I asked for the stories their mother’s told them when they were girls.
They responded; “What stories, who has stories?”
So I told them my grandmother’s story.
They listened and when I was finished, the floodgates burst open.
“My brother was killed.” “My head always hurts.” “Every eye has seen pain.” “I’m nervous all the time.” “My son was so young. So young. A plane came. Then he died.” “We couldn’t go to school.” “Who cares if you can’t read?” “The strong went to Iran.” “Illiterate? What does it matter when the bombs are falling and your eyes see only pain?” “I have so much trouble. I’ve gone to the doctor. He gives me medicine but I can’t take it.” “She is without a father.” “Her brother is martyred.”
Finally, the stories came to an end or at least reached a pause.
I was stunned. I didn’t have words for their pain. I had shared my grandmother’s story. In a way, it was her generation’s common story; a young woman falls in love with a man. He’s a good man and they marry, but it’s December, 1941. A bad time to marry. She gets pregnant. Her husband ships out right after the baby is born. Eight months later he’s killed.
I told them; this is my grandmother’s story and my mother’s story and the floodgates opened. The stories tumbled out so quickly, brutally. Afghan stories.
In the end there was silence.
I had no words.
Finally, one of the women summed it up; “In Afghanistan, everyone has seen pain. Everyone has seen war. There is no house without a dead person.” The women nodded. They looked at the floor. I thought of my grandmother and her generation. “She has spoken truth.”
There was another silence and then, almost suddenly, the air cleared. More tea was poured. Children demanded attention. The conversation shifted and we fell into laughter.
I thought of my grandmother again and remember that her life, too, continued. That she laughed again. That she bore other children. That she shared friendship and love.
Somehow, there is always hope. That’s really the amazing thing, isn’t it? That there’s hope.