Marital Status: Married
Occupation: House wife
No. of children: 6
Gulsanga Sodozai is a female villager in Andkhoy, Afghanistan. Andkhoy is a town/village in the northern Afghanistan in Faryab Province. The population of the area according to the census in 2004 is 37,100. The town is located at the northern part of the province having the national border with Turkmenistan (“Andkhoy”).
Source adopted:”Map of Afghanistan”.
Figure 3 Map of Andkhoy
Source adopted: “Andkhoy”
The town was first founded by Alexander The Great. It was remained the part of Bokhara but later on became part of Afghanistan. The soil of Andkhoy is fertile but unhealthy. The Persians used to call it “a hell on earth” due to its scorching sands, brackish water, flies and scorpions. The town was allocated to Afghanistan by the Russo-Afghan boundary commission of 1885. In 1959, the renovation of Andkhoy was started but the plan was forced to fail since poor people were reluctant to sell their lands for the development plan. The infrastructure of the town remained poor and in 1973 only 13% of the houses had access to electricity, and the situation remains same even today. The town still has a lack of pure drinking water and proper sanitation system that are almost absent. People of Andkhoy make water pools preserve rain water. The town has poor economic condition despite the fact that it is located between the biggest routes of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan (“Andkhoy”).
Afghan women do not speak to unknown men as per their customs. (Alvi, 2011). They are very sensitive about their norms, culture and trends. Family is considered as the most important element in the lives of Afghan women. An Afghan family is comprised of a female; her husband, daughters, sons, mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, grandmother, grandfather and all of them live under a single roof. A strong family bonding is seen in Afghan culture.
Gulsanga has a similar big family and 6 children. Her mother-in-law being the senior female member of home controls all family and household matters and rest of the lady members of the family has to obey her orders. Gulsanga does all home chores including cleaning, washing, sewing, cooking, knitting, raising children and so forth. The home is made up of mud and wood, but her extended family lives happily in it.
In Afghan culture, men control the financial affairs and are responsible for the financial matters of the home as women are not allowed to work outside and earn (Beath et al., 2013). Mark Eggerman, and Catherine Panter-Brick (2010) conducted a study in Afghanistan and revealed that learning environment and poverty is the way towards social and economic values. The key cultural factors as trust, family unity, service, determination, and morals are embedded in Afghanistan. Gulsanga’s husband and brothers-in-law work and earn for family's needs like food, clothes and, so forth.Women have to obey the rules and regulations set by their husband, and this makes a good reputation of them. A woman reputation depends on how well she obeys her husband's orders. Gulsanga tries her best to obey her husband in order to make a good reputation for her family in addition to set a good example for her daughters. Men make decisions for members of the family especially children. Women never take any decision by themselves. Gulsanga does the same.
As per the culture of Afghanistan, women do not shake hands with men but they do with their fathers, brothers and uncles on special occasions. If Gulsanga ever meets her any other male relative, the men normally put hands on their own chest and respectfully greet her by saying "Asalam o alikum”. She is called by her cousins as “Khori” in Pashto meaning sister and “Hamshera” in Dari meaning the same. Afghan men can never dare to touch unknown female. Women’s are never called by their names, rather either “Khori” or “Hamshera" is used for unknown women but husbands do call their wives by their names. Women, on the other hand, do not call their husband by their names. Gulsanga calls her husband as "KheraPlara” in Pashto meaning “Father of Khera (her son)."
Women are considered as a symbol of hospitality in families (Khinjani et al., 2012). Gulsanga or any other female member of the home greets female guests. Greeting among Afghan cultures is normally long of about five minutes asking about the health of the guest and the family and so forth. Gulsanga prepares tea for the guest immediately as this is considered as a symbol of respect and good will. Women normally cover their faces when they go out of home. Gulsanga also covers her face as this is considered as a mark of modesty. Gulsanga uses wood for cooking as there are no electricity and gas in her village. She used to spend much time in the kitchen preparing food for the entire family. She has to be the best cooks like in Afghan culture men feel pride on their wives’ cooking skills. Gulsanga prepares food for the entire family three times a day, and the food has to be ready well in time that shows her discipline and interest in home chores. Food is served on the floor commonly called as the “Dastarkhwan”, men, children and older ladies of the family like grandmother and mother-in-law eat the food first and than females eat.
