Jerri's Journal: Adventure Begins in Kabul

May 14, 2015

Days 1 and 2

The adventure has begun!

I spent some time by myself waiting in the Kabul airport, and made some interesting observations from under my shawl.  It is customary for men to hold hands in the Middle East.  A younger woman was yelling at the Emirates people (no head scarf, jeans, and no fear).  An older woman was sitting near me in a wheelchair and she asked for help. She didn’t speak English but she communicated and I figured out what she wanted with no words – loved it!

It’s like traveling back in time in so many ways. Kabul has the look and feel of a very worn down city. There is some construction, but it is mostly residential because of people migrating in from rural provinces. The construction has stopped because of the winter rain, snow, and mud. The traffic is just anything goes – at one point, another car was facing us in a roundabout, and other cars were zooming around us. There are no stop lights, which is fine, because no one would pay attention to them anyway!  We’re surrounded by snow-covered mountains -- and it did snow in the city last night.  And bright-colored houses (hot pink, turquoise, lime) are dotting the landscape.

Security is very high in the airport, the city, the hotel, and the shelters, and we're safe. So don't worry. We are obeying everything our hosts tell us. Entering the hotel property requires going through two security gates, a car search, and a body pat-down. We go through airport scanners and pat-downs to enter the hotel.

Women for Afghan Women (WAW) runs family guidance centers in 10 provinces across Afghanistan to provide counseling and legal aid mostly for women and girls who have suffered human rights violations such as forced prostitution, torture, attempted “honor killings,” underage marriage, and “baad,” which is a custom of being exchanged as compensation for a crime.

WAW also runs women’s shelters in secret locations in 11 provinces, children’s support centerstransitional houses and one halfway house in Kabul.

The centers are behind high walls, steel gates, and in most cases, armed guards. Our drivers are security people, and the cars are unmarked. The program is very smart about moving us around.  We feel safe and protected and remain alert. And with all this, it's truly safer than the media would make it seem.

Now for the amazing things -- I met with four psychologists this morning at the receiving center.  They are remarkable people. When the women come into this WAW center, a psychologist meets with them and begins the counseling. They sit on the floor and the psychologist puts out stones and flowers, large and small, and a piece of bright-colored twine (which represents the lifeline) about two feet long, and tells a story about a woman. The psychologist starts the story with the woman's birth and what she knows about the case. For each event in the story, the psychologist places a flower or stone along the twine--flowers for happy events, stones for sad ones, large for a big event, small for a small event. Then the woman places her flowers and stones at events on her lifeline to help tell her story. And then the psychologist and woman go back to each flower and stone so the woman can describe what happened in more detail.  Many of these women have suffered unimaginable horrors, but these centers and psychologists are emotionally safe. The story continues as the woman remembers more and can talk more. And as they walk through it more, the woman can begin to identify her resources (her strength, the helpful family members, etc.).

Watching this is extraordinarily powerful.  A proverb from the WAW staff:  “When you share happiness, it increases.  When you share sadness, it decreases.” 

The workers are very well trained and passionate about their work.  They kept saying what they do is for the women and for Afghanistan, which can become a better place.

Now for the strange things:  Most strange so far is looking at a public park next to the hotel where I cannot go, because it is unacceptable for a woman to walk there.

Wearing a scarf that covers my hair and my chest, I realize I cannot turn very comfortably to look at the woman next to me.

Taking pictures with the psychologists today, one was a man and he could not stand right next to us even though he is clearly a part of the team.

Eating lunch alone in the hotel dining room, I somehow communicated with waiters who do not make eye contact easily with women.

As several Afghani women were leaving the dining room, they acknowledged me with a subtle thigh-level wave as if we were silent sisters.

I said to someone before I left that I did not know if this was one of my best ideas or one of my worst. 

It is one of my best.  



May 13: Jerri Shaw Explores Women's Rights in Afghanistan


May 15: International Women's Day in Afghanistan

May 18: Meetings with the First Lady of Afghanistan and Other Diplomats

May 19: Afghan Men on Women's Rights

May 20: Medical Needs of Women in Afghanistan

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