Version for “Tales of the Veils” website.
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Noor says “Zahra, the colourful commotion going on below this balcony is one of the crowded streets of Peshawar, the largest city in the tribal area of Pakistan. As a baby you were given to a charity organization here to be adopted by a new family. You grew up in a normal liberal family in London with Pakistani roots and had a normal English life with husband and career, why did you contact Family Search and why are we here now?” Zahra says “At twenty I was married to Saeed. We had a wonderful life together, but five months ago he was killed in a car accident, and I’ve had to start my life over again. Of course my adoptive parents see me as part of their family, and I’ve been welcomed into Saeed’s family, but knowing I’ve got biological relatives I find the time has come to look for them and perhaps continue my life here in Pakistan. None of the families are capable of helping me in this search, and what I’ve tried myself have not got any result that’s why I’ve contacted Family Search.” Noor says “What have you been told about what happened when your mother gave you up and who are we looking for?” Zahra says “I only know what the charity organisation wrote down when I was given to them ‘October 21. 1986: Newly widowed Rashida Khan from the town of Naran is only able to sustain one child and gives her youngest daughter to us.’ When I got my adoption papers they only stated the names of my parents, no dates or addresses. It looks as if because my father died my mother found herself in a very difficult situation. Apart from finding my mother the adoption papers say I have an older sister whom I like to find as well.” Noor says “Here in Pakistan there are no complete public records of marriages, births or deaths that can be used to trace your mother and sister, and you have found out from London that the charity organization behind your adoption has been closed for several years. We can of course go to Naran searching for Rashida Khan widowed in 1986, but first it’s a quite large town, second Khan is a very common name and third she might have married again not having the name Khan anymore. We have another chance of getting more information, having tracked down a Mrs. Bhatti, who worked at the charity organization, when you were bought there. Let’s complete our local dress by pinning our veils and go there.” They both lift the veil part of a pak-chadar across the face and pin it at the ear. Then Amin lowers the camera and they leave the balcony of their hotel.
The taxi stops outside a small house surrounded by lawn and fenced only by a chest height green hedge. It looks like one of the more quiet quarters of the city with high middle-class owners. Zahra says while Amin makes his camera ready “In the city centre everything from uncovered women from the east of the country to women completely covered in black or in full length burqas can be seen, and our salwar kameez and pak-chadar falls nicely in between, but out here I would guess most women are unveiled even in public.” Noor says “Representing a television station our clothing needs to be on the conservative side to avoid offending anyone. At home I always wear richly-coloured salwar kameez and no head covering, but my set is a warm brown color, and your burgundy trousers and light blue shirt, although both in one colour, are too colourful to be strict. The white pak-chadars make our veiling acceptable everywhere around here.” Noor presses the doorbell. A woman in a blue salwar kameez decorated with white flowers and holding a grey scarf wound around her head in front of her face opens the door. Noor says “We’re from the television program Family Search. Are you Mrs. Bhatti, who worked for a charity organization downtown in 1986?” Mrs. Bhatti nods and Noor continues “We hope you can help Mrs. Farooqi here in her search for her family.” Mrs. Bhatti says “I can tell you what I remember about what happened then. My husband is at home, so even the man with the camera may come in.” Mrs. Bhatti gestures them to pass her, first letting the scarf fall from her face after closing the door to reveal she is around fifty. In a living room facing a small garden Mr. Bhatti greets them without shaking hands. He says “Please take a seat. I hope my wife is able to help you. She will be right back with tea and biscuits.” Noor says “Thank you. It seems to be alright with you that we unveil then?” Mr. Bhatti says “Men always like seeing beautiful faces. It is women who must preserve their modesty and honor. Although not young anymore my wife veils in public.” Noor unpins her veil and Zahra copies her. Shortly after Mrs. Bhatti enters, head uncovered, carrying a tray. As she puts the tray down Noor says “I know the tea will get cool, but to get the right reactions for the camera I would like you to start by telling us what you know about Zahra. Please sit down next to her so that the camera can get you both in the picture.” While Mrs. Bhatti seats herself Amin starts the camera. Noor asks “Mrs. Bhatti, how do you know the woman next to you is the same child delivered to the organization twenty one years ago?” Mrs. Bhatti replies “I clearly remember the healthy but poorly dressed woman coming to us with her two girls, because while the woman explained herself to our leader, I was to take care of the older girl. She was nearly six and clearly had some characteristics in common with Mrs. Farooqi. I gave her some food to eat and lemonade to drink, which made her cheer up and talk a little. She told me her name, Jamila. In less than an hour her mother returned trying to hide that she was crying. She had been given a meal as well, but although she had decided to come to us, it was of course extremely hard for her to leave without one of her children. Over the following three months I regularly took care of you Mrs. Farooqi, and although you of course have changed much in twenty years, I’m sure it’s you because I saw the adoption papers saying Farooqi, Tottenham Court Road, London, remembering you were lucky being adopted by a family with a Pakistani name.” Leaning over to hug Mrs. Bhatti Zahra says “Thank you for taking care of me. Your work has been fruitful. I had a good life until my husband died and now I know my sister is three years older than me and is named Jamila.” After some seconds of Zahra and Mrs. Bhatti smiling at each other Amin puts the camera down and Noor says “As I understand it, you know nothing about Mrs. Khan, Zahra’s mother, and where she lived. Then I think it’s time for tea. Just giving us the name and approximate age of Zahra’s sister is a great step forward, giving us the opportunity to search for her in addition to her mother.” While they drink tea Mrs. Bhatti tells about her work with the organization to the two women and Zahra tells about her life, while Amin learns about Mr. Bhatti’s occupation and informs him about the Family Search program. Leaving the Bhatti house an hour later Noor says to Zahra “Now we have a better chance of making inquiries in Naran, but first we have to buy ourselves a burqa.”
Entering a shop with a large selection Amin stays near the entrance to let the shopkeeper know that although these two customers are veiled with a pak-chadar they are not conservative women and talk to males. Noor addresses the shopkeeper saying “We are going north-west of here to Naran. We want to buy a burqa each appropriate for this region.” The shopkeeper says “Assuming you’re not going to do any manual work in public I will recommend a full length burqa in the standard blue color and of a good quality, made from 100 percent cotton and with extensive pleating. This shows that you are both well off and like to be average anonymous women in public.” Noor says “Please show us such a burqa.” The shopkeeper measures them with his eyes, goes to one of the countless sections filled with burqas hanging from hooks and after a little browsing pulls two down. One is handed to Zahra the other he holds outstretched to show the pleating and the embroidery on the top front, but both women mainly look at the eye covering mesh, which doesn’t look transparent. Zahra turns her burqa upside down to find the opening and try it on, looking at the shopkeeper to get his approval. He nods and hands Noor the other burqa upside down for her to put it on. Soon two almost identical blue shapeless figures face each other. Zahra, raising her voice a little upon realizing how it is muffled by both the pak-chadar and the burqa tells Noor “My sight is better than I anticipated. Everything is darker and blurred somewhat, but even in the dim light in here I’m able to see.” Noor answers by saying “The peripheral vision is gone, but apart from that I guess it will take hours before the blurring gives me a headache.” “Have you worn a burqa before?” the shopkeeper enquires. Zahra shakes her head, Noor replying “Me neither.” The shopkeeper tells them “These burqas are well suited for beginners. The mesh is as thin as acceptable for young well-off women, but if you keep wearing a pak-chadar or similar veiling beneath no one will be able to see your age but considering the mesh looks dark from the outside I suggest you change the colour of your head covering to brown or black. Notice also that the burqas have slits making it possible to use the hands for brief periods without lifting the burqa.” They both search for the slits, and in moments show their hands and forearms. While they are both a little surprised seeing these human parts protruding from the inhuman cloth sack, the sight makes the shopkeeper say “Bare hands should not be seen by non-mahram men, only poor women do not wear gloves to hide skin, painted nails, rings and the nature of their inner clothing. There are some shops selling gloves just two hundred feet in that direction.” he tells them, pointing down the street. Noor says “I hope what the shopkeeper tells us is right, that these are the right things for us. Being visitors and buying our first burqa’s we have to hope he is correct. These garments, being so different from what we are used to wearing, I think we should keep them on for the rest of our shopping.” Zahra says “You’re right. Let’s find Amin and pay.” Noor goes to the shop front where Amin is watching a tailor at work on the other side of the street. She shouts “Amin Marwat, time to pay!” Amin turns towards the shop searching for Noor and Zahra while approaching. As Amin is just outside the door Noor says right next to him “From now on it’s always us coming to you!” Amin, realizing it’s Noor inside the blue burqa right next to him smiles and nods. While Amin finds his purse the shopkeeper says “A woman wearing a burqa normally never speaks where she might be heard by non-mahram men. In many regions, like around Naran, I even think women are supposed to stay totally mute as long as the burqa covers their face.” Noor, even inside a burqa, had forgotten she is not in London and bows to the shopkeeper to thank for his advice. She puts her covered face to Amin’s ear and says close to whispering “We have been advised well, add some tip.” Just before Amin turns for the doorway the shopkeeper faces him saying “I think your family wants to visit the glove shops two hundred feet in that direction. Hope to see you again sometime.” Amin says “A man making my wife silent will always make me come back. Good afternoon.”
Out in the street Amin turns his head to say “Try to stay three steps behind as is customary here.” Zahra and Noor are now fully concentrating on avoiding tripping. They both mainly look down trying to lift the front just enough to avoid the fabric getting under their feet and not lifting it too much so the feet are revealed. From time to time they quickly raise their heads to follow the back of Amin. At the glove shop and the pak-chadar shop Amin speaks for them, Noor only whispering to Amin to get what they want. Zahra doesn’t say a word until back at the hotel. They both get to the hotel without tripping, but concentrating so much on themselves they now and then deviate from the path Amin is taking and bump into something or someone with the shoulder, forgetting they walk in busy streets with people moving in all directions, many carrying large loads.
