Reawakening Afghan Gardens With a Purpose

Reawakening Afghan Gardens With a Purpose

By Hwaa Irfan

The American press continues to portray Afghan women as a poor and impoverished lot who need saving from the Taliban through removal of the burqa-the hijab, by wearing make-up, and high heels, along with all the modern fashion accessories and an education. In other words, Afghan women need to be cloned into becoming like the American/Western woman like their dogs need to be shampooed, hair permed/curled/colored etc, and to be provided with special clothes/hotels/foods/grave yards for their dogs which they try to make as human in behavior as possible. This is how wars are won, and how to bring a people over to one’s own way of thinking. This obsessive notion which the American tax payer never asked to pay for does not include what blogger Sharon Jumper saw in 2006, which was “…half the women still wear the burqa, and many who don’t wear the black abaya, covering all, but their eyes.

Instead we are left with the notion that we are supposed to swallow with the three year $500,000 renovation of the Kabul’s Women’s Garden in the capital Kabul. Set for completion July 5, after U.S. Independence Day, the gullible are being encouraged to believe that this contribution to the liberation of Afghan women is a U.S. idea, which would not have happened otherwise, and as if the 32+ year war on Afghani’s as made no major contribution to the plight of not only Afghan women, but men and children too! Employing a labour force whereby women represent 50% of the labour used for the renovation, the 8-acred enclosure for women and children (males up to the age of 9), is meant to provide a space away from men where they can discard their Muslim apparel, and feel free to do as they please where activities are organized with the West in mind on a process of self and sexual objectification, that will remove them from the good values they had pitting them against the men of their society towards a shallow self image, to only see themselves through the eyes of men! Whatever the intention, it is surely short-sighted — a blurred vision that many western societies are blighted by like the spiraling violence against women and children. This is their gift to Afghan women.

When it comes to public gardens in Kabul, the idea is not new, and neither is the idea of a women’s garden. In fact, what has been renovated was built originally by King Habibullah for his queens, and then made available to women. What Western city in the world, could do with such a garden where women are free to be themselves away from the continual devaluing experience of sexual objectification that females go through on the streets. Given the play on facts for Public Joe in the west, we are given the distinct impression that this gift of a woman’s garden met it’s demise under public enemy #1, ignoring or not exploring that it was destroyed by the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, followed by the use of the trees for much needed fuel. Initially financed by the French and Japanese government, the additional financial support came from the European Union and German Technical Cooperation, and finally USAID and CARE International. Director Nilab Sadat of Bagh-e-Zanana (Women’s Garden), a lawyer who was educated in France, helps to perpetuate the idea that western feminists would like to hear, even though older women who attend the park recall how it used to be with music concerts in the evenings. Now Bagh-e-Zanana has gyms, English, sewing classes, shops, and a counseling center.

Leafy canopies of almond and apricot trees surround the park in the Shahrara neighborhood of Kabul. Karima Salik remembers as a girl in the 1970s, when the park was completely covered, and:

    “There was laughter and chatter and music” Salik recalls to the New York Times.

The women themselves had their own ideas, which might not have fitted into the process of westernization that they have been under. The women themselves raised funds for a tiny mosque, with religious instruction given by a woman, and is up and running. More women’s gardens are planned for other provinces, but meanwhile, the Qazi historical garden (Baghe Qazi ) has been renovated for families in old Kabul.

The focus of the Bamyan Family Park in Shar-i-Zo¬hak or Red City is as a cultural center and for regional agricultural social enterprise at the hands of the Global Partners on governmental land leased to them for 50 years in Hazarajat. Now in the hands of PARSA, a 13-year old local NGO, Bamyan facilitates training programs, and includes a restaurant and a horticultural garden. PARSA have also developed a more established Widows Garden Program (1996) for widows whose husbands were killed in the many wars that have taken place in Afghanistan to help them establish an income. This inspiring idea came from Zarguna Hashimi, who was widowed herself during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. With a son to support, one day she took some radishes she had grown to a bazaar to trade in exchange for onions and potatoes. The warm response from the shop keeper, encouraged her to bring more produce from her garden, so she decided to help other women do the same.

Today the Widows Garden runs classes by a master gardener, classes on entrepreneurship, literacy, psycho-social activities, physical therapy for the disabled, and the Garden runs an outreach program.

Nature is a place of healing for those who are open and in need, but the Afghan innovative experience has shown how beneficial gardens can be in reclaiming the soul, body, and control over one’s life. As many wealthy countries begin to go through an economic upheaval that will leave many unemployed, what better creative way to help those unemployed to gain control over their lives in a way that can include all ages, and let us pray that those with a business will be as warm and responsive as the Afghan shopkeepers have been insha-Allah.

At the Garden, Unveiled
Historical Qazi Garden To Be Restored In Old Kabul
Inside the Kabul Women’s Garden
Jumper, S. Kabul, Day 3.
Nordland, R. Kabul Women’s Garden and Its 50000 Facelift
PARSA About the Bamyan Family Park

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