The Afghan Women’s Writing Project is renowned for the poignant poetry that it brings to the table: be it in the poetry that goes up on the web portal, or for the campaigns they run around the precious thoughts of some very articulate young women in Afghanistan. Washing the Dust from our Hearts is a beautiful compilation of poetry and prose, gathering work of women who participated in the Afghan Women's Writing Project. The poems and essays were originally written by the women in English, and then translated into Dari. For many of the writers, this book marks the first time that their words are printed in their own language – which is a marvellous motivation for outsiders to learn the language and read it in their language, for writing thusly is a rarity for women living in Afghanistan.
Written by an assortment of women from Afghanistan, the book has been translated by Pari with Ahmad Aria. The book is segmented into five parts, titled Marriage and Family, Love and Forgiveness, Education, Our Afghanistan and Our Strong Voices. The presentation is clearly a successful attempt at bringing out voices on the most vital elements of life that capture the aspirations of these women perfectly. The lines in these poems are haunting, and leave you with a strange mix of emotions: the kind that blends resilience with a feeling of being emotionally touched. Every poem is a delicate mix of truths: events around the women, and their authentic responses to each of these events. Not a moment in the book passes by where you feel unsure about what you’ve read – it is so easy to connect with each of these poems, and to look beyond the veil of ignorance, to understand what these women deal with on a daily basis.
A couplet in the section titled Marriage and Family reads:
“I am knitting blue wings into my dress, Sewing sparrows in my sleeves.”
This little couplet is the soul of the entire book, of all of Afghanistan’s and the world’s women: that we really are masters of our own destiny. No matter what one may cite to erode the sanctity of rights that are inherently ours, no matter what fetters such things as marriage and social norms may impose on women, no matter what things society ascribes to women with its image of the ideal, the freedom, the independence and the sovereignty of a woman over her mind and body remain hers, and hers alone forever.
This is reinforced in every poem, but the ones that stand out, are these lines in Good Morning, Madar Jaan, a poem by Pari:
“Azadi is the name of my unborn daughter and perfume of love in my poem’s dress.”
Washing the Dust from Our Hearts is the best possible testament to the resilient spirit of Afghan women. The impact of their bravery is just the beginning of a quiet revolution. Don’t give this book a miss, even if you’re not one for poetry. Read it to not only appreciate the art, but also, because, as the book says under the segment titled “Education”:
“If I fail to tell my stories of struggle, I will lose myself.”