All three enter Amin and Noor’s room, the women still in burqas. Removing the burqa’s both women show areas wet with sweat all over and they both immediately remove their pak-chadar’s as well. Amin brings some cans of soda from the fridge saying “Half an hour to drink and freshen up. It’s a two hour drive to Naran, we can be there for dinner and be able to continue our search first thing in the morning.” After emptying half a can of her drink Noor says “These burqas are designed to be worn as little as possible, keeping women out of public places. Moving requires skill and full attention, sight is restricted and gets annoying over time, speaking is not allowed, and after a little while you boil in your own sweat. Zahra did you notice the burqa shopkeeper called us the family when speaking to Amin. From now on you can’t have a single room, as women can’t travel without a close male family member where we are going. The only solution is that you are the sister of Amin. To people whom we tell your story he is the son of your adoptive parents, you two growing up together has to be close enough to allow him to chaperone you. Not only do we have to share a room from now on, perhaps we have to share the bed as well.” Amin says “Don’t worry Zahra. We’re all raised in the West, used to being close to the opposite sex with little clothing without having to be intimate. I promise I won’t start anything, and Noor can lie between us if there’s only one bed.” Zahra says, taking another can and her burqa “We have been together long enough for me to trust you and see you as my friends. I have been with other men than Saeed and if sex is necessary to find my mother and sister I will think of them. Noor please put a brown pak-chadar on top of my burqa then I’ll go and enjoy that I have got my own bath, perhaps for the last time on this journey. See you in half an hour.”
About half an hour later Zahra, dressed much more conservatively in a dark brown pak-chadar over her dress, knocks on the door of Noor and Amin’s room. Next to her is her small suitcase with the burqa folded over the top. Amin opens the door “Noor is just about finished dressing. Haven’t your eye slit become smaller? If Noor shows just as little I will have to remember who is wearing what colour to tell you apart.” Zahra says “In a couple of hours you might only see two identical blue burqas outside our room. We’re both just your family.” Noor has chosen a dark grey pak-chadar and is easily distinguished from Zahra even if her eyes are nearly completely hidden as well. Putting their suitcases in the rented car Amin says “I think women always sit in the back seat whenever possible.” “I don’t mind” Noor tells him, “We can put our burqas on the front seat ready to put on when we arrive.”
First they just watch the crowds and the traffic while driving out of Peshawar. Then they discuss the possibilities of getting information about Zahra’s family. But although it is late afternoon and it has cooled considerably after a while only Amin is really awake driving the car. Both women are surprised when the car suddenly slows and bumps to stop between some trees just out of sight from the main road. They have been driving for about an hour, half the estimated duration of the trip. Amin says “I need to relax, have a soda and stretch my legs for five minutes, but more importantly I have noticed that without exception, every car travelling in either direction that has women passengers, they were wearing a burqa. This is your last five minutes unveiled so to get used to behaving like the shopkeeper said. I think you should stay silent. If more stops are needed then pat my shoulder.” Noor says “We can’t risk spoiling this mission by being harassed by some strict conservatives seeing us and getting sufficiently offended to try stopping us.” Zahra adds “No, it’s the custom here to wear a burqa, apparently even riding inside cars at speeds where others only get a second to see if you are burqa clad or not. Pak-chadar pinned across the face, gloves and burqa. Fortunately it keeps getting cooler.”
They all finish their drinks before Noor and Zahra cover their faces, only showing a narrow eye slit in the same manner as when they left the hotel. Zahra opens the front passenger door and unfolds her burqa to find the new gloves. As she is wearing pantyhose, excluding the eye slit, the gloves cover the last part of skin showing, reaching to the elbows to cover the shirt sleeves. A minute later Noor has the cap of her burqa fitted, but its front flipped over her head to say “If it’s possible to do this outside of women quarters we may talk. If the burqa can’t be lifted from the face we have to stay silent. From what Amin has seen the burqa has to be down while in the car. No more talking by Zahra and myself until we are inside a hotel room. Agree Zahra?” The blue cloth shape that used to be Zahra nods and enters the car, a second identical shape following her.
About an hour later Amin has been driving slowly for several minutes to find a hotel and even stopping and opening the back doors doesn’t get any reaction from either of the burqas, both women are in a deep sleep. Amin shakes the one closest to him. The body awakes, the head turns and enquires “Are we at a hotel in Naran?” Amin, raising his voice replies “We are, and you are wearing a burqa so you are not allowed to speak. Shake Zahra please.” Noor nods several times to indicate she has violated the custom and then shakes Zahra. She raises herself to a sitting position, looks around before facing Amin who tells the women “We are parked outside of a hotel, and I don’t know if they have a vacant room. As I can’t leave you unchaperoned in the car while I ask please follow me and keep your heads down while walking behind me.” At the reception Zahra hears a male voice say “Two wives or other female family?” Amin answers “One wife and one sister.” The receptionist says “Then we can put an extra mattress on the floor, but it has to be in front of the bathroom door implying you have to put it down and remove it yourself just before and after sleeping.” Amin says “I understand. We will take the room. Where can we get dinner?” The receptionist says “Right here. In fact our restaurant is the only one in town with family compartments allowing the women to sit comfortably with burqas flipped back. If they just cover their faces while the waiter is present our customs are being adhered to. How many nights would you like to stay?” Amin says “It’s hard to say. We’re here searching for some distant female family. We may succeed tomorrow, or it may take several days.” The receptionist says “Females are difficult to trace, but may I suggest your women inquire at the matchmakers. There are two in the town at the present time I think, I’ll ask my wife and have some names and addresses for you tomorrow.” Amin says “I appreciate that very much thank you. We would like to eat right away. Can we leave our luggage here meanwhile?” The receptionist says “Yes. Just bring it to the desk and I’ll arrange to have it taken to your room while you eat. You can leave your family in a booth in the restaurant while handling your car and luggage. Just talk to the waiter over there.” Zahra has been facing the floor during the conversation with the receptionist. Now she lifts it enough to follow the back of Amin. Walking fifty feet he stops and says “We wish to dine, I was told you had a suitable place for my family to wait while I park my car and bring in our luggage.” A new voice to the women, that of the waiter says “You can all eat in here. Our family booths have lockable doors. Please lock the door and take the key. Then I’ll find a boy to help you.” Amin says “Thank you. Women walk in here, take a seat and wait.” Zahra sees a small thin wooden door leading to a small compartment dominated by a table for six. Before she and Noor have been seated the door closes and a key is turned. Zahra sits facing Noor, who puts a gloved hand through the slit and holds a finger to where her mouth is hidden. Their burqas stay on and they stay silent. After indicating silence not even a gloved hand is shown. There’s nothing to see but dull dark wooden furniture surrounded by wooden panels made from the same wood and in between a blue mass of cloth just moving a little now and then. Ten minutes later Amin returns saying “You may lift your burqas, but your faces have to stay veiled until the food is served, and with these thin panels only I will speak as there are several males dining near us.” No one speaks during the meal. The women are not allowed to and Amin feels too tired to. A couple of times the women have to stop eating because the waiter knocks the door and they have to hold the pak-chadar veil in front of their faces and face the table while he serves them. Eating while wearing gloves is new to both of them, but uncomplicated with the thin gloves. An hour later all three are lying down in the small hotel room. They don’t trust that the room gives them privacy and the women only whisper when saying a few words. Both women sleep dressed in salwar kameez and pak-chadar, faces covered except the eyes. But the mattress on the floor is fine and with a thin blanket Zahra quickly falls asleep.
At ten the next morning Amin rings the door of a small house near the centre of town. Noor and Zahra in burqas are three steps behind him facing the ground. As the door is opened Amin says “We have come from London searching for female relatives known to live in Naran around 1986. Would you talk to the women while I wait in a coffee house?” Hearing no male voices from within the house Noor and Zahra have raised their heads and see a woman in an ankle length brown coat, black glove covered hands and a black covered head. As she is not wearing burqa, the woman has hidden her head under a large loose semi-transparent black chiffon scarf, but what can be seen of the head through the scarf is covered in black as well. The woman is shaking her head at Amin’s words and gestures for him to wait a minute while Noor and Zahra are gestured to enter. The corridor they enter becomes dim as the door is closed. The woman flips the see-through scarf back to show a small eye slit of an otherwise black scarf covered head. She says “I’m Mrs. Ahmad. Being a matchmaker for more than twenty years I know a lot of women here, but right now I have two families visiting I think are fit for marrying each other, please return after lunch.” Noor says “Of course Mrs. Ahmad. Coming without appointment we can’t expect you to be available right now. But if we may return a little earlier we could perhaps have lunch with you and we’ll pay for your time and the food.” Mrs. Ahmad says “If the man accompanying you hadn’t said you came from far away I would have known now, because no local women would speak with the burqa covering her face. I know why you would like to have lunch. I normally only take payment after a successful matchmaking, but as this is not about matchmaking, I may make an exception. Let’s eat at half past twelve.” Noor, having being corrected for speaking while wearing her burqa, had been about to lift it, but the hand of Mrs. Ahmad stopped her. Putting her hand to the door handle she says “I’m looking forward to knowing you better. Girls starting to wear the burqa usually make knots in a long scarf and tie it over their mouth to remind them to stay silent if starting to speak. See you later.” Mrs. Ahmad has flipped her scarf down and opens the door.
Inside the car Amin says “I think you can flip your burqas back and speak if you bend down and face the floor. Noor lifts her burqa and in a low voice tells Amin that the two women have a lunch appointment. Zahra flips her burqa back to ask “Why do we need to have lunch with Mrs. Ahmad?” Noor says “Because either we eat in the dull hotel booth or we buy some food and drive out of town to have picnic at a secluded site. Except at the hotel, women in this town can only eat in the women’s section of private homes.” Amin says “It’s good you got this appointment, because we have to have dinner at the hotel I think. Perhaps a good payment for the lunch and her time could persuade her to appear in front of the camera if she has some new information. Remember to bring it Noor. Are we now going to try the other matchmaker?” Noor answers “Yes. And if she has time to talk to us perhaps you can buy some long black scarves for us while waiting.” Amin says “I was considering buying some other cloth as well. What are the scarves for?” Zahra says “To partly gag us. Mrs. Ahmad said young girls do it that way when Noor talked while covered by her burqa.”
