Contemporary Perspectives Bookseller of Kabul March 1st, 2010 In this paper I will discuss family life in Afghanistan. After reading “The Bookseller of Kabul” and doing some research on other Afghan families I believe that the Khan family is almost the same as a typical Afghan family. Yes, there are some differences but in the end they act and live as most others in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a country that has been divided by several ethnic groups, with the two most relevant being the Pashtun and the Tajik.
It is hard to determine the percentage of the population that compromises each ethnic group due to the lack of census in the countries for many years. However, the CIA World factbook gives a rough estimate: Pashtun 42 percent and Tajik 27 percent (CIA World Factbook). Although variation exists between these ethnic groups living in Afghanistan, the family remains the single most valuable institution in Afghan society (Andrews, Boyle and Carr, 329). Typical families in Afghanistan live in small units with their extended family. Many times, more than five people share a room because of the limited space available for all family members.
We can see this illustrated in the Khan family from the book “The bookseller of Kabul” where at one point thirteen people occupied a four bedroom unit (Seierstad, 175). When it comes to marriage the Khan family keeps the traditions of a typical Afghan family. “Marriage is a contract between families or within families. Decisions are made according to the advantages the marriage brings to the tribe – feelings are rarely taken into consideration” (Seierstad, 37). As stated in the book, love does not take part in the decision making process when arranging a marriage.
Most Afghan families find themselves in the position of having to sell their daughters off to get married with older men because they plainly needed the money to survive (Najibullah, 1). Women in Afghanistan and those who are a part of the Khan family are to marry whomever the parents choose for her; usually they prefer to marry of their daughters to close relatives, such as cousins (Griffin, 120). On several occasions the bride to be must be bought from the man who wishes to marry her, other times she might be free of charge, depending on the age and state of the woman.
The latter can be seen in the book where Sultan’s sister Bulbula is engaged to Rasul free of charge (Seierstad, 66). The women in the book seem to be no different from typical women from Afghanistan when it comes to the way they live their lives. They have been oppressed for many years, especially under the Taliban government. Women were deprived of basic rights, such as the right to vote, to work, to inheritance and to choose their own partner if they wished to marry (Qazi, 1). They were treated as slaves and virtually had no rights or freedoms.
A woman’s fate lies in the hands of her husband because after Allah and the prophets, the husband and father of the house is the most important thing and must be respected by all family members not matter the situation (Seierstad, 132). The man of the house decides if his wife might attend school or take a job; most times they just sit at home doing chores all day and taking care of their children. Being out in public, for a woman, without a male companion was seen as punishable act.
The Khan family shares this in common with other Afghan families and it is illustrated in an example where it states that Leila never walks outside her home alone. In fact, she has never been alone in her life (Seierstad, 171). In addition to not being able to walk outside unaccompanied, women could not go outside without being completely covered by a garment called burqa during the times when the Taliban where in control (Seierstad, 80). The burqa was worn before the Taliban but it was not a mandatory dress code. They could choose to wear a scarf to cover their heads instead.
It is frowned upon when women mingle with men outside their family (Andrews, Boyle and Carr, 329). We can see this throughout the book as well. The women from the Khan family hardly ever socialized with men that were not related to them. We also have the example of Saliqa, a girl who exchanged notes with a boy, sharing a taxi and going to a park to talk. Someone had seen them and told Saliqa’s uncle about what had happened. He called her a whore and a disgrace to her family. She was locked in her room and beaten almost to the point where she would have needed medical care.
This is something most afghan families share in common, even the Khan family and this is shown when Sharifa is telling her husband Sultan the story about Saliqa and his response to the incident was: “If she is not a prostitute now, she could easily become one” (Seierstad, 49). Women are simply not allowed to socialize with men that are not relatives or they will be punished. In rare occasions, the man might propose to the woman and the crime might be forgiven (Seierstad, 33). Children’s fate also lies in the hands of the father and most do not attend school either.
They start working at a very young age, just like Sultan’s youngest son Aimal who is twelve years old and worked every day, twelve hours a day (Seierstad, 204). Aimal hated getting up every day to work, he just wanted to be a kid and go to school but his father would not let him, he would say: “You are going to be a business man. The best place to learn is in the shop” (Seierstad, 210). For most children in Afghanistan their parents make them work at such young ages because they alone cannot support their families with such a low income, it becomes almost necessary for children to start working at a very young age().
However, Sultan’s case is different. He has forced his sons to work in his multiple shops because he simply does not trust anyone else to do it, therefore, depriving his kids the right to education, something that if Sultan never had he probably would not have been so successful in his business. Women were also kept home instead of going to school. Under the Taliban it was strictly prohibited for a girl or woman to attend school (US-Afghan Women’s Council). Another thing the Khan family shares in common with other Afghan families is that divorce is not permitted.
If a woman seeks a divorce she loses all her rights and privileges and might never remarry (Seierstad, 24). Also, at one point in the book, it states that a woman should not break an engagement because it could negatively affect the status of this woman and nobody would want her if they knew she had previously broken an engagement (Seierstad, 174). In the book we have an upper middle class family, were the head of the house Sultan and his sons go to work at their shops every day, twelve hours a day.
Even though they work eighty four hours a week they were not living like most other Afghan families who spent every day of their lives trying to provide at least one meal a day for their families and would have to go to great extents to survive (Paquette, 1). We can see an example of this in the book as well, when a carpenter that was working at one of Sultan’s shop went to extreme measures and stole some postcards so that he could be able to feed his family since they were exceptionally poor and on his salary alone could not feed them (Seierstad, 219).
Thankfully, the members of the Khan family did not have to go through such harsh conditions and lived a decent life among people in Afghanistan. One difference that I found interesting between Sultan and other Afghan people is that he truly believed in the power of work. He seemed really upset at those who spend the little money they had on trips to Mecca to pray and ask for help. Sultan believed that one must work and fend for themselves and then go to Mecca to thank Allah, not to ask for help (Seierstad, 45).
This could be the reason why he was so successful with his business and while others struggled to survive each day. As we can see there are some differences between the Khan family and other families in Afghanistan. Even though these differences might not seem that relevant, they have made life easier for the Khan family when it came to feeding for themselves. The father was able to provide food and shelter to his family and some of the children and women were educated at some point.
However, they lived under the same oppressing rules as others, especially the women. Everyone in the family must obey and respect the head man of the family; the women were not able to walk outside without a relative male company because they could be accused of committing a sin, they had to stay home and be slaves to the families by cooking, raising the children and cleaning multiple times during the day and the son’s had to work twelve hours every day.
In the end the Khan family and other Afghan families agree on one of the most important principals of Afghan way life: “The individual understands him or herself mainly as part of a family and larger kinship group, and not as an individual functioning alone” (Marlowe, 34). Bibliography “A Future for Working Children in Afghanistan. ” Action Aid. Web. 21 Feb. 2010. . Andrews, Margaret M. , Joyceen S. Boyle, and Tracy J. Carr. Transcultural concepts in nursing care. 4th ed. Philadephia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 1999. Google Books. Web. 23 Feb. 2010.