Friday, October 12, 2012
Sunday, April 15, 2012
I just finished reading Letters To My Daughters: A Memoir (The Favored Daughter in the United States) and it broke my heart. I couldn't recommend it more. Anyone who wants to know more about the Taliban, women's rights, recent history, or life in general for the past 30 or so years in modern Afghanistan should read this book. You can also read the thorough review below.
By Licia Corbella, Postmedia News June 6, 2011
""Even the day I was born, I was supposed to die." Thus begins the first chapter of Letters to My Daughters, by Fawzia Koofi, one of Afghanistan's most popular members of parliament, in a memoir that grabs its readers by the throat and doesn't let go. Call it a death grip -after all, Koofi has literally run for her life on numerous occasions starting at the age of four when life in Afghanistan started to unravel after the Soviet Union invaded the rugged country in 1979.
Besides risks to her own life, her father, Wakil Abdul Rahman, an MP for the northern Afghan province of Badakhshan, which she now represents, was murdered, as were four of her brothers. "I have stared death in the face countless times in my 35 years, but still I'm alive. I don't know why this is," she muses.
Koofi was born the 19th of her father's 23 children and the seventh and last child of her mother -the second of her father's seven wives.
About one year before Koofi was born, her mother grew depressed after her husband brought home a new bride -a 14-year-old girl. That girl bore a son and Koofi's mother, who was six months pregnant herself, hoped that she too would bear a son to gain back the favour of her husband. It was not to be.
"Semi-conscious by the time I was delivered, (my mother) had barely enough energy to express her dismay at the news I was a girl. When I was shown to her, she turned away, refusing to hold me," writes Koofi.
"No one cared if the new girl child lived or died, so while they focused on saving my mother's life, I was wrapped in cotton muslin swaddling cloth and placed outside in the baking sun. I lay there for almost a day, screaming my little lungs out." Sounds horrific, but within a few chapters, it's impossible not to fall in love with Koofi's mother -Bibi jan -an illiterate woman described as the "kindest, most talented teacher in the world" who suffered terribly during her life.
"I recall watching in horror once as my father chased my mother along the corridor and began beating her," writes Koofi. "Once, my father viciously tore out a chunk of her hair during a beating. . Beating was a normal part of marriage," something virtually all Afghan women and girls expect to be a part of their lives.
Such passages reinforce what many Canadians believe about Afghanistan's medieval ways and its violence, but what this book accomplishes so beautifully is that it reminds readers of the humanity of Afghans. Despite the tragedy that has gripped the lives of almost every Afghan over 30 years of war, these are people with aspirations and sentiments not unlike our own.
Each chapter starts with a letter from Koofi to her daughters, Shuhra, who will turn 13 later this month, and Shaharzad, 11. While these letters are full of love, wisdom and advice, it is the narrative of Koofi's life that will keep you turning the pages. Reached at her hotel room during a visit to Ottawa on Thursday, Koofi is just as engaging to talk to as her book is compelling to read.
While Koofi says she has been keeping a gruelling schedule of media interviews and public readings on her cross-Canada book tour, she is accustomed to long days of travel, meeting with her constituents in the impoverished northern part of Afghanistan and tending to her legislative duties in Kabul.
But in Canada, where her life is not under constant threat by the Taliban, she says despite the hectic pace, she finds it relaxing. Koofi makes a point of thanking Canadian troops for their sacrifice and the positive difference they have made to her country. She mentions Calgary Herald reporter Michelle Lang, who was murdered by the Taliban near Kandahar on Dec. 30, 2009: "The Taliban like to kill women. They think it will stop other women from having courage and working to change our country. But it was the women and children of Afghanistan who suffered the most under the Taliban and living under the Taliban is worse than death, so they will never be able to kill the resolve of Afghan women to make a better country for their children."
After Koofi's father was killed by mujahedeen fighters, her mother allowed her to attend school. It was there, while watching television, that she learned about British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and Indira Gandhi in India. But seeing those powerful rulers on television wasn't the spark that has Koofi vowing to run for president of Afghanistan in 2014. It was her parents -the musings of her mother and the political dynasty established by her father -who set her ambitions to lead.
Koofi is disappointed Canada's mission in Afghanistan is coming to an end and is gravely worried for her country.