They drive for five minutes then Amin says “I think it’s here, the small house with the blue door just behind the Northern Mosque. Now you go alone, if you’re invited in one of you has to come out and indicate when you want to be picked up.” Zahra presses the doorbell and they hold their faces to the ground. Hearing the door open they both cautiously lift their heads to see the bottom of a blue burqa. Then they straighten completely to see a blue burqa in full, looking much like their own but being of poorer quality. A black gloved hand through a slit gestures them to enter. They are directly inside the only main room of the house. Just four meters in front of them are windows facing a small backyard, and two doors, seeming to be a bathroom and a kitchen, implying the residents sleep in the main room. Their host has removed her burqa and says while removing her elbow long gloves “I’m Mrs. Qadir. Who do I have the honour of receiving as guests?” Noor, having flipped back her burqa without removing it says “I’m Noor Marwat and this is Zahra Farooqi. We have come from London to search for her relatives.” If having guests from far away surprises Mrs. Qadir is not directly shown. She now shows that under the burqa she is wearing an ankle length thick dark grey dress with long sleeves halfway covering her hands, which are still covered by a second pair of black gloves that disappear into the sleeves of the dress and that everything above the neckline of the dress is black including an eye cover. Mrs. Qadir’s voice shows some surprise as she says “I was expecting someone having a daughter or son to marry, perhaps the woman with her burqa down would be the daughter, but please sit down while I make some tea. I am surprised and honoured my skills are known outside this province.” Noor says “Thank you Mrs. Qadir. Can Zahra tell my husband to be back in an hour? I have to disappoint you a little as we were given your name by the receptionist at our hotel.” Mrs. Qadir says “If we’re not finished in an hour there is a coffee bar opposite the mosque entrance where your husband can wait. I’m still honoured having visitors from far outside Pakistan. London is a city with many Pakistanis in Europe isn’t it? Wait until I’m back from the kitchen before answering.” In two minutes Zahra is back and both Noor and herself remove their burqas. With the kitchen no more than five meters away Noor, having seen Mrs. Qadir still completely covered, taps her gloved wrist to silently ask Zahra what she thinks. She shakes her head and they both lift their hands to the face to sense if their pak-chadars are fitted as tight as possible with a minimal eye slit. Zahra nods to Noor and Noor nods to Zahra. A few minutes later Mrs. Qadir is back with a tray containing a bowl of biscuits, a tea pot, three glasses, and surprisingly two straws. To start the conversation Noor says “Your knowledge about London is admirable. Its Pakistani population is larger than in most cities of Pakistan, but the majority of the population is not Muslim, but Christians of European descent. Coming from far away we are unfamiliar with the customs here. Do we have to stay veiled? If so then how do we eat and drink?” Mrs. Qadir says “Most women here only uncover to female family and close friends. My husband works for the mosque and in his home a long time friendship and the permission of all husbands is required to show the face. Your eye slit is acceptable because you are not local, but among locals only older women are not eye veiled. A pak-chadar is very convenient for women only veiling in public and not wearing a burqa, but problematic when having to eat or drink, that is why I bought straws and am serving biscuits. Both straw and biscuits can be entered behind your veil by pulling a little out at the open side where it is pinned. It’s awkward, but your mouth is reachable.” Zahra says “Thank you for enlightening us. What face covering is used here then?” Mrs. Qadir says “Either a number of scarves, like I use, with the one covering nose and mouth hanging loose down on the chest enabling access to the mouth by lifting it a little but not revealing chin or mouth, or wearing a niqab like Middle Eastern women. But now tell me, who are you looking for?” Zahra tells her story. Having listened Mrs. Qadir says “I’m sorry I know nothing about your mother or sister. It happened so long ago, I’m just a little older than your sister Zahra. If your mother has re-married or your sister has been married here in Naran then it has probably been mediated by Mrs. Ahmad.” Noor immediately says “We have an appointment with her. Not all inquiries lead to results in this kind of investigations, but it was nice meeting you, and knowing what you have done for us is your source of income, we would like to pay for your time.” Mrs. Qadir says “I only take money for marriage mediation. But Zahra, I know the name of your father. It is on a stone in the graveyard here at the mosque. Would you like to go and see it?” Surprised, both Zahra and Noor lean forward towards Mrs. Qadir to see if her face confirms her words. Of course it’s just black cloth, but being used to expressing herself totally veiled, the head of Mrs. Qadir slowly keeps nodding. Zahra says in a shaky voice “I have come here searching for living family, knowing my father had died was the reason for my adoption. But seeing his grave I will have a memory of him, as I was too young to remember anything about him from when he was alive. Please take us there Mrs. Qadir.” Mrs. Qadir gets up and Zahra and Noor reach for their burqas making Mrs. Qadir say “Please wait with the burqas. I will be back in a moment.” Even to Noor, filled with thoughts about this unexpected turn, it feels like just an instant before Mrs. Qadir is back carrying her burqa over one arm and holding three black leather straps in the other. Showing the straps she tells her guests that she had made them herself to help ensure she stays modestly mute in public. Considering the emotions involved with our small trip and you being used to speaking everywhere, I would be glad if you would wear one as well to avoid shameful incidents.” Zahra says “Very considerate of you Mrs. Qadir.” Noor adding the words “You are right. We are not good at maintaining silence as is the custom here.” Mrs. Qadir holds her strap over her mouth and buckles it tightly, making her face scarf tighten over her nose, but after putting the burqa on any features showing are well hidden. Zahra notices padding in the middle of the strap sealing her lips when the strap is buckled, but with a layer of cloth under the strap it doesn’t cut into her skin anywhere. Any attempt to part her lips is in vain, it’s a much better gag than the scarf suggested by Mrs. Ahmad. Before opening the front door Mrs. Qadir, with her hands through the slits, show them to follow her in a line and keep their heads low, just looking at the hem in front. Then she pulls her hands inside while emphasizing they should keep them there until they return.
They walk halfway around the mosque and enter a stony-ground area surrounded by a low stone wall. Tombstones of various sizes are scattered all over, apparently without any plan. Mrs. Qadir walks among them heading directly for a particular spot. Stopping she bows deeply towards a small stone and Zahra kneels to be close to the remains of her father and reads his name along with two dates. This man died in 1986, and as his first name is not that common, she has little doubt it’s her father. Tears are wetting her pak-chadar while she calculates he died at 55 years of age. Now Noor and Mrs. Qadir are kneeling on each side of her, pressing against her to make her feel she is not alone. Zahra is unaware of how much time has passed when Noor touches her cheek to cheek and by her movements urges her to get up. Mrs. Qadir starts leading them back, walking much slower knowing that Zahra will not be concentrating on walking in the long burqa.
Inside Mrs. Qadir’s home again Zahra and Noor only flip their burqas back, and after removing the gagging strap Zahra says in a tear filled voice “Thank you Mrs. Qadir. This was my first encounter with my biological family. Now I know I was born in Naran. Being here now is like visiting a long time neighbor. I hope to come back here soon to say on my father’s grave that the family has been reunited. And when I come back I will let you know who I found.” Mrs. Qadir says “You’re always welcome here. I sincerely hope you find family members alive. I would very much like to hear about your findings.” Mrs. Qadir and Zahra hug for a while. Then Noor says “These straps are just what we need to travel without risking making offending sounds in this region. Do you have more? I wish to buy two for each of us?” Mrs. Qadir says “I only have one more strap and it is worn out, but you are welcome to take one each. Later you can copy it yourself or find a shop to do it.” Zahra says “Just because my father is buried close to your home you need not give us presents. But declining is not possible I guess. Can I bring you something from Peshawar or another larger town when I come back?” Mrs. Qadir says “I know that wonderful thick niqabs with three eye layers exist. Having such an item, I think my eyes can remain covered all the time with a thin transparent layer while doing delicate needlework and the three layers combined to an almost completely opaque, nearly blinding cover for ultimate protection when praying or just talking.” Zahra says “Promising you such a niqab we can accept the straps, thank you very much. But we must leave now, may I use your bathroom before we go.” Mrs. Qadir goes to open the door to Zahra. After washing Zahra takes the largest note from her purse and places it under a small perfume bottle inside a cupboard. When she comes out Noor is waiting to use the bathroom as well. Before leaving both hug Mrs. Qadir, put their gag straps in and pull their burqas down.
Outside the rented car is parked. They have been with Mrs. Qadir for about ninety minutes. Noor heads for the mosque entrance and as expected Amin is in the coffee shop. Noor walks up in front of him and bows. Amin says “Is it my wife or sister?” Noor nods. They walk to the car and she immediately notices that things have been altered. Curtains have been placed around all of the rear windows and upon entering Zahra and Noor see there is even a curtain along the back of the front seats. As they close the back doors it gets quite dark. Getting in Amin says “Now this car is suitable for transporting women. You can when necessary flip back your burqas to speak while sitting normally. It’s close to an hour to your lunch appointment. Where do we go until then?” Noor has flipped back her burqa and removed her strap to say “Nowhere by car. We’ve been shown the tomb of Zahra’s father. Grab the camera and follow. I’ll show the grave to Zahra like Mrs. Qadir did. Back home nobody can differentiate one burqa from the other if the speech is about Mrs. Qadir.” Zahra doesn’t mind seeing the grave again and steps out of the car. Being shown the grave, Amin places himself with the camera and then directs where Noor and Amin should go to make it a good shot. A minute later Zahra is again on her knees at her father’s grave, but unknown to Noor and Amin crying nearly as much as the first time. Then Noor bends down to be close to her and a minute later Amin says “Cut!” Zahra sincerely hopes she will be back soon with good news about a family reunion. Inside the car again Amin says “You both managed without making a sound as far as I could hear, but here are the scarves you asked for to gag yourselves.” A hand comes through the curtain from the front. Noor says “We were given some even better gags by Mrs. Qadir. Perhaps we can use these scarves to cover our eyes like she did. But no, the material is too thick to see through. Perhaps we should just buy a niqab. I think Mrs. Qadir didn’t have any only because she cannot afford it. They must be available in such a conservative town. Have you seen niqabs for sale Amin?” Amin says “No, but I agree, with women veiling so much somebody probably wears niqab.” Then Zahra says “Mrs. Qadir can now afford a niqab, because I left a large denomination note in her bathroom cupboard.” Laughing Noor adds “She can afford two then, because I put a note between her towels.” Zahra says “It doesn’t matter to us. We have given her the equivalent of twenty pounds. Her home is really poor and here she can manage for weeks on that amount, or buy something until now completely out of reach, perhaps a new high quality burqa.” Noor says “Amin can we have some more notes if Mrs. Ahmad deserves it. For some additional money maybe she will appear in front of the camera.” A hand with some large notes comes through the curtain. Noor hands one half to Zahra. Then without discussing it they just rest for a quarter of an hour.
