The quickly growing I See the Sun series continues with the third installment (following I See the Sun in China and I See the Sun in Nepal), this time heading to Bamiyan in central Afghanistan. Young Habiba begins her day in the dark as her mother gently wakes her to fetch water. After breakfast, Habiba follows her father and younger brother out towards the pasture, then heads to school for the morning. On her way home, she peeks in on her “strong and wise” father who is meeting with village elders in the local mosque. After working in the garden and in the home, she’ll go watch the sheep while her brother takes his turn going to school in the afternoon.
Habiba’s young life is not without difficult reminders of unpredictable violence. Her uncle next door is a former soldier and amputee: Mixed in with exciting stories he tells, “[s]ometimes he gets sad thinking of all the changes he has seen.” The household grows when extended family arrive as they “have lost their house because of the war.” Habiba wonders, “How can so many people live together in a small house?” but after sharing a delicious meal, calming prayers, and even “a BBC broadcast in Dari,” Habibi realizes, “I don’t need to worry. We will share what we have with our cousins as they would with us. Our cousins are family. Our family is strong.”
Like the previous two Sun stories, this volume is bilingual, in both English and in Dari (Pashto and Dari are the official languages of Afghanistan); also as with the other two, this Sun includes a helpful glossary and additional notes. The ancient city of Bamiyan, once a multicultural stopover on the Silk Road, made international headlines in 2001 when two giant Buddha sculptures – the world’s largest examples of standing Buddhas – were destroyed by the Taliban in March 2001. Today Bamiyan is considered one of the few safe areas in the country.
Young Habiba is named in honor of Bamiyan’s governor, Habiba Sarabi, who is Afghanistan’s first and only woman governor. While her country remains in tumultuous flux, Habiba’s story, albeit fictional, reflects very real growing signs of hope around her – family, safety, education, access to enough food and clean water. Undoubtedly, everyday life remains challenging, but as the moon rises and Habiba drifts towards to sleep, her final thought of the day is “I am happy to be right here.” We should all so content.
Tidbit: How’s this for some fortuitous timing … Dear Zari: Hidden Stories from Women of Afghanistan by Zarghuna Kargar is a recent title released in the UK this year (hopefully a US pub date is coming soon), which grew out of an influential BBC World Service Program based in Afghanistan. Perhaps Habiba’s family occasionally tuned into the “Afghan Women’s Hour,” hoping, planning for ways their daughters will have strong, independent, equitable futures.