The village has no facility of drinking water; Gulsanga and other women of the village go out of their home with permission of their husbands to fetch water either from wells or river as there is no running water taps system in the village. She puts containers of water called pitchers on her head and brings water in the early morning in groups so that no unknown man could see them. This activity also helps women to interact with each other and discuss their problems and issues. Gulsanga daily goes to bring water along with other ladies of the village and have a chat with them. That is the only mean of entertainment for her. Thus, fetching water is a pleasant work for her as she gets some time to talk to her friends and neighbor ladies and see them. In this way she remains informed about the condition of the village and country as there is no television, newspaper or radio in her home. She also goes to the river to wash clothes. Thus bringing water or washing clothes at the river is like a social gathering for Gulsanga and rest of the women in the village.
Gulsanga also takes care of the livestock at home which includes a cow, few sheep and chickens. She has to arrange the food and clean them and make sure that they give enough milk to feed her family. Gulsanga often sell extra milk to neighbors or make dairy products out of it like yogurt and butter and sell it. In this way, she takes part in helping her husband stabilizing the economic condition of the family.
Gulsanga is an illiterate lady. She cannot read and write, but she wishes her children to get enough education. Female education is less in Afghanistan (Alvi, 2008). Although the religion (Islam) gives them, the right to get education, but the culture and norms of Afghanistan do not allow them for it. Nine out 10 women in Afghanistan are illiterate. Even in Andkhoy, there are not many education facilities available for females. Boys are sent to schools as they are considered as the economic assets of the family. Women are normally got married at very early ages because they are considered as the economic liability of the family. Gulsanga got married when she was only 15 years old.
Islam is the dominant religion in Andkhoy. Gulsanga and her family obey the Islamic teachings. She offers prayers five times a day as per Islamic teachings. She tries to be a good Muslim to her family and neighbors and this increase her respect. There are festivals and celebrations in which women role is considered very important. “Nawroz", the first day of every new year is celebrated with respect, Gulsanga cleans the entire home and prepares special dishes for the day. Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-al-Adha are the two very important Muslim festivals and Muslims all around the world celebrate them with full religious warmth. Eid-ul-Fitr is celebrated at the end of Ramadan and lasts for three days. Gulsanga makes special arrangements for this occasion as preparing new clothes for the entire family especially men and children, making delicious sweets, food and so forth. At Eid-ul-Adha people sacrifice goats, sheep, or cows in remembrance of the sacrifice made by the Prophet Ibrahim. Gulsanga distributes meat among her poor relatives and neighbors along with reserving some for her own family. Eids are the occasions in which Gulsanga visits her relatives along with her family(Hirose et al., 2005).
Health of women is the most ignored component in Afghanistan especially in villages. Most women die in pregnancy or during childbirth. Almost one among 50 women dies during pregnancy or childbirth which is very high ratio in comparison to rest of the world. The life expectancy of females in Afghanistan villages is 44 which is much lower. The life expectancy for males is about 45 years especially in villages. Such low life expectancy for both males and females is due to lack of health services especially in villages. People living in villages do not have access to proper health care services and are prone to health issues more than people living in cities(Bartlett et al., 2005).
Gulsanga and her family speak “Dari" and it is the most common and national language of Afghanistan. Many people also speak Pashto that is closer to Dari. Gulsanga can also speak Pashto. These two are the most common languages in Afghanistan and children learn them from their parents and elders in the family. She and other females of the village normally travel by foot when they have to go to fetch water and washing clothes at the riverside. Although other modes of transportation are common as horse cart, donkey dart. Since people of the village are poor, they cannot afford cars or bikes.
Gulsanga’s husband is a laborer. He goes to the city daily in search of new task as this is not a monthly paid job. Sometimes he gets work and sometimes doesn't. He has two brothers who also work with him. Thus, Gulsanga helps them by selling extra milk of a cow, eggs or dairy products to earn some money in order to run the family. Income through livestock is very common form of earning by women in Afghanistan and considered as the most respected one. It also raises the status of the woman in the family. She also goes out to the nearest forest along with other female villagers to cut wood for the preparation of food.