Mrs. Ahmad receives them dressed as she was earlier. They are shown into a living room where lunch is ready. Removing their burqas they surprise Mrs. Ahmad with their gag straps. She says “Welcome. You have been visiting a strict family in the meantime I see. Wearing such an item was it Mrs. Qadir? Her young voice is much more tempting than mine. A scarf is enough at my age, but from your eyes you both look young. Would you mind telling me?” Noor says “What a wonderful lunch table. You are right, we have visited Mrs. Qadir. Excuse our manners but we haven’t introduced ourselves, I’m Noor Marwat, 26.” Zahra says “Thank you for spending time with us at such short notice. I’m Zahra Farooqi, 24.” Mrs. Ahmad gestures for them to sit making Noor say “We understand that we will have a problem eating and drinking wearing these pak-chadars, but as you are less strict than Mrs. Qadir perhaps you don’t mind if we eat unveiled?” Mrs. Ahmad says “Veiling among women is to reduce jealousy and competition. At my age I’m out of this, but being matchmaker I can’t have guests deviating from the customary dress-code in case other women drop by. You’ll have to borrow a veil to wear. Wait just a moment while I fetch something suitable.” Mrs. Ahmad brings two rectangular pieces of black cloth with strings attached to tie over nose and mouth. Receiving a veil Zahra turns towards the wall to change without showing her face, but Mrs. Ahmad says “I don’t mind seeing especially young faces. In fact I always insist on seeing the future bride I’m going to match to know how her looks influence her value. In your case I would like to see the face of the one searching for her relatives in case I recognize something.” Zahra, after pinning the pak-chadar veil at the side it is attached to, faces Mrs. Ahmad, giving her a big smile while Noor puts on the black veil. After staring for a little while Mrs. Ahmad says “24 and still a face like a young bride, but perhaps affected just a bit by harsh experiences, and you have been crying today. No bells ring right now, but please veil and tell your story while we eat. Then I might ask you to show your face again later on.” Zahra ties the veil just below her pupils to hide as much as possible so that her face does not reveal the emotion created by finding her father’s grave. Then they eat, letting Zahra herself decide when to start telling Mrs. Ahmad her story. Mrs Ahmad speaks to Noor and Zahra “The gloves you wear are to be used with the burqa to show a uniform black covering if the hands have to be shown through the burqa slits. Now they spoil the look of your shirt sleeves and are perhaps a little restricting in use of your hands. All women here wear thin gloves directly on the skin when not alone cleaning or doing kitchen work, and then add a pair of gloves like yours when putting on the burqa.” Noor and Zahra look at her more delicate, but still opaque black, gloves and then Noor asks “Is it customary here for women not to show any skin even in female only company?” Mrs. Ahmad says “Yes, as I said we believe women get envious, jealous or compete for beauty if they are always able to compare looks. But as it’s not a religious duty to cover among women, close relatives and very good friends unveil to each other, and I’m allowed to see my young clients, but normally we only unveil for a few minutes to be acquainted with the faces. Most women leave their eyes uncovered, but as everyone agrees, covering is a compromise between being able to do what you have to or like to do and avoid exciting males, then more covering is a sign of prioritizing piety and modesty. Those seeing themselves as strictly pious and modest, like Mrs. Qadir, married to an employee at a mosque, choose to restrict their sight to be better covered. But there are also a few women in town of the white race who cover their eyes so that they do not stand out too much. When hosting or visiting clients, who use eye covering I do it myself.”
Then Zahra tells what she knows about her biological family. Mrs. Ahmad takes a long sip of tea to think and then says “I believe I mediated the marriage of your sister Mrs. Farooqi.” Zahra and Noor stop eating and drinking and lean towards Mrs. Ahmad, who continues “As I said I started matchmaking around twenty years ago, about the time that your father died, but I never knew him. Your mother became a poor widow, so poor she could only raise one child, and that made me think she would like her daughter, your sister Jamila, to get married as soon as possible to have a mouth less to feed and a new family to support her. Marriage is allowed at sixteen, which your sister reached in 1997. I think I remember because it was her getting married to the sheik from the remote valley, who were more interested in getting a wife of a specific height than her beauty. I keep record of all the marriages I mediate. Wait just a minute.” Zahra and Noor are very quiet. If it is Jamila Mrs. Ahmad can remember, then they might be very close to finding her. Mrs. Ahmad sits down with a book labelled ‘1997’ and starts browsing. Zahra sees it’s a rough book filled with hand written short paragraphs. Suddenly Mrs. Ahmad lifts her head to face Zahra, who can see her eyes sparkle as if she had won the lottery. “I found her” Mrs. Ahmad exclaims, bowing her head as she reads aloud “August 18th. Contract signed between Sheik Khalil Rehman from Kham Valley and Mullah Ali Zahid, Naran Northern Mosque, on behalf of widow Rashida Khan, to let Mrs. Khan’s daughter Jamila become the second wife of Sheik Rehman. 500 rupees” Zahra, almost shouting says “My sister has been married to a sheik, and I guess that means my mother won’t or hasn’t died of poverty. That’s wonderful news Mrs. Ahmad. How far is the Kham Valley?” Mrs. Ahmad, remaining calm, quietly tells Zahra “I understand your enthusiasm Mrs. Farooqi after having searched for so long but first this isn’t news, its ten year old information, something might have happened to your sister or mother in between. Second your sister has not gotten rich by marrying this sheik. The Kham Valley is a narrow fertile piece of land in a secluded poor corner of the region, and the title sheik does not mean he possesses oil, but rather that he is the head of a village. I’m sure he is poor because he accepted your sister of a poor family, and because I have registered 500 rupees for mediating the marriage, one of the smallest fees I ever have received. I did it more to help your mother than to make money.” Noor says “You will be rewarded in Heaven for mediating just to help people. What was your average fee at that time? We’ll pay you something like twice that amount as thanks for the information you have just given us. Your careful bookkeeping has made a very substantial contribution to our search.” Zahra says “Your information is priceless to me, but perhaps something like 10,000 rupees is what you would have got from my adoptive parents if I had known my mother and sister then.” Mrs. Ahmad says “Here in Pakistan some people are very rich and many people very poor. I have to accept a wide range of fees for nearly the same amount of work. Your offer is very generous. I have to say the lunch has been paid as well then.” Noor says “The reason my husband and I are helping Zahra to find her family is that we do this to make a television program called Family Search. Normally my husband is right behind us with his camera when we meet people and get information like you have provided. But being in an area where all women cover completely in male and even female company, we will not film without permission. You are a liberal woman, used to negotiating marriages with men. Perhaps you will allow us to film you reading the paragraph about Jamila’s marriage again” Mrs. Ahmad is quiet for a while then she says “I can’t let a man with no children to marry be seen entering or leaving my house, my honor would be compromised and my business ruined. If your program ever reached Naran somebody might recognize my living room or me with the same results, but personally I have no objection.” Noor moves to sit right next to Mrs. Ahmad before saying “Your reasons are exactly why we wait to use the camera until permission is obtained. If we start offending people the likelihood of them giving us information is of course very small. Perhaps we could do the filming in your backyard only showing non identifiable walls with me using the camera and you wearing an old dress or coat you’ll never wear with clients and with your eyes heavily veiled. We won’t need to say your name or mention Naran.” Mrs. Ahmad says very hesitatingly “I realize your suggestions do not compromise my honour and make everything anonymous except the information about Mrs. Farooqi’s family, but …” Noor says “Would 2,000 rupees extra cover your risk?” Mrs. Ahmad nods but adds “I can’t accept money for repeating my reading, but for that amount I’ll fetch one of my neighbours who I think knows how you can get in contact with Mrs. Rehman. The Kham Valley is a closed, very secluded society where only a few men leave the valley and only close family is allowed to visit as far as I know.” Noor says “You mean we can’t just drive there, and perhaps Zahra will be the only one allowed to meet her sister? It sounds very strange, but we would very much appreciate any help we can get, and your neighbour might be able to confirm those strange conditions. Do we have an agreement? Then I’ll fetch the camera and you can change your appearance.” Noor reaches for the gag strap lying on top of her burqa and Mrs. Ahmad nods. To ease the mood Zahra says “I can help you with clearing the table and washing the dishes while Noor is out.” Mrs. Ahmad’s eyes lighten as she turns to Zahra saying “Do guests do things like that in London? Please take the four dishes there.”
Coming back Noor has to wait until the dishes are washed, then wait further while Mrs. Ahmad finds her clothes in the bedroom. Returning she puts on a long washed out dark olive coat on top of her nice brown coat, then she wraps a long wide black scarf around her head to be knotted at the back of the neck, making her head a uniform surface of black satin. Zahra has removed the borrowed black veil and pinned the pak-chadar across her face. Opening the back yard door Mrs. Ahmad’s voice now sounds somewhat muffled as she says “Please bring the book Mrs. Farooqi, I’m ready.” While holding the camera Noor makes an anonymous introduction. Although the scarf seemed to have blinded Mrs. Ahmad it obviously had not as she is able to find the page again and read. Zahra sounds just as enthusiastic as the first time when thanking her for the information. After a few minutes of talking between Zahra and Mrs. Ahmad Noor puts the camera down. “Thank you, you did very well Mrs. Ahmad. I will put the camera away.” Untying the scarf Mrs. Ahmad says “Doing kitchen work as guests I might ask you to make some fresh tea while I fetch my neighbour. There are biscuits in the box on the top left shelf.” Noor says “We’ll serve tea.”
