Her words provide an escape

Most fledgling poets would be thrilled if their work were to be broadcast on one of Afghanistan’s premier cultural television programs.

Roya was terrified. Her unemployed brother, who doesn’t think women should take part in public activity of any kind, was at home that evening, watching television with her and her mother.

“I was afraid if he saw me reading my work at a conference that was televised, he would kill me,” she said.

Mercifully, he was bathing when the program came on. She was in agony until it ended, torn between the thrill of hearing her own words and the fear of discovery: “My heart was beating so hard!”


Although Roya has been writing poems and stories since childhood, her only publication until this year was the printing of her poems on posters circulated in the university literature department. But after she began writing in English, she found another outlet: the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, where she now posts her poems and corresponds with teachers.

Delicate-featured and voluble, Roya hopes for success as a writer, but also for a time when Afghan women need not fear public recognition.

Her father, who encouraged her from childhood in her writing, died five years ago, and she misses him desperately.

“When the Taliban were in power, when I was shut up in the house and could not go to school, I felt I was disappearing,” she said. “He would say to me: ‘Roya, this will not last forever. You will have your education. You will read books, you will write books.’ ”

The Taliban times, though terrible, taught her something valuable about writing and life.

“I learned that even if you are locked in a room, you don’t have to stare at the four walls,” she said. “You can look out the window. You can look at the sky.”

-- Laura King