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The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan (Chłopczyce z Kabulu. Za kulisami buntu obyczajowego w Afganistanie)
Jenny Nordberg

Translated from English by Justyn Hunia
published by Czarne, Wołowiec

Freedom in men’s clothing
How is it possible that over so many years of Western presence in Afghanistan nobody noticed that the juvenile street gangs included disguised girls? That even in the eyes of the Taliban, a woman can change gender if a man’s honour requires it?
Jenny Nordberg’s book is a revealing as well as universal reportage about the paradoxes of fossilised traditions and about the incurable ignorance of international aid organisations. Above all, though, it is about the tragic fate of women in a world where a woman is not even a decoration but only a breeding animal.
Maciej Zaremba Bielawski

Jenny Nordberg

(born in 1972 in Uppsala, Sweden) is a New York-based investigative reporter and writer. She holds a B.A. in law and journalism from Stockholm University and an M.A. from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. In the spring of 2016, she started lecturing on gender and investigative journalism at New York University.
A columnist and correspondent for Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet, her work has also been published in American newspapers and magazines including The New York Times. She has written several documentaries for American television and co-authored a series of investigative articles on fatal railroad accidents in the United States. The series won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 2005. In 2010, she received the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for her television documentary about Afghan women. Her debut book, The Underground Girls of Kabul... (2014), has been showered with awards and translated into 12 languages.
More information.
The author’s official website.

Justyn Hunia

(born in 1975) is a Polish translator with a degree in English studies. He translates books in the liberal arts and humanities (by the likes of Peter Burke, Zygmunt Bauman and V.S. Naipaul). His credentials also include English-to-Polish translations of contemporary poems and essays. Some of these have appeared in Poland in Tygodnik Powszechny weekly, Bliza liberal arts quarterly, and Przekładaniec journal. His latest projects included editing and translating a volume of poems by Robert Hass entitled Winged and Acid Dark (published in Poland by Znak Publishers in 2015 under the title Skrzydlate i ciemne).

Bacha Posh: Afghanistan’s Silent Women Warriors

Lidia Ostałowska on Jenny Nordberg’s book The Underground Girls of Kabul, translated into Polish by Justyna Huni (Chłopczyce z Kabulu)

In Afghanistan, there are girls who have discovered that they can run faster and climb higher—if they wear pants instead of skirts. These girls are known as the bacha posh. They are dressed up as boys, and the world around them pretends that they are the real McCoy. This practice, known for centuries, has saved the honor of many a man who has failed to beget a son, and it has also helped protect the mother from humiliation.

Azita, a former member of the Afghan parliament, has turned this patriarchal custom into an act of defiance. The youngest of her daughters, Mehrangis, has transformed herself into a male figure named Mehran. Thus, to the delight of her mother, she has crossed to the other side of life. “That life can include flying a kite, running as fast as you can, laughing hysterically, jumping up and down because it feels good, climbing trees to feel the thrill of hanging on,” writes Jenny Nordberg. “It is to speak to another boy, to sit with your father and his friends, to ride in the front seat of a car and watch people out on the street. To look them in the eye. To speak up without fear and to be listened to, and rarely have anyone question why you are out on your own in comfortable clothes that allow for any kind of movement.” That life is also education and work—“all unthinkable for an Afghan girl.”

In all these stories of tomboys—or actually “underground girls”—the author sees a phenomenon of cultural resistance (the full title of the book is The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan). A similar sense of opposition to laws made by men is the experience of women in happier places in the world. The author is well aware, though, that the equality principles of the Western world are not building blocks that can be arranged at will in any culture. The hope to improve the fate of Afghan women lies in the local realities of Afghanistan. This is demonstrated by the lives of the bacha posh — the unofficial silent warriors against gender segregation.

Lidia Ostałowska


The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan (Chłopczyce z Kabulu. Za kulisami buntu obyczajowego w Afganistanie)

translated from English by Justyn Hunia

published by Czarne