The tea is hardly ready before two blue burqas enter. Having removed her scarf Mrs. Ahmad makes the introductions “My neighbor Mrs. Mehdi”. Turning to Mrs. Mehdi she says “This is Mrs. Farooqi and Mrs. Marwat from London.” Zahra, wearing the black veil again, says “Please sit down and have some tea ladies. Mrs. Ahmad has made it likely that I have a sister in the Kham Valley. Please tell me about that place and why we just can’t go there and ask for her.” Mrs. Mehdi says “I can’t tell you about the Kham Valley because I’ve never been there, and I know of no Naran citizens who have. It’s a completely closed society, where women are always completely covered, only leave their homes chaperoned by a close male relative and never leave the valley. The little contact they have with the outside world only reaches to the small villages along the only road leading into the valley. Your sister’s husband asking for a bride here in Naran is the only contact this far away I ever heard off. How do I know this? Because my brother-in-law lives in Waral, which is the last village on the road leading into the valley, about twenty kilometers before reaching the valley itself. My husband and I have visited there about once a year for the past ten years. In such a small place all the women gather at one house while the men have tea and watch sports on the only television in the tea room. What may be of interest to you is that one woman, Mrs. Tariq, who is a teacher, is one of few who has married outside the valley, and to my knowledge quite often goes to visit her family inside the valley. Calling her a teacher is perhaps exaggerating. She is a housewife and tends to the quite large area with fruit trees and vegetables growing in the walled garden behind the house like all the other women in the villages, but she has spend some time at a madrasah, and because her husband is responsible for the small school of the area and teaches the boys, she can teach the girls both Islam and to read and write. The people of the Kham Valley are very proud of their unique lifestyle, and to avoid contaminating it only allow relatives of people living there to visit, and then only if they are dressed as is customary there. I doubt even you Mrs. Farooqi will be allowed to go there, with no one inside the valley knowing you, but perhaps you can persuade or pay the Tariq’s to make a visit to their family and make some inquiries. I think it has to be Mrs. Tariq doing this, because no man knows anything about the women of other men, and the sheik might not even talk about his own women to another man.” After a long period of silence Noor says “Thank you very much Mrs. Mehdi. Although your information is not what we had hoped for, at least you have told us how we might get in contact with Zahra’s sister. It seems like money is useless except for paying the gasoline for the teacher, but are there other ways we could improve our chances?” Mrs. Mehdi says “You have to change your style of dress. It seems to me your veils are borrowed and your salwar kameez are too colourful and reveal too much. Even the villages outside the valley, where I have been, are much stricter than Naran.” Zahra, looking at the yellow trousers and clear blue shirt Mrs. Mehdi is wearing with her black head covering, showing the widest eye slit she has seen so far, for the first time feels appropriately dressed. But what is acceptable in Naran obviously isn’t in Waral. As everywhere else people in the country dress more conservatively than in towns and cities. She asks “Would you please describe what you wear when going there?” Mrs. Mehdi says “Just look at Mrs. Ahmad, she comes very close. A plain salwar kameez set in a subdued color and on top a long coat in a brown or shade of grey, with feet, hands and head covered in black, that’s basically all. Showing any skin without having agreed to do so, and perhaps asked the husband for permission, is extremely offensive. Thin elbow long gloves that ensure no skin is shown if the sleeves slide up, and eye veiling is a necessity. Being guests, not supposed to do any work, it is expected you wear a grade three, which is the darkest, silk scarf for eye covering. And finally clear speech is believed to go through the walls to be heard by male ears. An extra thick folded scarf with a large knot pressing at the lips is always worn across the mouth when not eating or drinking. Without the gag scarf speaking is not allowed, but even when wearing it speak as quietly as possible.” Noor says “We’ll dress as you recommend, but to be absolutely sure we do not start our visit there by offending anyone, could we pass your house tomorrow morning on our way out there to have our actual dress approved by you?” Mrs. Mehdi says “Of course, after nine my husband is at work, allowing you to show everything and speak as we do now. If we leave together in a few minutes just watch where I go.” Noor says “Yes we had better leave now as it seems we have some shopping to do.” Zahra gets up and while seeing if Mrs. Ahmad will accept a hug says “Thank you Mrs. Ahmad, this visit has been so valuable to me.” They hug like aunt and cousin. Then Noor says “Thank you so much Mrs. Ahmad. But may I borrow your bathroom? Mrs. Mehdi you can take Zahra to her door then I’ll join her outside.” Then Zahra and Mrs. Mehdi gag, don their burqas and leave. As Mrs. Ahmad returns from the front door Noor is ready to hand to her the amount negotiated. She has carefully found the notes adding up to the amount, but added an extra small denomination note. While Mrs. Ahmad counts, Noor gags herself and puts on the burqa flipped back. Mrs. Ahmad shows her the extra note saying “You have counted incorrectly. You should have this one back.” Noor gestures she has put her purse in her bag and Zahra is waiting for her outside. She points to the note and to the seat that Mrs. Mehdi occupied, so Mrs. Ahmad says “You mean I should give it to Mrs. Mehdi?” Noor nods while pulling the burqa down. Mrs. Ahmad covers herself with her large chiffon scarf to see her out.
To be sure Mr. Mehdi has left for work they are at Mrs. Mehdi at half past nine. Eyes veiled under the burqa it appears to Zahra as if the sun has already set. Following the black contour of Mrs. Mehdi inside her house to the small living room Zahra and Noor both flip back their burqas to be able to see more than contours. Seeing them Mrs. Mehdi says “This leather gag strap to make you almost totally mute while wearing the burqa is a good idea. I assume it is fitted on top of the scarf gag that makes muffled speech possible?” Zahra and Noor nod as Mrs. Mehdi continues “If you are not in a hurry, I would prefer you remove the burqa, the gag strap and the gloves, which I presume are a second pair, to let me check everything.” Zahra and Noor comply. Mrs. Mehdi starts pulling back the dark grey coat sleeve of Noor’s right arm with one hand while pulling at the olive shirt sleeve with the other hand. Seeing only the black fabric of a thin satin glove, she nods and bends forward. One hand lifts the hem of the coat, while the other pulls at a leg of the trousers. Again only more black fabric is revealed. Noor and Zahra are both wearing opaque black pantyhose. Not revealing any skin, and with the entire salwar kameez set in plain olive, Noor’s body is covered as required. Moving on to Zahra, wearing a chestnut brown coat, she only pulls at a coat sleeve and lifts the hem a little to see both parts of Zahra’s salwar kameez are cobalt blue. Mrs. Mehdi says “I assume your body covering is identical apart from being of different colors. It’s like looking at two Waral women. Mrs. Marwat, would you please tell me about your eye covering?” Noor, speaking in a very low and highly muffled voice tells her “We went to a shop selling scarves and asked for a grade three eye cover like you specified. This is it. I can barely see here in your living room which is indirectly lit only by windows not receiving direct sunlight.” Mrs. Mehdi says “Thank you. It was of course just to test the loudness and sound of your voice. If you can remember not to raise your voice to compensate for the scarf gag, then you’ll do just fine. Mrs. Farooqi, tell me about the scarf gag.” Zahra, sounding just like Noor replies “Hearing us speak wearing a burqa Mrs. Ahmad suggested we bought a scarf like this to remind us stay silent, but then we met the more pious Mrs. Qadir, who has made these leather straps which mute us much better. Now we use both to be well received where more strict traditions are followed. Are we ready for Waral?” Mrs. Mehdi says “Will both of you please come with me out into the direct sunlight of the back yard.” They walk out, returning back inside immediately after. The door closed Mrs. Mehdi says “Even without eye cover seeing black on black isn’t easy in here but the silk strap across the eye region has made you think the width of the eye slit doesn’t matter. Nothing is more wrong. With eyes showing a slit a little wider at the eyes isn’t noticed, but if one of the scarves above or below the eyes moves now, where your eyes are covered, a thin line of skin may show, which is much more visible in the all black face. Go to the bathroom and use the mirror to tie your forehead and face scarves as close to the pupils as feasible before covering the slit with the silk again.” Three minutes later they are both back, going to the back yard door to have the new position of their scarves approved. Outside Mrs. Mehdi nods after inspecting each face, while Noor and Zahra have to accept their field of vision is severely limited even without wearing a burqa. Back inside Mrs. Mehdi says “While you were in the bathroom I was thinking that to be on the safe side, so as to not sound clearer than the Warel women from the beginning, it might be better tightening the scarf gag to the point where the words are nearly incomprehensible. Do it now and then re-do it just before arriving in Waral. Then when you have heard their voices you can decide if regular tightening is needed, or perhaps it is okay as you speak now.” Of course Zahra and Noor immediately tighten their scarves, and then Zahra says “E’m Zehre Farooqe. Do I sund like a Werel woman?” Mrs. Mehdi says “Yes, it’s better, they actually do not sound normal.” Noor says “Thenk you Mrs. Mehdi. We heve geined much from yu inspecting us. We bught one more thing in the shop selling scerves. It is for yu.” She hands Mrs. Mehdi a semi-transparent chiffon scarf like Mrs. Ahmad uses when standing in her doorway, but of the best quality available. Mrs. Mehdi unfolds it, holds it towards the window to get the best possible view and then says “What a lovely scarf. It’s far too much. Helping Mrs. Farooqi in finding her sister needs no reward, but thank you. Now that I can see you out properly, you had better get going before it becomes too hot. Give my regards to my sister-in-law. She is straight forward. Although Mrs. Tariq comes from the Kham Valley and has been at a madrasah, she is not especially pious or strict. If you behave and dress according to their customs she is very friendly and open to people living differently. I’m sure she will do her utmost to make your search successful.” Mrs. Mehdi drops the scarf on top of her head and starts moving very slowly toward the front door, while Zahra and Noor gag and put on their gloves and burqas, but being afraid to bump into something they both keep them flipped back until after bowing to Mrs. Mehdi at the front door. They know where the car is parked and Amin is waiting, but walk very slowly and carefully afraid they may overlook something although their sight is much better out in the daylight. After they had been standing at the car for a couple of minutes Amin spots them from the coffee shop where he has been waiting. A few minutes later they drive towards Waral in complete silence. Amin knows they are mute.
Although practically blind in the curtained back seat, unable to speak and sitting covered in layers of clothing in a warm car Zahra is too excited about going directly towards where her sister probably lives to sleep while Noor is leant back sleeping soundly. The trip is short, after about an hour Zahra senses that they have left the main road to drive on the gravel road going through Waral, ending in the Kham Valley. She puts her right hand through the slit of her burqa and through the gap where the curtains meet to pat Amin on the shoulder. He says “Do you want me to stop?” Pulling one curtain a little to the side Amin can see her nod in the rear view mirror. A minute later, when they stop, Zahra has flipped her burqa back, removed both her gags and shaken Noor. Amin says “Tell me why you wanted to stop. There’s no traffic here and it’s deserted. You can speak, leave the car, unveil or whatever you need.” Zahra says “Am I right, we will be in Waral in less than fifteen minutes?” Amin says “If the road doesn’t get worse, yes.” Zara says “Then I would like a can of soda, as after we arrive in Waral, Noor and I may have to wait in the car for some time while you talk to the men, find Mr. Tariq and someone to take us to where we can lift our burqas. On the other hand, if you find someone quickly, our gags should be tight and our burqas completely down the moment we arrive.” Two cans are handed to the back seat and they hear a third being opened. Noor, now ungagged like Zahra, says “Amin, we haven’t been able to tell you what happened at Mrs. Mehdi’s. It was almost entirely about our clothing, but she finished by telling us that Mrs. Tariq is a very friendly, open-minded woman, perhaps you should go directly to her and arrange for us to meet her instead of starting by visiting Mrs. Mehdi’s family.” Amin says “It was my plan from the beginning to find for the school and talk to Mr. Tariq. I bought a few things to make us popular there. You have five minutes to think of anything else you want to say or do before we go. Quench your thirst.” Some five minutes later Amin speaks again “It is time. Are you ready?” Noor says “Please wait a minute so we can cover completely and check ourselves without the car bumping. I’ll pat your shoulder. Zahra you pat me.” They both tie the scarf gags very tight and mumble their names before buckling the leather strap, and pulling the burqa down, feeling to sense that it reaches the floor all way round and nothing is stuck to make it lift when they leave the car. Zahra pats Noor, who in turn pats Amin and pulls the curtain to the front closed. The engine starts and the two women sit straight trying to count the minutes.
