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The women. We saw them but rarely engaged. With few exceptions, their burqas enveloped them from head to toe. I was familiar with middle eastern abayas. I knew some cultures or religions required women to be covered in black fabric except for their eyes. But in Afghanistan, when I was there in 2004, their burqas included a blue mesh screen that obscured the women’s eyes.
This piqued my curiosity. I could sometimes secure permission to go outside the wire. When I could tag along on a military police mission or a supply run to Kabul, I took photos from afar, admiring the bright pop of burqa blue against the austere Afghan landscape.
The Asadabad Civil Affairs team hands out money to Afghan women to make crafts to sell to help support their families. (Photo courtesy of Elaine Little)
While in Kabul, I found a pamphlet advertising Kabul dolls. They were beautiful dolls dressed in intricate costumes representing different Afghan ethnic groups. The cloth dolls even had individual fingers and toes. I was so impressed with the artistry that I contacted the company.
I was taken aback when they asked me to help sell them at Bagram Air Base. A man may have run the Kabul dolls company, but the business had been founded to help women, many of whom were war widows with no other options to make a living.
Several soldiers in my unit were granted permission to visit a town bordering Bagram on Christmas Day. We went into town eager to have something to do for the holiday besides eating mess hall Christmas dinner, sneaking alcohol with the Czech soldiers, or sitting in our tents. One of the female soldiers had ordered jackets and other small gifts.
The villagers received us politely but with some puzzlement. I’m sure they had heard of Christmas, but to them, it was just another day. But the women — there wasn’t a burqa in sight.
Elaine Little’s team gives gifts to local Afghan women on Christmas in 2004. (Photo courtesy of Elaine Little)
During the festivities, they invited me along with two other women soldiers into the women’s quarters of one of the residences. We took off our shoes and marveled at the honor of being allowed into this private space. We didn’t linger, well aware our presence might be viewed as an intrusion.
I worked as an interrogator in Afghanistan. I spent 12 hours a day …….