Ladies Night…. Or Afternoon

Jan 15, 2011   //   by LouBu   //   long, photos  //  2 Comments

The park in Jalal­abad is, like so many oth­er pub­lic venues, open to men only. How­ev­er, Wednes­day is spe­cial. Wednes­day is Ladies Day.

So Jenn, Kel­lie and I decid­ed to take a soc­cer ball and spend a few hours hang­ing out in the park with the Ladies of Jalal­abad. The park is sur­round by tall walls, shield­ing it from the views of passers­by and the entrance is guard­ed, per usu­al, by a young man in fatigues hold­ing an AK-47. He gave us a nod of approval and we slipped through the gate to the oth­er side.

Women on the streets of Jalal­abad move quick­ly and pur­pose­ful­ly from one des­ti­na­tion from the next, cov­ered in sky blue burqas. They don’t linger on the streets with the men. If lucky you may catch glimpses of red or pur­ple pants or a spark­ly dress under the burqa’s cloak, but women are large­ly anony­mous, cov­ered crea­tures in public.

How­ev­er, the park on Ladies day, safe from the eyes of men, is an out­let. An oppor­tu­ni­ty for girls and women to enjoy being out­side, uncov­ered, large­ly free. They sat in clus­ters and groups, burqas cast aside, dressed in bright col­ors with heavy lay­ers of kohl and lip­stick paint­ed on. I have no way of know­ing if they always are so done up or if the park was an excuse to real­ly dress up, but the gold­en fields of parched grass were cov­ered in the sat­u­rat­ed greens, pinks, reds and pur­ples of the tunics and head­scarves of these women.

Afghan Lady

While their moth­ers and old­er sis­ters sat in the grass, pic­nick­ing and drink­ing tea, hordes of chil­dren ran around, scream­ing, play­ing, and fight­ing with one anoth­er. When Kel­lie, Jenn and I start­ing kick­ing a soc­cer ball around and invit­ed some kids to join us we near­ly start­ed a riot as the clus­ter of kids raced after the ball.

Boys playing soccer

The kids also love hav­ing their pho­tos tak­en. The boys espe­cial­ly will preen and strut in front of my lens, try­ing on dif­fer­ent pos­es and ham­ming it up. The girls bring for­ward their baby broth­ers for pho­to ops, their way of try­ing to get cap­tured on film. They’ve been taught they shouldn’t have their pho­to tak­en, but if it hap­pens that they are hold­ing a baby who is being pho­tographed and they make it into the shot…..

Afghan Kids_1

Afghan Kids_4

As we were obvi­ous­ly not Afghans, we gar­nered lots of atten­tion, not only for our soc­cer ball and cam­eras. Young women fre­quent­ly approached us, chat­ter­ing away in Pash­to, not car­ing that we had no clue what they were say­ing. They showed us their babies, offered us tea, and ges­tured emphat­i­cal­ly to get points across that were thor­ough­ly opaque to us. Smiles abound­ed and we nod­ded enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly, not know­ing what we were agree­ing with.

A few men are allowed in the park- they run the food stalls and the pho­tog­ra­phy stu­dio in one cor­ner. For some rea­son this arrange­ment is under­stood as accept­able and the girls pose for pho­tographs and buy ice cream cones with their head­scarves down.

How­ev­er, the guard on duty with­in the walls was female as well- the first female Afghan secu­ri­ty per­son­al I’ve seen. She was a stocky woman in fatigues and black head­scarf who bran­dished her large knife men­ac­ing­ly at kids who appeared to be mis­be­hav­ing. Unlike every male in fatigues, she had no gun.

After a few hours of enjoy­ing the sun­shine we said our good­byes to new friends, promised to return next week, cov­ered up our hair once more, and passed back onto the street, back into the realm of men.