The medium of communication is personal interaction commonly.
Gulsanga loves to prepare food for her family. The breakfast normally includes tea, sugar, milk, eggs and bread fried in oil called "naniroghani" in local terminology. For lunch, they eat normally vegetables or sometimes lamb soup called "shorba" with tandoori bread. Dinner consists of normally white rice with either vegetables or shorba. On special occasions as Norwroz and Eids, she used to prepare "QabiliPualo".That is rice with finely chopped and fried vegetables like carrots and dry fruits like raisins and almonds, beef dumplings called "Aushak". It is the world famous Afghani dish. Another notable dish that she prepares on special occasions or to some special guest is"Samank" (sweet pastries made from wheat).
Dress is an important element in Afghan culture. Women dress consist of a lose paints called “tombaan”, an overdress called “perahaan” and a head covering called “chaddar”. Married women normally wear bright and colorful dresses. Gulsanga wears traditional dress. Old ladies normally wear light color dresses. Both old and young females cover their bodies, heads and faces while they go out with “Burqa” (Shuttlecock). Gulsanga loves to sew clothes for her children, and this is her favorite hobby in her leisure time. In Afghanistan, it a common trend that women sew dresses at home, and if the piece of cloth is left out from the dress, dress for her daughter is made up of it. Normally mother and daughters used to wear the dress having common design, and it is a popular way of identification that a girl belongs to which lady.
Conflict and disputes are resolved by “Jirga”. Jirga system is common in almost whole of Afghanistan in which the elderly people of the area get together to decide the conflicts and disputes. It is like a court for the people. The decision of the jirga is considered as final, and both parties have to obey that decision. Jirga also resolved the issues between two families or within a family. In the case of serious conflict, sometimes jirga decided to arrange teenager girl of the offensive party gets married to a young or old man of the aggrieved party. Government has very less role or its security agencies have least access to the village. There is only one police station outside of the village. The ratio of street crimes in the village is very low, so people do not need any tight security from the government.
The handicraft of the village is popular. Women prepare carpets, traditional dresses and many things that are sold in local as well as international markets. It bring a unique name to the country, and thus people of Andkhoy play their role in the economy of Afghanistan. The people have their own farms and fields; they grow wheat, rice, parsley and fruits like pomegranate, apricot, dates and so forth. This fulfils needs of their families as well as earns money by selling them in local market that also contribute in national economy
The medium of communication is personal interaction commonly. Normally people listen to the radio and try to remain informed about their country. Due to worse economic conditions of the village and poor infrastructure, there is no proper mechanism of electricity and telephone. People communicate with each other by visiting their homes or meet them out of the home in mosques (place of worship for Muslims), streets or some centralized get together place like “EidGah” (a place where Eid prayer is offered or Jirgah meetings are conducted). Some of the men have mobile phones these days to have another means of communication. No internet access there due to non-availability electricity, and consequently there is no concept of computers and its services. Few of the educated people inform the villagers regarding the situation of the country and the world by reading newspaper. The official initiated a program of one common satellite phone in a village that was operated by local family. The residents used this paid facility to call or receive a message from other regions. Because of the current war, this system has been destroyed in most of the villages.
There are some superstitions among Afghan women that are not related to the religion (Islam) rather they are based on some old culture and old wives’ tales which has been carried forward from generations to generations. Some of them include:
- Sweeping the house after sunset is considered bad,
- Cleaning should not be done right away when a bride leaves his parent's home,
- Women don't sweep home when her husband or any other member of the family travels out of the country,
- If a death happens in family, women don’t wash clothes for three days,
- When a dog barks nearby, it is thought that a bad news will come,
Afghanistan is a multiethnic society and the country is divided into many ethnic groups widely spread all across the country (Tuschl et al., 2008). In Andkhoy, the common ethnic groups include Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Aimak, Turkmen, Baloch and Pashal. The majority among them is the Pashtuns and Hazarawhose languages are Pashto and Dari respectively. The ethnic relationships among different ethnic groups are very complex. Since Afghanis is the proud nations, so they hardly forgive any mistake. Pashtuns are the dominant group and even the Government in Afghanistan is lead by Pashtuns. It creates inferiority complex and insecurity among other ethnic groups. The interrelationship between Pashtun and Hazara not remain friendly in the past but now they are coming to normal and they both enjoy mixing up with each other. Gulsanga and her family are Pashtun and believe in keeping good terms with every ethnic group in the surrounding area. The more different ethnic groups will live in peace with each other; the more the country will see a peaceful atmosphere.