Of course they have given up counting and just sit waiting for a change in the engine sound or noise pattern. When the car stops with the engine still running the two women hear Amin ask “Is this Waral?” and then “Where do I find the school? The women can’t hear the words, but it’s an old male voice. The car continues slowly and after two minutes stops completely. Amin, opening the door, tells Zahra and Noor that they are at the school. The women then hear the door close.
For ten minutes things are completely silent, then they hear some boys talking just outside the car. About five minutes later the back door where Noor sits is suddenly opened startling both. Amin fills most of the opening, but right behind him stands another man and behind him again some boys are trying to look into the car. Noor and Zahra face the floor turning away from the open door as Amin says “Mr. Tariq and I will have lunch with the Sheik of Waral. Mrs. Tariq will fetch you in a few minutes, their house is less than two hundred feet away. We can stay here at least for one night. It probably means I won’t see you until bedtime.” The door is shut, leaving it almost completely black again to the two women. Zahra moves until she is touching Noor and places her head on her shoulder. Neither of them dares take a hand outside of their burqa to hold hands or hug. Suddenly there is a knocking at the door beside Noor. The door is slowly opened and the middle of a worn-out brown burqa fills the opening. The wearer steps back a little and bows, showing two small circular mesh covered eye openings on a surface without any embroidery or other decoration. A black gloved hand comes through a slit to gesture them to leave the car. Noor steps out only to see the burqa go around the rear of the car to open the other back door. Mrs. Tariq is indeed polite. After Zahra has exited they have to close the doors themselves as Mrs. Tariq, with her eyes to the ground, immediately heads for a door in the wall a little further along the road. She walks slowly and they are soon right behind her, the hem of her burqa their only indication of where to go. Once through the door they find themselves in a small yard, where Mrs. Tariq turns her head to see they have closed the door after entering. This happens again when they enter the house itself and after passing what seems to be a male reception room. Mrs. Tariq lifts her head while still advancing through a short corridor. Passing the next door, she walks to the side, turns to face Noor and Zahra as they enter then removes her burqa. It is put on a hook behind the door next to two identical burqas. Next she removes the elbow long outer gloves and unties a wide thick black woolen scarf from over her mouth and chin, which probably serves to make her mute while wearing the burqa. Zahra and Noor just watch her as they won’t remove anything until Mrs. Tariq signals them to do so. They both relax as they see that Mrs. Tariq is dressed exactly as they are beneath her burqa. Mrs. Tariq wears a worn-out light brown coat and the rest is black, including an eye cover and a mouth scarf with knots. With a lifting gesture Mrs. Tariq says “Welcome to Waral and the Tariq home strangers. This is a women-only area so feel free to remove the same clothing as I have.” Her voice is low and extremely muffled, but they can loosen their scarves just a fraction to make their speech just intelligible. Zahra says “Thank you very much for taking us into your home. I’m Zahra Farooqi and she is Noor Marwat, Noor and Zahra will be fine. Have you been told why we are here?” Mrs. Tariq says “One of you is searching for a close relative possibly living in the Kham Valley. No offence, but around here women are only called by the name of their husband or father. I’m the Tariq wife or Mrs. Tariq I have no name of my own. I hope you don’t mind having lunch right away, because as you might know I am a teacher and I have to teach from one till half past two. As you come from beyond Peshawar I would like you to come with me to the school and tell the students about where you live and perhaps answer questions.” Noor says “Lunch sounds wonderful, but don’t do anything special because we are here, just do what you had planned to do, we’ll just stay in the background or assist if possible. Seeing your school and you teaching sounds interesting and I think we can tell your pupils something new. Peshawar is very close to here for us, because we come from London, England in Europe.” Mrs. Tariq looks at both of them from head to foot for some moments, probably being surprised at hearing where they live, before saying “You are Pakistanis not living in Pakistan? But your clothing is exactly like we dress here, except completely new. You have been at the sister of Mr. Duranni, the Mehdi wife.” Zahra says “Yes, Mrs. Ahmad, a marriage mediator in Naran has mediated the marriage of my sister to the Sheik of the Kham Valley. Knowing the valley has little contact with the outside world, she let us meet Mrs. Mehdi who comes here regularly and knowing you because of her brother. She asked us to bring her warmest regards.” While talking they have moved to the kitchen where Mrs. Tariq quickly fills the table with fruit, vegetables, diary products and fresh bread while saying “So your sister is a Rehman wife. Fine women both of them. But why didn’t you know where she lives?” Zahra says “My mother was widowed when I was three. She gave me away for adoption and I grew up in London. Now I am widowed myself and want to find my sister and mother. I don’t even know if my sister can remember me. My sister is called Jamila and was married as Sheik Rehman’s second wife.” Mrs. Tariq says “What a tragic story, but the end seems bright. To my knowledge Sheik Rehman has had the same wives for many years, and they are both healthy having brought him children. Now let’s pray and then eat. I’ll wash here, you can wash in the bathroom. We wash hands and the face below the eyes.” Following the local custom, where women do not show any skin to each other, Noor and Zahra use the bathroom in turn. Returning to the living room last Zahra sees that Noor is completely covered by a thin plain beige cotton prayer gown and standing in front of a prayer rug. Mrs. Tariq hands her an identical gown saying “We pray for close to ten minutes. I’ll pat you when I have stopped.” Zahra pulls the gown over her head to find out it’s just a human shaped sack with an elastic band at the neck to hold it. The only opening is at the floor, where it spreads, having a length to fit a two meter tall woman. Zahra soon realizes that being blind makes concentrating on her prayers much easier. Not usually praying as regularly as she should doing it like this, she tries to make up for years of neglect and it feels like only some minutes have passed when her shoulder is touched. They go to the kitchen and Mrs. Tariq says “Take what you like and find a cushion to sit on. It seems the Mehdi wife has told you about our customs, but just to be sure, women around here keep their voices low and only speak through cloth so as to not to be heard by male ears, and if they make a sound by mistake then no clear tempting sounds are produced. It means you will have to stay silent while eating and drinking, and remember to re-tie your gag scarf when finished.”
A quarter of an hour later Noor ties her scarf to say “It was the best meal I’ve had for a very long time, perhaps ever. It all tasted so strong and fresh.” A minute later Mrs. Tariq ties her scarf and says “Thank you. It’s because it is all freshly made or harvested here in Waral. For dinner you can help me fetch fruit and vegetables from the garden behind the house.” Zahra says “It was a wonderful meal, but my mind was just full of joy, you saying that my sister is healthy, and I even have a nephew. I really hope I will be able to meet her.” Mrs. Tariq says, the puzzled sound of her voice coming through the muffling “Why not? It’s only a half an hour drive, and you having to borrow a Kham Valley outfit.” Noor tells her “Mrs. Mehdi said only close relatives are allowed to enter the valley, and Mrs. Farooqi, not being known as a relative of Sheik Rehman’s second wife, she was unsure if Mrs. Farooqi could go there.” Mrs. Tariq says “It’s of course up to the men to decide, but as women are never discussed among men, you being related to a female of the valley may be an advantage. Only Sheik Rehman’s second can confirm she has a sister and no men, except the Sheik, can ask her in advance, and he won’t talk about his wives and even less about their female relatives. If we say Mrs. Farooqi is her sister it has to be believed, and as Mr. Marwat is the son of your adoptive parents, that is your adoptive brother then I think you are all related enough to the valley if going there with my husband and myself accompanying you and introducing you.” Noor, her voice somewhat louder than it should be, asks “You mean Amin, I mean my husband, and I can go there as well?” Mrs. Tariq says “Your voice please Mrs. Marwat. But yes that is my conclusion. Bringing a gift, something the valley needs but can’t produce, may remove any last doubts. A sack of fertilizer, rice to supplement the corn, gasoline, salt, there are many possibilities at all prices.” Zahra, struggling to keep her voice low, replies “I’ll buy a tractor or a pick-up truck if that is what they need. If I really find my sister she or the village can have a large share of my inheritance.” Mrs. Tariq says “If my husband and Mr. Marwat are informed about this I’m sure they will succeed in getting permission, but now we have to go to the school. Through the boys your visit is probably known about all over the villages here, but as women should never stand out I would appreciate it if you put on my spare burqas instead of your blue town style.” Noor says “The blue burqas are not something we cling to. We just bought them for going to Naran.” The Waral burqa is nowhere as soft or as easy to breathe in as the blue burqa Zahra observes after putting it on. It’s made from very heavy cotton, resembling canvas, and with only two small mesh holes at eye level, the air breathed is a mix of what little comes through the fabric and what enters at the hem. But for the short distances to be walked inside the village air shortage or overheating probably won’t be a problem and the sight isn’t much different. Already having a narrow eye slit between the black scarves, it’s only the peripheral vision which is reduced further. Heads down Zahra and Noor closely follow Mrs. Tariq the short distance to the school.
It’s a small one room building with a small stock room behind. A large sign, with a lid to cover it already says ‘WOMEN-ONLY.’ Entering the room a burqa like their own and two girls around ten with scarves below their eyes are already present, explaining why the sign has been uncovered. The girls stare at seeing three burqas enter, but do not move or speak. A clock shows it’s ten to one, and Mrs. Tariq, pointing to the clock writes in a corner of the blackboard for only Zahra and Noor to see ‘The burqas stay on until the door can be locked when all the girls have arrived or it’s past one.’ As they have nodded, she erases the blackboard and points to two chairs, which she directs them to place in the corner next to the blackboard opposite the door. Except for the blackboard and tables and chairs for thirty, the room is bare. On each of the long walls are two large windows, but the lower two thirds are covered by curtains. Every minute or two one or two girls enter, stopping with surprise at seeing the two burqas in the corner, but then silently find a chair. Mrs. Tariq is just standing in front of the blackboard facing the door waiting. A few minutes to one another burqa enters along with a girl of around seven with unveiled face. Just as the clock moves to one, two older veiled girls enter bowing to Mrs. Tariq, when she approaches them, a hand through her burqa slit pointing at the clock. When the pair spot Noor and Zahra they almost bump into some tables while heading for a seat.
