The Ones I Love: Maryam

Tahmina celebrates its 2nd Anniversary with 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, and this is the last story from the series. Names have been changed for security.     

             Maryam is my language teacher, and a beautiful young woman with rich locks of brown hair and deep brown eyes. Maryam is 22 years old, but has seen more in her short life than most of her peers. Maryam comes from a rural, conservative province in Afghanistan. Girls are not allowed to go to school, child brides are common, and insurgent presence is very heavy with much active conflict. Because girls don't go to school in Maryam’s province, her parents actually sent her to an orphanage in the city to receive her education. Maryam has memories of foreign teachers, progressive school lessons, and her upbringing in this orphanage was definitely nontraditional compared to other Afghans.

              A few years ago, Maryam was in her freshman year of college and visiting home when her father married her off to be the second wife of a religious leader, or mullah. While there was a “wedding,” Maryam was not present, it was never registered by government or Islamic law, and according to Afghan law, if a girl does not consent to a marriage it is not considered a legitimate marriage. Maryam is a bright and strong young woman, and she could not imagine ending her studies or career to be someone’s second wife. She decided to cut off all communication and finances with her family and live alone, which is very hard for a young, single woman to do in a society like Afghanistan. When I first met Maryam through another expat friend, she had already been living on her own for several months and had run out of money. She seriously considered giving up and accepting the marriage, and I decided to hire Maryam as my language teacher so that she could continue to live independently.

I am struck by how Afghans have the strength to endure and overcome every tragedy that has come their way.

              Over the years, Maryam has become a friend like many of my coworkers. I always see her a few times a week, and you end up getting to know people quite closely. Throughout these language lessons, I’ve heard stories of Maryam’s past, her family, her friends, and once again, I am struck by how Afghans have the strength to endure and overcome every tragedy that has come their way.

               A couple years passed, and one time in the winter I was back in Afghanistan after spending a couple months in America. When I returned, Maryam asked to meet because she had something to tell me. I met Maryam with our other friend, and was not prepared to hear what she was about to share. Several weeks earlier, Maryam was spending some time with her sister when an uncle saw Maryam. This uncle decided to tell the “husband” from the forced marriage where she was. This man came a few days later and essentially kidnapped Maryam to his province. Maryam managed to escape back to the city after 10 days, but a few weeks later, she found out she was pregnant.

               As we were sipping our tea, Maryam told us that she had gone to different doctors for an abortion, and no one was able to do it. She tried to take malaria medicine and other medications to get rid of the baby. I remember staring into my cup of tea, shocked by everything I had just heard, trying to think of what can comfort my friend, and practically thinking about what we would do. That day, I stared into Maryam’s eyes and had to tell her the hardest thing I’ve told anyone, “With these circumstances, I don’t think you can get an abortion. We will help you find a family to adopt this baby, we’ll go with you to the hospital, we will help you in any way possible, but I think you need to continue this pregnancy until the baby is born.” I was merely telling Maryam what she already knew of the circumstances, but I think it took hearing it out loud for her to find the determination to continue.

"When I think about my child, I feel love for this baby.”

              Over the next few months, we took Maryam to the hospital for ultrasounds and helped her in any way she needed. As we approached the eighth month, we sat down with Maryam again, and asked if she made a decision about needing a family to adopt the baby. She looked back at us and said, “I’ve made a decision; I want to keep the baby and raise it as my own. I want to thank you, because if it wasn’t for you guys, this baby might not be here today and it owes its life to you. When I first got pregnant and used to think about the baby, I felt so much hatred in my heart. But now when I think about my child, I feel love for this baby.”

              About a month later, Maryam went through an intense labor without epidural, and gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby girl. Sometimes, I think about Maryam’s story, and all I can do is cry. I get angry thinking about the injustice and oppression she’s experienced in her life that she never deserved, and yet I’m deeply moved because she made a choice to respond with unbelievable courage and love. Maryam’s story isn’t over yet. We still study language lessons together, and to this day she has many moments where she struggles over her baby’s health, or the myriad of other problems she faces while she is still cut off from her family and community. I have so much to learn from Maryam, and am so thankful for my friendship with her.

It's a space where people find connection.

              It’s interesting because when I think back to the most pivotal conversations with Maryam, they were always over a cup of tea. Part of this is because tea is such a central part to Afghan culture, and it’s more than just a drink. It’s a space where people find connection. It’s a space where people drop their shoulders and become vulnerable with each other, and share everything from shallow details of the day to the confiding the biggest problems and struggles that we face. These are the spaces that build roads from heart to heart. Every time you drink Tahmina tea, I hope you will remember the ones I love. I hope you remember the courage of people like Najib and Maryam, and that it would nourish and warm your own soul. I hope that our tea will remind you how we are all connected in many ways both big and small, and our stories are all intertwining together. Roads are being built from heart to heart.