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I call myself a feminist — but not just any feminist.My kind of feminism was forged in the fires of Afghanistan.I board a bus and notice that all the other women are at the back of the bus wearing burqas. I want to go home.” Abdul-Kareem is fed up with my unhappiness. “Had I known something like this could ever happen, had I known that we would have to live with his mother and brothers, I would never have come here.” I attempt a second escape to the American embassy. Without a US passport, I no longer have any rights as an American.I try twice more to escape — one with a return to the American embassy and another with the help of a friendly German expat.This is difficult for me to write about but I did it. In this country, a naked face is almost the same as fully bared breasts. My husband is informed of my escape, and he finds me and brings me home. “I have been here for three months and have been allowed out only five or six times,” I write in my diary.I repeat the words: “There is one God, Allah, and Mohammed was his prophet.” I am now a Muslim — at least in my mother-in-law’s eyes — but that still isn’t enough for her. She calls me “Yahud” or “Jew.” When I complain to my husband, he dismisses me as being dramatic. Looking both ways, I walk out feeling like a criminal. “Is this imprisonment meant to tame me, break me, teach me to accept my fate as an Afghan woman?My dad worked door-to-door selling soda and seltzer. My husband’s father owns a compound comprised of numerous two-story European-style houses where the various families sleep with patios, expensive Afghan wool carpeting, indoor gardens, and verandas. Because of my foreign stomach, the foods — kebabs, rice dishes, yogurts, nuts — are baked with Crisco instead of ghee, an evil-smelling, rancid, clarified butter that is loved by locals but wreaks havoc on a non-native’s stomach.
I tell my husband about his mother’s attempt on my life. But he now realizes that if I survive this disease, I will leave him. That night, a he climbs into my bed when I am feverish and sick and forces himself on me. He is trying to impregnate me because if I am carrying his child, I will not be allowed to leave. You have been granted a six-month visa for reasons of health.” He must have decided that he did not want a sick — or dead — American daughter-in-law who was trying to flee on his hands. When the plane takes off, I am filled with more fierce joy than my body can contain.I came as a young Jewish bride of the son of one of the country’s wealthiest men. I am only 18 when my prince — a dark, older, handsome, westernized foreigner who had traveled abroad from his native home in Afghanistan — bedazzles me. We marry in a civil ceremony in Poughkeepsie with no family present.I was held in a type of captivity — but it’s not as if I had been kidnapped. We meet at Bard College, where he is studying economics and politics and I am studying literature on scholarship. For our honeymoon, we travel around Europe with a plan to stop off in Kabul to meet his family. I am too shocked to speak, too shocked to question what these three women might mean for my future. The family is warm and inviting — I try to forget about my husband’s glaring omission. Both the official and my husband assure me that this is a mere formality.Abdul-Kareem is the son of one of the founders of the modern banking system in Afghanistan. Then, when I express my desire to travel, he asks me to marry him. I did not know that this would be our final destination. I learn that my real mother-in-law, Abdul-Kareem’s biological mother, is only my father-in-law’s first wife. But before the caravan of black Mercedes-Benzes can leave, an airport official demands that I turn over my American passport. It will soon be returned to me, so I reluctantly relinquish it. That means — I would soon learn — that I would not be able to leave Afghanistan at will.
He wears designer sunglasses and bespoke suits and when he visits New York City, he stays at the Plaza. I am Jewish, raised in an Orthodox home in Borough Park, Brooklyn, the daughter of Polish immigrants. Instead, we stay up all night discussing film, opera and theater. “There is no other way for us to travel together in the Muslim world,” he says. I am now subject to the laws and custom of Afghanistan, and as an Afghan woman, that means hardly any rights at all. Our arrival is celebrated with a feast of unending and delicious dishes.
There I received an education — an expensive, almost deadly one — but a valuable one, too.