Mrs. Tariq locks the door and removes her burqa, all those wearing one following her action. Then the same people remove whatever gags their mouth. Mrs. Tariq says “Welcome to class. Please be here on time all of you. Today I would like everybody to try their best because we have two guests from far away. To learn about them and where they come from we’ll drop arithmetic today and perhaps stop with the other subjects a little early.” Zahra has counted twelve pupils, who all nod, the uncovered faces looking happy to postpone arithmetic. They have all placed themselves on the two front rows enabling Mrs. Tariq to keep her voice low. The age spread is large, starting at perhaps six and ending with one of those starting in burqa seeming to be a teenager. The other looks much older, perhaps even older than Zahra, but estimating the age of these two women is difficult as they are of course completely covered like themselves.
A girl of seven is asked to come to the blackboard. Mrs. Tariq speaks some simple sentences, which the girl has to write. After she has written six lines Mrs. Tariq asks the girl to read her own writing and say if she has something she would like to correct. She finds one error, but Zahra has counted five. Then Mrs. Tariq asks the class and eight or nine hands are raised. The unveiled girl looks down, about to burst into tears. Noor raises her hand and all the pupils point to her. Mrs. Tariq says “Please Mrs. Marwat.” Noor tells the girl “When I was at your age I made twice as many mistakes, and yours are not so bad, because we can all understand what you have written. Cheer up and learn from your classmates.” Of course the girl immediately changes, looking proud at being in a way praised by the honourable visitor. She immediately points to the veiled teenage girl to learn about her mistakes. Mrs. Tariq nods to let the veiled girl make some of the corrections.
After five more girls write sentences the adult woman comes to the blackboard. Her sentences are nearly as simple as those for the one aged seven, and she makes just as many mistakes. As most of the hands are raised, she bows her head apparently ashamed of herself. Zahra raises her hand getting permission to speak “The Quran says ‘Learn’ The Prophet himself was illiterate for a long time. Some start learning to read and write while others learn to cook and sew. Just by being here shows you have the will to make it. Allah sees to those who take the way of his Prophet. Soon you will be able to read and write like most adults, which is rarely without errors. There is nothing to be ashamed of.” The entire class rise and bow, clapping their hands, which is more a gesture than producing sound. The woman raises her hand so Mrs. Tariq nods to her. The woman says “I’m the third wife of Mr. Lodhi from the neighbouring village. I’m deeply touched by being encouraged by the honourable educated visitor. Marrying Mr. Lodhi after being widowed saw me move to this village, where, thanks to the Tariq wife, there is female schooling. Now I’ve been going to school for three years twice a week, but have doubted I am able to really learn. From now on I will just think of your kind words each time I make an error and pray I never repeat it.” Zahra gets up and lets her cheek touch the cheek of Mrs. Lodhi.
After that no one is afraid of making errors. A little more than half an hour later they change to reading. From the stockroom Mrs. Tariq has taken two books, one with simple texts for those below ten, and the other for those above. Mrs. Lodhi stands in front of the blackboard to read, Mrs. Tariq looks up a page in the simple book, but Mrs. Lodhi rejects her, handing her the more advanced book. Mrs. Tariq probably finds the simplest paragraph in the book, but for every two or three lines there is a word she cannot understand. It seems that the older girls have read the entire book several times, and after Mrs. Lodhi, having hesitated for some seconds one of them pronounces the word in as low a voice as possible. Mrs. Lodhi gets to the end of the paragraph and everybody, including Zahra and Noor, get up to applaud.
Five minutes later, while a girl is reading, there is a knock on the door. The girl immediately stops and Mrs. Tariq seems irritated, but the covered women all gag themselves and put on their burqas, Noor and Zahra doing so as well. Everybody sitting facing the table, Mrs. Tariq unlocks the door. Hearing the voice of Amin, Zahra and Noor raise their heads looking out the door, only to quickly look down again on seeing Mr. Tariq right next to him. Mrs. Tariq has turned her back to the doorway when Amin starts to speak, his words clearly audible to all “I’m sorry to interrupt the education, but knowing we were going to visit a school with both male and female pupils I’ve brought two boxes of candy. They contain the same, but there being more boys you’ll get more each, but the boys won’t complain as they got a football as well. Enjoy.” The men leave and Zahra lifts her head to see Mrs. Tariq take a step outside to pick up the box. When they are able to speak again, Mrs. Tariq, while opening the box to see it contains a large amount of assorted candy pieces, tells the class “I think this was the signal to stop the ordinary education. Now I will ask Mrs. Marwat and Mrs. Farooqi to tell us a little about where they come from. If they permit it, you can each take five pieces each to eat while they speak.”
Zahra and Noor get up nodding, offering Mrs. Tariq to take one of their seats. Mrs. Tariq, on her way to the corner hands the box to a girl in the first row. After a minute for grabbing candy Noor says “Both Mrs. Farooqi and myself, Mrs. Marwat, live in London. Does anyone know where that is?” After a little silence a veiled girl raises her hand and Noor pointing to her she says “Far from Pakistan.” Noor says “That is correct. Does anyone know what a continent is, and what the continents where Pakistan and London are located are called?” The burqa covered girl raises her hand and is allowed to say “It’s Europe, isn’t it?” Noor says “You’re correct. London is a city in Europe, and Europe is a continent.” Meanwhile Mrs. Tariq has fetched from the stock room a not very large book containing a map of the world in its centerfold. Placing it on the center front row table she gestures the pupils behind to get up to be able to look. Noor indicates where Pakistan, Peshawar, England and London are located. It looks as if most of the girls, including Mrs. Tariq, are seeing a map like this for the first time, following Noor with so much interest it is clear to Zahra that geography isn’t a normally a subject for girls here or in the madrasahs.
To change subject Zahra says “In London and Europe most people are not Muslim, but Christian, who do not live according to the Quran. Can any of you tell about the Christians?” This subject makes all but the four youngest raise their hand. Zahra points to an unveiled girl “They believe the old prophet Jesus is a God next to Allah.” Zahra says “Very good”. Next she asks Mrs Lodhi who replies by saying “They believe all their sins were forgiven when Jesus died on a cross before going to Heaven and become a second God.” Zahra says “Very good. But perhaps not so well known here in Pakistan, where the Christians living here look like liberal Muslims, is that the Christians of Europe and America don’t think women should be covered very much and especially not veiled. Just as Mrs. Marwat and I now dress like you to follow the custom while we are here, in London we walk around showing hands, feet, face and sometimes even hair.” Everybody except Mrs. Tariq stare disbelievingly at Zahra and Noor. Then a veiled girl, without raising her hand asks “Then how are the men able to work?” Noor replies “Seeing women everyday they are able to work while thinking about women, but discussing women both during work and when relaxing is just as large a subject as sports. Seeing young beautiful women all the time many want someone else than the one they have married. That creates a lot of quarrels, fighting and neglected and unhappy women.” A veiled girl says “No wonder that the West is disintegrating due to bad moral and rejecting Allah.”
Mrs. Tariq says “There’s still more time, but I think we have learned so much new today that our brains have been completely filled. Please one after another come up here and thank Mrs. Marwat and Mrs. Farooqi like you would your grandmothers, then you can go and take five more pieces of candy each. I will then put the box into the stockroom for another day of something to celebrate.” Zahra and Noor are gestured to take their seats again. Why becomes evident as the first girl comes up to them, first bowing to Zahra and then letting her covered mouth touch her forehead, repeating the actions with Noor. It’s clear this salutation normally is executed with someone sitting on a cushion on the floor, because with the youngest girls Zahra and Noor have to bow themselves to let the girls touch their forehead. Last is Mrs. Lodhi, who comes to them saying “If you have time while staying here then please visit my home only a five minutes drive away for a meal or just tea or fruits. In our garden we have the best peaches, but everyone around here will say that.” Zahra says “Thank you, we will if possible, but if we can’t make it ask Mrs. Tariq what happened.” Mrs. Lodhi nods, bows and touches them like the rest. A few minutes later five brown burqas and some girls leave the schoolroom.
