“Waslat! Tell your cousin to move his head away from your shoulder or I’ll pick his eyes out” she yells at me. The lights have gone out in Kabul and it is dark in our apartment. With her long white hair and fair complexion, she reminds me of a ghost. Her milky, see-through headscarf intensifies her eerie aura. I immediately freeze at her sight and stare at her. My little cousin moves away quick like a weasel. He nods and says: “Yes, Bibi jaan.” While I still ask myself why my 11 years old male cousin is not allowed to come close to me, she searches the messy cupboards for a candle. She seems to have found what she was looking for, because she walks out and slams the door behind her.
“What was that?” I nervously laugh at Fayaz. He starts giggling and rolls around, placing himself back to my shoulder. “Don’t bother. You know how she is”. He then puts me off and begs: “Show me the games on your phone again please”.
I have a complicated relationship with my grandmother. Since my parents and I left Kabul when I was still a little girl, I never developed a loving bond with her like other kids do. But unlike my other siblings and cousins, I feel connected to her more than everyone else. When other kids talked about staying at their grandparents I would think about my grandmother in Kabul, who was so different from the old ladies my friends called their grandmas’. I always wished she would hug me and give me gifts like other grandmothers did. But after twenty years when I saw her for the first time, she was cold hearted and had a strange relationship towards men and sexuality.
Fakhria (Zia) Maiwand, my lovely grandmother and daughter of Azizullah Maiwand the great-grandson of Tatar Baba, who was a known tribal leader in the Battle of Maiwand, in which the British Empire was defeated for the first time in history
Men don’t go to heaven
“Never forget your prayers! Don’t wear these clothes; one can see the shape of your body! Don’t paint your nails. Don’t pluck your eyebrows! Don’t use razors to shave your legs!” she would remind me everyday. My Bibi would never throw her fallen hair in the garbage – according to her that’s a sin. She carefully collected it so she could bury it outside. “It’s a sin that you live in Europe with the infidels. I will never go to this haram place”. Of course I would agree with her, to not make her upset. “Be a good girl, Waslat. God will reward you”, she would say then. “You’ll be granted heaven and it’s a wonderful place. There are no men in heaven. Men don’t go to heaven”. Throughout the years my grandmother had developed a phobia of men. Whenever a male non-relative enters the apartment, she quickly leaves and hides in a room until the strange man finally leaves.
In my grandmother’s life religion is the main focus. She lives to be religious and to be a servant of God. The highlight in her life was her pilgrimage to Mecca – the Hajj. She explains her traditionalism and fundamental behaviour with her strong belief in Islam. Her definition of Islam however is based on books by Islamic clerics and so called experts, not necessarily the Quran and the Sayings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). She fasts for months instead of just one. In the night she prays until she falls asleep on her praying mat. She spends all her money on giving alms to beggars and eats just dry bread and tea herself. “I read these things in my books so I can be a good Muslim”, she says resolutely. My Dads attempts to make her not rely on these fundamentalist books were always in vain. “I have to recover for the days I wasn’t praying or fasting in my childhood”, she argued then and went on to mumbling prayers with her prayer beads.
Memories of a child bride
It amazed me every time when my grandmother spoke about “childhood”. The truth was: My Bibi never had a childhood. Zia, how she was called by everyone, was still a little girl when she ran away from home. Her mother had died at an early age and her stepmother was cruel and abusive. The stepmother not only wanted her out of the house, she also tried to make her husband loose his love for Zia, by making her do bad things. She forced my grandmother to steal from the bazaar and if she refused, she would put chilli powder on her private parts and torture her for not obeying. Zia was just a girl of 11 years, when she ran away. On the doorstep of a family’s house she ended up crying. The family noticed her and brought her inside to provide her a home as a maid. After a few months they told her, she should marry their son, because it was not suitable for a girl to live with a strange family. At the age of 12 she married my grandfather.
Zia never was a child again. She had two miscarriages until she had my father at the age of 14 and fully became a mother and a wife with responsibilities. Zia never went to school and had 10 children, my grandfather died early. She taught herself how to read and write to read the holy Quran. Today she is just 60, but she lives like an 80 year old. Even her sister and her half-sister can’t understand her extreme devotion to Islam and hate towards men. In western countries women at the age of 60 live a life of freedom and sometimes even marry at that age. But not Zia, who was disappointed by this life and decided to find resurrection in fundamental Islam. She decided to prepare her life after death and abandon the earthly life, she was currently living. Like a bird born in a cage, she would fly back to her cage even when freed.