This woman was applying glass beads to a linen runner that will ultimately grace a table unlike any she's ever dined at herself. She said, "Thank you" after I photographed her. So did the other women squatting around the stretched fabric, also applying beads; so did the women operating battered sewing machines against the far wall, so did the stern men who were sorting through fabric swatches on a table. This was one of the pleasures of being in Kabul last spring: everytime I took someone's picture, they thanked me. They seemed to feel I was doing them an honor.
Years ago, I read Milan Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being
and was haunted by ideas that sprang from this passage, "We can never know what we want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come...We live everything as if comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold."
Well, haunted may not be the right word. If anything, this passage made my own tendency to fret about whether I've chosen the right life a little more tolerable-- at least, this fretting seems to be part of the human condition. So maybe I kicked myself a little less when I caught myself thinking things like, "I could have been an archeologist! I could have returned to Austria and taken up with my junior-summer-abroad boyfriend! I could have been an expert on alpine geology!" I guess we all struggle with the fact that--sigh--we only have one life to live. Only one that we know about, anyway.
But being a freelance writer-- I suppose any sort of writer who doesn't have a regular beat--exacerbates this tendency all over again. I spend so much time getting to know people who do amazing things and often feel this terrible dismay that they are doing
while I am writing about it. I often wonder what it would be like if I were the person doing the doing, not just doing the writing.
That woman in the photo above? She was working in a factory that an Afghan-American woman opened in Kabul a few years ago. The factory employs dozens of people and sources its supplies from other companies in Afghanistan; it is a small and heroic--and important-- effort to build up the economy and give people hope that they can have jobs, not just elected leaders. I wrote about it here.
What the article doesn't say is that the woman who started the factory went back to Afghanistan many times when the Taliban were in power and started schools for girls that operated in private homes. When I interviewed her, she was ecstatic because several of her girls were acing their entrance exams at the university.
One of the things that was so fascinating about Kabul was that I met a number of women who were doing extraordinary things-- even outside their own version of ordinary. Made me think more about that whole one-life-to-live thing. We might not be able to live different lives concurrently, but consecutively? Why not?
One of these days, I'll figure out how to make the switch to that other, more-superior form of Blogger. If anyone has any words of encouragement-- please!