I came across this gripping memoir through a review in the Woman Alive Book Club, and was grateful for the recommendation. In the Land of the Blue Burqas tells the stories of an American woman who spent five years in Afghanistan, working for an NGO with the goal of helping Afghan women. She recounts her experiences in a winsome manner; when reading I felt like she was sharing the stories over a cup of tea – even though she used a pseudonym to protect herself and her friends. I could sense her love and respect for the Afghan people she met.
What struck me most was the hidden world of Afghanistan, namely the world of women. They live behind walls, closed in. In public they walk silently, not making eye contact with men. Nor would any man enter another family’s aouli (family compound) unannounced. If he visited, he would be served in an outer courtyard by a young girl or boy; the woman would have been given time to hide inside. But women move freely from one aouli to another, joining in with the lives of their women neighbours and forming a deep sense of community. The author experienced this strong friendship as she sipped their tea and ate the nuts and treats offered.
Kate McCord found out that for women, the worst day of their life was when they married. Brides would be young – twelve or thirteen – and the marriages arranged. As one woman said, “My husband is a good man; he only hit me a little at first when we married.” But men said their best day was when they marred their first wife (many have more than one). The author learned more about women in Afghanistan than many men knew.
I also appreciated how strongly she held to her Christian beliefs, sharing them graciously without forcing them on anyone. She learned the local language and sought to find out about Islam. When issues of faith came up, which was nearly every encounter, she sought a creative way of putting things, often by telling a Bible story that would lead to an unexpected ending. It would blow away the hearer’s preconceptions – if they allowed.
When the security in her town disintegrated, she was forced to leave. She left her home, fruit trees, dog and the friends she had grown to love. But the stories of these beautiful people she will have as a gift forever.
Jump into the rickshaw and enter this fascinating world.
In the Land of the Blue Burqas, Kate McCord (Moody, ISBN 978-0802408143)