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Forsaken Lana Šlezić


Forsaken Lana Šlezić

Mets & Schilt, Amsterdam


< Shaima

One morning I learned that twenty-four-year-old Shaima, a local TV show host, had been shot to death in her home in Kabul. The rumor was her brothers had killed her, but nothing had been confirmed. I picked up Farzana and we ambled through the narrow back streets of the city until we found the house. When we knocked on the door, a young woman answered. As soon as her eyes rested on Farzana, her whole body sagged as if someone had suddenly plucked out her spine. Freba, it turned out, was Shaima’s younger sister and a friend of Farzana’s. As they parted, Farzana wiped the hair from Freba’s face who, only then glanced over at me through fitful tears and welcomed us both in. I expressed to Freba my sadness, gave my condolences to her family and then asked if she would talk to me about what happened. In her bedroom and away from the dozens of mourning women, she described with a remarkable calm how she discovered her sister’s body. Freba had come home from school that afternoon and was having a nap downstairs. She had been awake early because of judo practice and was tired. The summer before, Freba had been part of the team of Afghan women who were the first ever to participate at the Olympics, competing in Judo at the 2004 Games in Athens. The girls in her family were by no means average. In her slumber she heard a panicked voice screaming from upstairs. It was her brother calling her to come quickly. Startled and somewhat disoriented, Freba jumped and ran upstairs worried that he had been hurt. When she burst through the door, Shaima was there sitting on a cushion as if asleep with her head

resting on her folded arms on a small table in front of her. Freba looked at her carefully – something didn’t seem right. Then she saw the blood, first on the carpet and, as she drew closer, on Shaima’s temple and cheek. Confused, Freba grasped her shoulders, shaking her to wake up. But Shaima fell motionless to the floor. Freba quivered with these last words and looked down at her hands before continuing on. Shaima had a boyfriend since the beginning of 2003, risky conduct in a place like Afghanistan. She had kept it a secret even from Freba but two months into the relationship, her brother and father found out. Like hawks, families were always watching the behavior of their women. Any slip up could bring shame upon the family name so uncles, aunts, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters everyone shared information. The day Jawed, one of her brothers, found out about Shaima’s love interest, he beat her senseless. For months they did not speak but eventually she forgave him and he in return apologized. He insisted, however, that she never see the boy again and Shaima, broken-hearted agreed. Shortly afterward, Jawed was given some work in Kunduz, another province, and left for the region for several months. Freba had been in Athens at the time, preparing for the Olympics. While Shaima was free of her brother’s keen and watchful eyes, she started seeing the boy again. One night after Jawed had returned from Kunduz, he heard Shaima talking to him on the phone. He beat her at once, and then again 10 days before she was found dead. Shaima wanted to leave. She talked to Freba about going to a UN shelter but she didn’t want to leave her sisters


behind. Jawed beat them all when he was angry. Suddenly, a young woman burst in through the door and told us that Shaima’s body was being carried to the house. Freba rushed out and within minutes a group of men hoisting a body wrapped in white sheets above their heads, slowly walked in and carefully lowered Shaima to the floor in the middle of the sitting room. The women exploded into a deafening wail. They shouted and screamed, girls threw themselves onto the body, men paced back and forth outside, occasionally peering through the windows and coming inside in brief spurts to share in what was clearly a female domain. The air was thick with pain. After what seemed like hours the men came in and lifted Shaima’s body, carrying her flower-covered body high above their heads and down the street toward a nearby mosque. Farzana and I followed the crowd and eventually ended up in a large room underneath the mosque. Shaima’s body was placed on a cold concrete slab. There was hardly any light save for one tiny window in the back corner. As the women gathered around her, I stood up on a table at the back of the room to see if I could photograph. Someone was tugging at my pant leg. I looked down to see a foreign woman who waved me down. She told me she was a lawyer working on the case of Shaima’s death and asked if I would be willing to photograph her head wound up close. She needed proof and had already spoken to the family who had agreed to it. Without hesitation I agreed and she spoke to a man in the family who then helped to disperse the crowd of women. As I moved in toward