Helping Afghanistan "is what I live for," writes Koofi at the end of her book. "And it is what I know I will die for." Here's hoping this brave woman has many more years of leadership before that happens. She might just change the world."
Licia Corbella is a columnist and editorial page editor of the Calgary Herald.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
An incredible video. The following is the transcribed speech:
Hello, I'm Severn Suzuki speaking for E.C.O. - The Environmental Children's Organisation.
We are a group of twelve and thirteen-year-olds from Canada trying to make a difference:
Vanessa Suttie, Morgan Geisler, Michelle Quigg and me. We raised all the money ourselves to come six thousand miles to tell you adults you must change your ways. Coming here today, I have no hidden agenda. I am fighting for my future.
Losing my future is not like losing an election or a few points on the stock market. I am here to speak for all generations to come.
I am here to speak on behalf of the starving children around the world whose cries go unheard.
I am here to speak for the countless animals dying across this planet because they have nowhere left to go. We cannot afford to be not heard.
I am afraid to go out in the sun now because of the holes in the ozone. I am afraid to breathe the air because I don't know what chemicals are in it.
I used to go fishing in Vancouver with my dad until just a few years ago we found the fish full of cancers. And now we hear about animals and plants going exinct every day -- vanishing forever.
In my life, I have dreamt of seeing the great herds of wild animals, jungles and rainforests full of birds and butterfilies, but now I wonder if they will even exist for my children to see.
Did you have to worry about these little things when you were my age?
All this is happening before our eyes and yet we act as if we have all the time we want and all the solutions. I'm only a child and I don't have all the solutions, but I want you to realise, neither do you!
* You don't know how to fix the holes in our ozone layer.
* You don't know how to bring salmon back up a dead stream.
* You don't know how to bring back an animal now extinct.
* And you can't bring back forests that once grew where there is now desert.
If you don't know how to fix it, please stop breaking it!
Here, you may be delegates of your governments, business people, organisers, reporters or poiticians - but really you are mothers and fathers, brothers and sister, aunts and uncles - and all of you are somebody's child.
I'm only a child yet I know we are all part of a family, five billion strong, in fact, 30 million species strong and we all share the same air, water and soil -- borders and governments will never change that.
I'm only a child yet I know we are all in this together and should act as one single world towards one single goal.
In my anger, I am not blind, and in my fear, I am not afraid to tell the world how I feel.
In my country, we make so much waste, we buy and throw away, buy and throw away, and yet northern countries will not share with the needy. Even when we have more than enough, we are afraid to lose some of our wealth, afraid to share.
In Canada, we live the privileged life, with plenty of food, water and shelter -- we have watches, bicycles, computers and television sets.
Two days ago here in Brazil, we were shocked when we spent some time with some children living on the streets. And this is what one child told us: "I wish I was rich and if I were, I would give all the street children food, clothes, medicine, shelter and love and affection."
If a child on the street who has nothing, is willing to share, why are we who have everyting still so greedy?
I can't stop thinking that these children are my age, that it makes a tremendous difference where you are born, that I could be one of those children living in the Favellas of Rio; I could be a child starving in Somalia; a victim of war in the Middle East or a beggar in India.
I'm only a child yet I know if all the money spent on war was spent on ending poverty and finding environmental answers, what a wonderful place this earth would be!
At school, even in kindergarten, you teach us to behave in the world. You teach us:
* not to fight with others,
* to work things out,
* to respect others,
* to clean up our mess,
* not to hurt other creatures
* to share - not be greedy.
Then why do you go out and do the things you tell us not to do?
Do not forget why you're attending these conferences, who you're doing this for -- we are your own children. You are deciding what kind of world we will grow up in. Parents should be able to comfort their children by saying "everyting's going to be alright", "we're doing the best we can" and "it's not the end of the world".
But I don't think you can say that to us anymore. Are we even on your list of priorities? My father always says "You are what you do, not what you say."
Well, what you do makes me cry at night. You grown ups say you love us. I challenge you, please make your actions reflect your words. Thank you for listening.
Read the whole essay, it's worth it.
Here it isn’t every man for himself. Here people won’t steal from you on the bus. Here there is a general sense of people being connected by more than just breathing the same air. Take the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and the way the Japanese responded to it. It was remarkable the way there were no reports of rooting or lawlessness when millions needed food and medical attention. Imagine if something similar to that happened in the United States, where we are anything but united...