There are many other traditions and norms that Gulsanga and other female villagers have to follow including going out of home alone, or after sunset, coming back home before their husband return. Some women also work in a small farm house of their family and so forth. Gulsanga is happy and has contented with her life. Although due to so many restrictions on her, she enjoys every moment of her life with her family. She has three daughters and three sons. She now thinks the same for her daughters the way she is spending her life. She wants them to get married at early age so that they could better settle down in their lives. She expects her sons will become shoulders of their father one day. A daughter is taught of all home chores at very early age. Her daughters although being very young help her in doing home chores like cleaning home, washing dishes, preparing food and so forth. Since there is no proper school for females in her village, her daughters stay at home and learn things from their mother and grandmother.
All the family gets up early and offer prayers. Gulsanga also gets up early in the morning with the Fajar (early morning) voice for prayer (azan).Her husband used to leave the house in order to search of work early in the morning and comes back home after sunset. During the day, she has to manage the entire home with the order of her mother-in-law. As her home is made up of mud and wood, if some maintenance work is required, she does it herself.
Figure 4 Gulsanga’s Home
The life in the village is very peaceful and calm. Despite not having all major facilities like electricity, gas, and so forth and people still enjoy with each other and it play a vital role in each other's sad and happy moments. Gulsanga’s mother-in-law being the older female in the family goes to all such moments in neighbors, and Gulsanga also accompanies her when she goes for all such moments in relatives. The life there is bonded with family knots; every youngster respects the decisions of elders. Gulsanga’s parents tied her life knots with her husband. In Afghanistan culture, while fixing marriages, females are not asked for their wish. Whatever is decided for them by parents, she accepts that decision. A family life can be best seen in Afghanistan culture that is getting rare in the rest the world especially in the west. Elders to youngest all live under one roof and share the happy and sad moments with each other. This increase the love and affection among members of the family. Gulsanga has few friends in her neighborhood who normally visits her, and they share gossips as the common entertainment. She loves to care of her family and works hard along with her husband in order to meet the needs of her family. Due to her this gesture, her family respects her a lot and presents her as an example in front of other people. She feels pride on it. The only issue which she raises is the lack of clean and pure drinking water and the health facilities which if are provided in her village, life could be at ease and the life expectancy could be increased to some extent.
Figure 5 Neighborhood of Gulsanga’s Home
Gulsanga Sodozai is a female villager of 32 years old and having six children living in Andkhoy, Afghanistan. Andkhoy is a town/or village situated in the northern Afghanistan in province of Faryab. Afghan culture is hospitable but strict with their traditions as women do not speak to unknown men, decision of their marriages is done by elders without their consent, less importance compared to men and so forth. They remain busy in household activities and look after the animals in their houses.They cannot call their husband with the name. The delicious traditional foods are very popular. The women have expertise in hand made carpet manufacturing that contributes a lot in the national economy. The land is fertile, and people used to grow many cash crops, as well as popular fruit trees as pomegranate, apple and apricot.
The majority of the villagers are Muslims belong to different ethnic groups. As a matter of fact, they are very religious but have some superstitions that inherited in their culture. There is no concept of court and decisions regarding conflicts are performed by Jirga that consist of elderly people of the area. The village has lack of utilities including drinking water, sanitary system, electricity, gas, telephone and internet. There is no proper medical facility available to common villagers that result in low average life, as well as deaths during pregnancy/or birthing. There is no concept of television, newspaper or radio in her home. Although few men in the village have mobile phones and posses radio to get information from other areas and the world. The village has no transportation system and bicycle or animal as donkey is used for traveling. The village has no learning environments and poverty is at increase. Women are considered as a symbol of hospitality in families. In short, life of a woman in Afghanistan especially in small towns or villages is miserable even than she is happy and enjoying her life.
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