I have to tell my side of the story about Bravo, because of his comment in Kabul Gym that he was an “awkward” teenager. I have to vociferously disagree, and since it was in a blog post, I suppose I will have to make my complaint in a blog post, too.

His choice was to stay in Kabul. Mine was to go to school in the free and open Punjab of Pakistan, where I could wear jeans, listen to music, play sports, and even (gasp) talk to boys outside my immediate family. I think it is clear that these choices had much to do with gender. If I had been a boy, I would have enjoyed biking the streets of Kabul and working out under the Ustaz, too, but alas, Kabul of the late 90’s offered little excitement for teenage girls. Sadly, it meant that half of my high school years were spent separated from my childhood best friend, fellow adventurer, and little-but-almost-the-same brother.

Vacations home in Kabul were wonderful, and full of fond memories which I could write about another time, but this is about Bravo. Every time I came home, his beard was a little more full, still neatly trimmed and combed, but becoming more manly day by day, and more importantly, increasingly pacifying to the current regime. If my dad, who still insisted on daily shaves, encountered a young man endowed with the premature power of a black turban and a large gun, eager to prove his zeal, arguments would ensue on the meritorious advantages of a suitably long beard versus the economic benefits of saving soap. Dad was (and is) funny, but such encounters didn’t always endear him to the Vice and Virtue Enforcers. Bravo opted for a more diplomatic route: Wear a beard, and tactfully deflect the complaints of power-happy men with carefully measured words. Often, we would be out places without my dad, and it was Bravo’s presence that guarded my sister, mother and I from negative experiences, and his calm and wise responses given in courteous and patient conversation allowed us time to walk away from the curious eyes of these men who had spent the afternoon tearing the tape out of the cassette decks of hapless taxi drivers or using a Sharpie marker to censor pictures of eyes and faces and other such horrifying displays of depravity. He would catch up to us in a few minutes and wave down a taxi, bargain, and give directions home. I remember one time we were in the used clothes bazaar trying to find something sort of Western-looking that I could wear at school. My mother, sister and I were rifling through bins of clothing when the Moral Requirement Squad showed up. I was carefully covered: every strand of hair was safely tucked inside my voluminous black headscarf, which was tucked behind my ears and then folded over to hide them from potentially lustful eyes, and the black material extended past my knees, where baggy trousers and a long top modestly hid my lovely legs all the way down to my almost certainly tempting ankles. My mother, on the other hand, had shamefully allowed her scarf to slip slightly back, exposing a strand of irresistible hair. It was utterly scandalous. The Perfection Police could not allow such a breach, but they could also not look upon something so scathingly sinful or speak to the owner of the well-shampooed and glorious hair. So they looked to Bravo. “Tell your mother to cover her hair,” they said, within her earshot. She clenched her teeth, looked away and did as they asked. Bravo, knowing that the better part of valour is wisdom, answered with the usual grace, and they moved on.

So was Bravo an awkward teenager? I don’t think so. He was a diplomat through and through. C538B9A3-2955-41F9-B532-058CFD17EB56

8 thoughts on “Bravo

  1. Indeed, men and women have quite different experiences in Islamic countries where the sexes were segregated. There were no religious police in Morocco, official or self-appointed, but in smaller places everyone knew your business and it was hard to get away with anything. Women were much more limited, though in the big cities, there was a freedom unimaginable in Afghanistan. Part of it was the French influence, part a less conservative view of Islam. University students, far from their families, lived their lives as much as they wished.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I wanted to make another comment, because I thought your post was so informative. Your brother (and you, yourself) fall into a somewhat unique category of people, kids raised abroad. This includes kids from families of ngos, diplomatic staff, those with jobs abroad, missionaries, and, I suppose, a few more that I have missed. These children tend to have very different childhoods, informed as they are by intimate contact with a foreign culture at a formative age.

    I had an old college chum, Steve, whose parents were missionaries in Lebanon. He grew up on the streets and beaches of Beirut, playing with Lebanese kids of all many backgrounds, and learning the local vernacular, Arabic in Steve’s case. His school field trips took him the Baalbek and foreign cities such as Cairo, Damascus, and Istanbul. This was in the fifties and sixties when the Middle East was quieter and fundamentalism had not taken root in most Muslim societies.

    Steve returned to the States to go to college, and his first year was a rediscovery of American culture, which he knew was his yet which he still felt was foreign. I’m not sure if he ever completely adjusted. He ended up studying Arabic, as did his brother, and became a journalist, a fitting profession for someone on the edge of society and constantly observing it with an eye for detail.

    Steve also developed a love of Arabic and the Arab world. It was an ingrained part of him.

    Steve pasted away a few years ago, somewhat prematurely, but he lived a rich life open to things that many of us never experience.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve raised my children in Africa and the Middle East and from personal experience , I see all three never fit in What we do have that so many don’t is choice and the advantage of openness and curiosity, which makes up for fitting in. Thank you for the conversation and for ‘bravo’s’ blog. The blog is one of my favorites to follow. Lesley


  3. Although I feel for your experience, and appreciate Bravo’s perspective even more having read this, I can’t help but feel for those who live this way through no choice of their own. I have lived in a Muslim country, as a practicing Muslim, and found it stifling, but I dare not complain, because I met countless women who, unlike me, couldn’t just pick up and leave if they tired of it. I guess sometimes accepting to believe that this is the way it has to be becomes just another coping mechanism.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I feel for those folks who have no choice even more. That’s why I choose to write in a lighthearted manner about my own experiences: I CAN joke about it, because at the end of the day I went and lived in California where I could wear bikini if I wanted ( but I don’t want). I could, and probably will, write in more serious terms regarding the experiences of my friends. That pain is real and runs deep. My own life on the other hand has often been more of a comedy show and this aspect highlights the absurdity of extremism.

      Liked by 1 person

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