Kobra after 9 years. When I saw her last time, she was deeply in love and now she was married with two sons. We did not know where to start. We talked about life in Mazar-e Sharif, security, discrimination, married life, corruption, life in Europe, and ways to migrate. There was cardamom green tea, a glass plate generously filled with dried fruits and refreshing slices of water melon on the floor to encourage the heart-warming discussions. She showed me a photo of her husband and I showed her my fiancé’s. I asked her how came her younger son was very white with blond hair. I joked that she might have had an affair with a German soldier, knowing there was German military base in Mazar-e Sharif. She burst into laughter saying that poor soldiers do not dare to stare at Afghan women, let alone have an affair with them. Kobra managed to make me feel guilty for being able to apply for Uzbek visa while Afghans have to pay thousands of dollars on the black market.
A few weeks later, I gave her a phone call to invite her to my wedding party. I told her that the party was not going to be like a typical Afghan party. It would be a family gathering and that’s why I did not give her enough notice. She said she will try to come.
One afternoon, while I was working at home, the bell rang. It was the neighbour who just wanted to come in and have a chat with my mother. I joined them out of courtesy. She had the latest news of the neighbourhood to share with us. I liked her. She was a happy cheerful woman who looked carefree. She was in her home dress with a small scarf on her head as if she just jumped from her room to my mother’s room without feeling the need to wear her Burqa. She started with an old and funny memory on how she caught her husband having an affair with a married woman. And she ended talking about how Kobra and her husband recently took their children to go to Europe and lost their little blond son trying to cross the sea from Turkey. They were reported back to Mazar-e Sharif and she had imprisoned herself at home and saw nobody.
For a long time, I struggled to bring myself to call Kobra. Will she respond to my phone calls? She is just a few streets away from me and I dare not to go towards that part of the neighbourhood. Why I did not contact her after the wedding? What did we discuss when I saw her last time? Did she mention anything about leaving Mazar? She complained about everything but what were the pressing complaints?
My struggle on how to approach Kobra ended one afternoon when my sister-in-law brought the news that Kobra’s husband forced her to try again to go to Europe saying that the journey cost him a son and hemust complete it now.
About Khadija Abbasi
Khadija is a PhD candidate in Anthropology and Sociology of Development at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. Her research is an auto-ethnographic account of her refugeehood as well as of her community (Hazaras of Afghanistan) in Iran, Afghanistan and the UK. Simultaneously, she works in a joint research project studying Uzbeks in central Asia. She is now in Mazar-e Sharif, Northern Afghanistan, conducting field research on Uzbeks and their interethnic relationships.