Zoya's Story: An Afghan Woman's Struggle for Freedom

Zoya's Story: An Afghan Woman's Struggle for Freedom

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781843950097
Publisher: Ulverscroft Large Print Books, Ltd.
Publication date: 10/01/2003
Series: Ulverscroft Large Print Ser.
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 1.50(h) x 9.50(d)

About the Author

John Follain has covered Italy and the Vatican as a correspondent for the Sunday Times since 1998. He is the author of the critically acclaimed titles A Dishonoured Society: The Sicilian Mafia's Threat to Europe, Jackal: The Secret Wars of Carlos the Jackal, and Zoya's Story: An Afghan Woman's Struggle for Freedom written with Rita Cristofari and Zoya. He lives with his wife in Rome.

Rita Cristofari has worked as a press officer for the United Nations and Médecins Sans Frontières and for France 2 television.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Kabul was always more beautiful in the snow. Even the piles of rotting rubbish in my street, the only source of food for the scrawny chickens and goats that our neighbors kept outside their mud houses, looked beautiful to me after the snow had covered them in white during the long night.

I was four years old that December, and I had been playing in the snow with some other children. We pushed and shoved one another, trying to dodge the snowballs -- not an easy thing to do in a street that was so narrow only three adults could walk down it shoulder to shoulder. We stopped playing because one of us wanted to buy something; not me, I didn't have the money, although the shopkeeper near my house usually let me pay for something the following day. We all piled into the small shop.

There was a Russian woman soldier in the shop when we entered. Like the soldiers I had seen marching in the city, she wore a dark green uniform and big boots. She saw me and stretched out her hand to offer me a chocolate in shiny yellow wrapping. It was one of my favorites.

The woman soldier towered over me and said something that I did not understand. It was the closest I had ever gotten to a Russian invader.

I had no idea what to do. I stared at her face. She looked just like the doll I had named Mujda (good news) -- yellow hair, white skin, and green eyes. The kind of face that Grandmother had warned me about. "You should be scared of them," she would say sternly. "They are the invaders who have occupied Afghanistan. Their hands are stained with red, with the blood ofour people. If an invader from Russia offers something to you, don't accept it, and don't go anywhere with them." But she had always talked about the men. She had never said anything about women.

The woman soldier came closer, thrusting the chocolate at me. I looked for the blood on her hand. I was afraid that if I touched it, my hand would have blood on it too. I thought that the blood would never come off me, however much I washed. But there wasn't any blood on her hand. I said no to her, but she just laughed. She said something to me, but I didn't understand.

She said something to the shopkeeper, and he spoke to me. "She says she likes you and she just wants you to accept this chocolate as a present from her. Why won't you accept it?"

I repeated what Grandmother had told me to say if a Russian ever spoke to me. "Well, if she is Russian, tell her to get out of my country--" Then I walked out into the street.

But the woman soldier followed me. I stopped, and she just stood in front of me, and I could see that she was crying. She pulled a handkerchief out of her pocket and pressed it to her eyes.

I had never seen an invader cry before. I felt sorry for her. I would have liked to accept her present, but at the same time I was afraid of what Grandmother would think of me. I wanted to say, "Please wait. I will go ask Grandmother if I can have her permission to accept this chocolate or if I have to say something else to you." But the words stuck in my throat, and I scurried away home.

I jumped over the tiny smelly stream that ran past our house and that we all used as our sewer, pushed open the blue metal door with the flaking paint, and crossed the yard that I called our garden, even though flowers never grew there.

I kicked off my shoes and rushed across the brightly colored carpets to the spot where I knew I would find Grandmother. She spent almost all her day in a corner of the main room of our house, wearing a small veil over her hair and sitting on the floor on a toshak, a kind of mattress big enough for five people to sit on that was placed on top of the carpets. Sometimes she would lean against the wall of dried mud.

She was surrounded by her taspeh prayer beads, which she had in her hand all day long, the spray for her asthma, and the medicine she took for her rheumatism. No one else I knew prayed for as long as Grandmother. I had seen other people pray for two minutes and then get up again, but Grandmother would spend half an hour on the special prayer mat that she usually kept rolled up against the wall. I would be wanting something from her or to go out for a walk with her, but I would have to wait and wait until she finished.

The copy of the Koran, which she let me touch only after I had washed my hands, was also within easy reach on a small wooden table, protected by a cloth. She was weak and she had trouble getting up, so she did everything in the same place, from peeling vegetables to praying to Allah five times a day. When she did work in the kitchen, she moved so slowly that it was a long time before meals were ready.

But she was taking her early-afternoon nap on the mattress, and I didn't dare to wake her up because she had difficulty sleeping. I sat in front of Grandmother and tried to keep quiet. The minutes ticked by, so slowly. I picked up her brown beads and played with them for a while. When Grandmother prayed, she would mutter something under her breath, and the beads would go click, click, click as she ran them through her fingers. I had once asked her what she was saying, and she told...

Zoya's Story. Copyright © by John Follain. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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