Shaima, I cursed the lack of light under my breath and tried to steady myself against the people bumping me from behind. Someone had pulled the sheets and plastic down so that Shaima’s head and shoulders were exposed. Bright red stained the sheet and I shuddered to think how recently she had died. Her youngest sister was standing directly behind her sobbing uncontrollably. Even with her swollen eyes, bruised skin and the caked blood in her dark hair, it occurred to me how beautiful Shaima was. I had to fight the trembling in my arms. As I got closer I could see the wound in her temple. It was an obvious hole, about the size of the end of a pencil. My lens was just inches away now and I worked until the family thanked me and politely asked me to leave. Farzana and I emerged from the darkness like two lost souls, both of us shocked by what we had just witnessed. Later I spoke to one of Shaima’s family members who assured me she had taken her own life. At the age of twenty-four, Shaima was far from what typified an Afghan woman. She was not married nor did she have children. She was educated, employed, liberally minded and full of life and promise. She chose to ignore some of the cultural restrictions placed on her by society and instead followed her natural instincts. She paid for it with her life. I still don’t know what happened to Shaima. Months later when I tried to contact Freba, I was told she had moved to Pakistan. Honour killings are common in Afghanistan and shaming the family name is punishable by death. This is not written in the constitution of course but it is woven into the fabric of Afghan culture.


A prostitute stands behind a curtain in the

The day of the first democratic elections in

house where she works. Prostitution is

Afghanistan, women sit down to rest after

illegal and has grave consequences for

voting at a polling station in Kabul. Most

those who are discovered

women are illiterate and don’t understand the election process, nor the idea of a governing body. Instead many of them are told by their husbands, fathers and

A woman waits to be checked for weapons

brothers who to vote for.

or bombs at a security check point outside the main courthouse in Kabul. A woman walks by a set of container doors, likely once used as the entrance to a shop or stall until destroyed during the conflict in Kabul. Girls must cover their hair with chadors or head scarves but they don’t start wearing burkas until into their teenage years.

On the morning of her wedding, Lida, 16, spends one last day with her family at their home in Kabul. Typical of many forced marriages, her fiancé and his family forbid her to continue her high school education.

A woman at the Chaman Babrak refugee

She will also live with her new husband

settlement in North Kabul. Since the end

and his entire family and be restricted from

of the Taliban regime, thousands of

seeing her own family. Forced marriage is a

returning refugees found rubble where

serious problem for young women in

their homes once stood, forcing them to

Afghanistan. It often leads to domestic

live in small camps all over the city.

violence, depression and suicide.refugee settlement in North Kabul. Since the end of the Taliban regime, thousands of

Women from the nomadic Kuchi tribe

returning refugees found rubble where

gather their belongings and prepare to

their homes once stood, forcing them to

steal wheat from a neighbouring farmer’s

live in small camps all over the city.

field near Gardez. Kuchi women are illiterate and have little or no access to education or health care. They live in tents with their families and move from region to region to feed their livestock.


Women wear burkas for many different

A woman feeds pigeons at the Blue

reasons. Some are forced to by their

Shrine in Mazar-e-Sharif. Afghans believe

husbands and fathers to prevent other

the shrineâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s pigeons are holy and treat

unfamiliar men from looking or speaking

them with respect.

to their women in public. Others feel safe under the protective veil, avoiding such encounters and therefore any tension at

Wind blows through a temporary school

home. Whatever the reason, the burka

for girls in the old Kabul theatre destroyed

does not prevent women from dressing up

by conflict.

underneath. Here women shop for clothes at a shop in Mazar-e-Sharif. Destroyed buildings often substitute for A group of young girls study the Koran

playgrounds in Kabul. An abandoned

at a mosque in Istalef.

Soviet housing project built before the Taliban regime is now home to 105 refugee families who returned from Pakistan three years ago. The men are virtually unemployed and most struggle day to day

Girls must cover their hair with chadors or

to feed their families.

head scarves but they donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t start wearing burkas until into their teenage years. Women separate sheepâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s wool on the cement floor of a factory in Herat for less than a dollar a day. Three women stand at the entrance to a mosque in Mazar-e-sharif.


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Forsaken | Lana Šlezić  

Design: MV LevievanderMeer