"I didn't have a knife, I didn't have any drug to inject into myself, so I decided to set myself on fire.
Using gasoline was the easiest way." The issue of child marriages, which affects more than 50 million girls worldwide according to the United Nations, was thrust back in the headlines recently when the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) selected its "Photo of 2007." The winning shot, by American photographer Stephanie Sinclair, shows a 40-year-old Afghan man, Mohammad, sitting next his visibly horror-stricken fiancee, Ghulam. "We needed the money," Ghulam's parents, from Ghor Province, were quoted as saying.
Afghan marriage traditions are family and community oriented affairs. Everyone in the immediate family and the extended family is invited to the wedding.
"I was so angry that I wanted to kill myself," she says, asking that her surname not be used.
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 am only 20, and I am now a member of this household, which consists of one patriarch, three wives, 21 children (who range in age from infancy to their 30s), two grandchildren, at least one son-in-law, one daughter-in-law and an unknown number of servants and relatives. The smell of ghee alone can make you throw up if you’re unused to it. He speaks Dari (even though I cannot) and leaves me with the other women. And I will spend every morning and afternoon that follows alone with my mother-in-law and female relatives. Secretly I stow away canned goods that I indulge on in the brief moments that I’m left alone.
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.