The Ones I Love: Hamida

Tahmina celebrates its 2nd Anniversary this week, and we’re kicking off a blog series called, “The Ones I Love,” featuring stories from our anonymous founder and the relationships she’s built during her time in Afghanistan. These will be personal and intimate stories of courageous Afghan people who have endured unimaginable injustices and yet have responded with the most incredible resilience. Names have been changed for security.

            Hamida is the cleaning lady at our office, and we all affectionately call her "Auntie." While she looks like she’s in her 50s, Hamida is actually in her early to mid 40s. The pain of war has left its mark on many Afghans, and Hamida is one of them, who has aged beyond her years. To me, Hamida’s life is one of the best illustrations that captures what has happened to an entire nation over the past 40 years.

            Hamida was born into a very poor family, and her mother died when she was young. Hamida was never sent to school, so she is illiterate, and only one of 69% of the Afghan population who cannot read or write their own name. When Hamida was 13 years old, she was married off to a military commander in his 40s. After having five children with him, the civil war broke out in Afghanistan, and her husband was killed in the war.      

            During this time, Hamida knew that she needed to remarry if she wanted her and her children to survive. She practically grabbed the first man that she could find, and married the man who is now her second husband. However, before marrying Hamida, her second husband had a first wife and two children. His first wife and two children were shot and killed before his eyes during the war, so this man had deep trauma and shock from the death of his family. Hamida married this man and had three more children. She’s had 11 total pregnancies throughout her life, and today has eight children who have survived. 

            When I met Hamida, she was living in a nightmare of a life. Her second husband was very abusive to the family, chewed tobacco all day, and refused to work. Hamida was forced to find a job to support the family, but as an illiterate woman could only find menial labor jobs like cleaning. Her husband terrorized the entire family. He married off her oldest daughter when she was about 19 years old to a 60 year old man, most likely as a third or fourth wife. Hamida’s daughter was a brave young girl, and she could not accept such a marriage. She took her two younger siblings and ran away to Pakistan. To this day, she is in occasional contact with her mother, but still lives in hiding from her stepfather.

            In the midst of everything that has happened, there are two things that strike me about Hamida: her courage as a mother, and her joy in all situations. Occasionally we order kebab for lunch at the office, and I started to notice how Hamida would always only eat half of her meat and pack away the rest. Whenever we have cakes for birthday parties, she does the same. Later I found out that she would bring these things home to her children, who don’t have the luxury of meat and dessert very often. Hamida has sacrificed for her family over and over again because she is a mother, and this is part of who she is.

            Hamida has expressed to me many times how thankful she is to be able to come to work, and how our office is a safe space of escape from the struggles of her home life. Our office values relationship and spending time together, so sometimes we’ll go out to ice cream or picnics. And every time, I love seeing Hamida’s face light up with joy over the simplest pleasures. 

            One time, we all went on a vacation sponsored by the office, and this is what Hamida told me on the last night while we were rooming together: “When someone gives you money, you start to worry about where you'll spend it, and eventually that money will disappear. And in Afghanistan, hard times will always come, but I learned that what will help me get through the hard times are happy memories. This trip gave me so many happy memories that will help me endure hard times, and that's the best gift.” Hamida teaches me joy in the face of suffering, courage in the face of oppression, and what it means to sacrifice for the ones you love.

            80% of the saffron labor process involves women, making saffron a key source of female employment. The women of Afghanistan who are earning money for their families are heroes. I’ve been privileged to hear some of these stories, and there was almost always a barrier that had to be overcome. Tahmina supports these women through our involvement in the saffron industry and by being a give back brand and donating 10% of our revenue to nonprofit efforts in Afghanistan. We hope you will continue to celebrate our anniversary with us, buy and enjoy our products, and witness the unfolding narrative of Afghanistan’s courageous women.