Back at the Tariq house Mrs. Tariq says “Please go and wash. We’ll do the afternoon prayers first.” Fifteen minutes later she speaks again saying “After all this talking at school we need some tea, just relax I’ll bring a tray in a few minutes.” After Mrs. Tariq has left the room Zahra says to Noor “Mrs. Tariq seemed optimistic about us going to the Kham Valley and meeting Jamila, I mean Sheik Rehman’s second. But what about the television program, I can’t imagine Mrs. Tariq accepting a camera, and perhaps just bringing it to the Kham Valley may destroy all our goodwill.” Noor agrees “Remind me to tell Amin to stow it away somewhere if we go there in our own car, or get Mr. Tariq to deposit our suitcases of Western clothing, hiding the equipment in one. At least when coming back we can stop somewhere close to here, perhaps at an abandoned farm, and make some recordings with us dressed like we are now, me playing Mrs. Tariq. But I’d like you to know that the program has become secondary to me. I want to find your sister nearly as much as you do. We are used to filming programs than can’t be transmitted when the search ends with everybody being dead. We could drop the program about you, or we could also use what we have got and reconstruct what we experience in the Kham Valley. With all women veiled it would be easy, but perhaps morally wrong pretending to show people who have declined to be photographed.” Zahra hugs Noor saying “You have got me to my sister. If the program is dropped perhaps my inheritance can pay your expenses.” Noor says “Our salaries for a week, tickets to Pakistan, hotels, car rental, clothing and a tractor. Your husband was no soccer player, rock star or Bill Gates. We sell the programs, we take the risks.” Zahra hugs Noor even tighter. At that moment Mrs. Tariq enters with a tray. She puts it down at the door to the garden saying “I think we should go out on the porch and take a look before removing our gags to sit down and have tea. I’m sure looking out the door will make you shout in amazement. It is permissible to speak out there with a scarf, but it’s customary only to whisper.” She opens the door and a wealth of green penetrates their eye veiling. They quickly walk out the door to take in the entire garden. A thirty feet wide, and nearly two hundred feet deep walled area is filled with fruit trees, bushes, vegetables and even some flowers to admire. Neither Noor or Zahra turn their heads as Mrs. Tariq places the tray and three cushions on the porch. Still facing the garden they slowly sit down and remove their gag scarves. They hardly look at the tea glasses while drinking and eating dates, they just sit and sip now and then for half an hour before Mrs. Tariq gags to say “It will soon be time for preparing dinner. I think I can easily persuade you to fetch some fruit and vegetables while I take care of the other things.” Zahra nods her head and Noor gags saying “The garden of Eden was like this, just much larger. It won’t be efficient letting us go out there, but we’d love to. Don’t hesitate to say if you can use us in the kitchen, having more or less invited ourselves its fair we help all we can.” Mrs. Tariq says “Thank you, but am I not right that women all over the world like to have the kitchen all to themselves. I’ll just make a list of what I would like from the garden and you can then take your time getting it.” Zahra and Noor stay on the porch. Five minutes later Mrs. Tariq hands Zahra a piece of paper and puts two baskets down. An hour later Zahra and Noor leave the garden, having collected what could have been done by one in ten minutes. Delivering their baskets to the kitchen Zahra says “I would have travelled out here just to experience this. Even though its late afternoon and we have stayed in the shade as much as we were able, without me noticing before coming inside my head covering and more is completely soaked in sweat. I need to wash and change.” Mrs. Tariq says “Do that both of you, then you will be ready for the evening prayer, which we’ll do when the men arrive, I think in about half an hour.” With less than a quarter of an hour for each to wash and change they have to hurry. Both Zahra and Noor are sitting on the kitchen floor, politely told to stay there while Mrs. Tariq makes the final dinner preparations, when they are surprised by a knocking on the wall. Mrs. Tariq, signalling them to stay silent, goes to a square curtain that had remained unnoticed by them, to pull a wooden handle at its lower edge, the curtain hiding a hatch. From behind the curtain they hear the voice of Mr. Tariq “We’ll start praying in a few minutes.” With the men praying aloud on the other side of the hatch lead by Mr. Tariq reciting from the Quran, they have to follow his recitation. Immediately after they realize the prayers have ended by a period of silence and Mrs. Tariq touching them, Mrs. Tariq puts a tray with juice and bread through the hatch and closes it. Then she says “We have to do with bread, juice and fruits for a while as well. We can’t have the main courses until the men have eaten. During this meal it’s not possible to take a break and gag to say something, because speaking of course is not allowed while the hatch is open.” It doesn’t matter much, some time for just reflecting and enjoying the wonderful food is fine. For nearly an hour the main sound source is the voices of the men from the male reception room. They can hear that Mr. Tariq and Amin like the company of each other, but what they say can’t be perceived. As the remains of the dessert are placed in the hatch, Mr. Tariq’s voice suddenly sounds loud and clear saying “We had tea with a man from the Kham Valley this afternoon. We hope this will result in someone from there coming with permission to go there while we watch cricket during the evening. Wife, you know you can expect that many of the village women would like to meet the female guests. We’ll be back at half past ten for the late prayers.” Mrs. Tariq takes the tray with the dessert and closes the hatch. They quickly eat some of it. Then Mrs. Tariq gags to say “Now I’d like your help. You wash the dishes, I’ll clean the male reception room first and then make ready for the women coming. You may speak while you work.”
Half an hour later a burqa suddenly appears from the corridor. Doorbells are not used around here, to women the doors are open. Over the next ten minutes something like fifteen women arrive. They all bow and exchange names with Zahra and Noor, but nobody says anything further. Only when Zahra and Noor meet Mrs. Duranni they give her regards from Mrs. Mehdi, but Mrs. Duranni doesn’t ask of her, just bows once more. Mrs. Tariq is going to and from the kitchen making several pots of tea and bringing dishes of dates and other dried fruits. A few women are exchanging a few words, which seem to be about the way Zahra and Noor are dressed and especially that their clothes are new and above the quality normal in Waral. But most have removed their gags and silently sip tea and eat while looking at Zahra and Noor. Expecting to be asked questions they stay gagged and sit looking at the other women, who apart from different coat colours and some differences in height and width, all look the same. Nearly half an hour after the last one has arrived Mrs. Tariq places herself in a central position and makes others move so that Zahra and Noor can sit on either side of her. Only then does she speak “To our guests from far away I have to say that nobody here will ask a question that might offend. And knowing nothing about you except your names it is inappropriate to start a conversation. Mrs. Farooqi and Mrs. Marwat, please tell only as much as you like about why you are here. Mrs. Farooqi better had better begin.” Zahra starts saying she won’t get offended by any kind of questions and then she tells her story, in which Noor is her adoptive sister-in-law. Not unexpectedly nobody interrupts her to ask a question. Having finished it becomes completely quiet for nearly a minute. Her story has quickly stopped all eating and drinking and at the end everybody gags ready to talk, but nobody does. Noor breaks the silence to praise Waral, talking about clear source water, wonderful fruits, vegetables and flowers, the clever and well educated girls they met at the school and the modest, considerate and kind women they are among now. A low mumbling mixture of ‘thank you’ and ‘Allah is great’ sort of starts the conversation, the woman next to Noor whispers to her if she can describe her own garden in London, and the woman next to Zahra asks what subjects the girls are taught in London, if they are allowed to go to school. Both Noor and Zahra answer as they have been asked, by whispering, so that only the person who asked the question can hear the reply. Once having heard the answer, those asking nod and move away to let the ones next to them pose new questions. The ones having got an answer place themselves between two to four women and still nearly whispering repeat what they have been told. When seeing how their words are spread they both answer differently when being asked questions they have had before. But their words spread fast, making the questions different as well. Used to female gatherings reaching a noise level dangerous to the ears, Zahra enjoys the delicate low noise from up to ten women, each speaking only a little above whispering with muffled voices.
Just after ten the woman coming to Zahra doesn’t ask a question but says “It has been wonderful meeting you and interesting hearing about where you live, but I have to go as my husband may soon be home from the tea room. I’ll pray that you meet your sister. Goodnight.” Before Zahra can come up with something to say, her forehead has been touched and the woman continues to say goodnight to Noor. There are no more questions. Over the coming minutes they all say goodnight and wish Zahra the best. Soon only three brown and two blue burqas are left on the hooks next to the door. Mrs. Tariq says “I don’t think the men will be here for at least a quarter of an hour, but we had better wash for the prayers right away and then clear up while we wait. When using the bathroom prepare for the night as well.” Zahra, back from the bathroom, discovers Mrs. Tariq has nearly finished cleaning. They just help her for a few minutes. Then they wait for ten minutes in silence. The hatch is knocked and after Mrs. Tariq opens it Mr. Tariq just says “Prayers will start in a minute.” They take their positions and cover in the prayer gowns. Some ten minutes later the recitation, after only a short break is followed by Mr. Tariq saying “Please come to the hatch all of you.” They take their prayer gowns off but keep holding them going to the kitchen. Mrs. Tariq shakes the curtain to let the men know they are there. Mr. Tariq says “A man from the Kham Valley council came to watch the cricket match. He sincerely thanked Mr. Marwat for a barrel of gasoline to be used as the council decides. Mr. Lashari has been allowed to invite Mr. Marwat and his family along with us. Sometime during the day the wives of Sheik Rehman will come to his home. We’ll leave here tomorrow morning about an hour after breakfast. I’ll come to you in ten minutes, and then the family of Mr. Marwat comes to him to sleep in the male reception room. That is all.” Mrs. Tariq closes the hatch making Zahra point to her mouth. Mrs. Tariq nods and Zahra says “How wonderful. We have permission to visit the Kham Valley. But who is Mr. Lashari?” Mrs. Tariq says “My father. But no more talking. Sleeping in the male reception room you will have to sleep fully dressed as if you are in public to be completely safe. Put on my burqas, because they have eyelets on the inside of the hem matching a wire lock, of which I assume my husband has given your husband two.” Shortly after embracing Mrs. Tariq and touching her forehead with her gagged mouth Noor says “Thanks for everything. I would like to think I have a new friend. Goodnight.” Then Zahra embraces Mrs. Tariq tightly and after touching her forehead as well says “You have been wonderful. I know I have the best possible guide to the Kham Valley. I hope we can stay friends forever. Goodnight.” They both put on the leather strap gag, long gloves and Waral burqa only to have to wait for ten minutes before a knock on the door announces Mr. Tariq. Mrs. Tariq has placed them on each side of the door to the corridor, and when they hear the knocking they face the floor. They sense Mr. Tariq passing and then Mrs. Tariq guides them to turn into the corridor where they can lift their heads. As they come into the male reception room Amin is waiting and two mattresses have been placed on the floor. Amin, looking from Zahra to Noor without knowing who is who says “I’m of course allowed to fold Noor’s lower coverings up until we can make love, but having to reposition everything and then lock her up, I prefer to wait. Is it all right love?” His head moves between them until Noor nods. Facing her he adds “I think Mr. Tariq intended one mattress for the married couple and one for my ‘sister’, but considering you are both rather confined, perhaps you could share one mattress, and then I have a little room to move?” They both nod and Amin says “Thank you. Please lie down. Goodnight.” While lying down Zahra gets a glimpse of Amin approaching with two steel wires with a box at one end. Soon Amin pats her feet to make her bend her legs to be able to draw the burqa bottom together in a small circle, which when closed is locked. With no heating and the night being rather cold the entire outfit will not be as hot as one might fear. Zahra has never slept covered so tightly or been in a burqa for that long, but soon she is only thinking about her sister. Will she remember her? Does she look like her? She sleeps dreaming sweet dreams.
Zahra wakes as light enters the room, but Noor and Amin seem to be still asleep. After some time she can feel Noor is awake as well, but Amin is still sleeping. Suddenly they hear someone coming. It is of course Mr. Tariq and Zahra and Noor turn to face the mattress. A few moments later Amin, in a sleepy voice says “I’m awake.” He has been shaken, and then they hear the door to the front yard being opened. Mr. Tariq stays outside until the women have left.
After breakfast and clearing the kitchen Mrs. Tariq takes them to three identical piles of clothing she had assembled before breakfast. They have to be dressed completely in Kham Valley clothes. The inner clothing at the top of each pile is black, the rest is khaki brown, a color very close to that of the stone of the valley making women little noticeable anywhere. Mrs. Tariq says “Of course changing and revealing skin has to take place unseen by others. Take the black items. Zahra goes to the kitchen and Noor goes to the bathroom. Knock the door when you have changed, but wait until I open the doors. There is no underwear, keep your own on.” After closing the kitchen door Zahra quickly strips down to her bra and panties. Then she takes the item at the top of the pile. It’s a quite ordinary cut baggy pair of trousers with an elastic waist and elastic bands at the ankles, but they have integrated socks and are made of heavy cotton making them completely opaque. Putting them on is straight forward. These are followed by a long shirt of the same material. Putting it on Zahra discovers it has a high neck to be laced at the front, and short laces to close the wrists tight as well. She discovers two sets of snap fasteners, one set distributed around the body just below the waist, and the other consisting of four fasteners around the neck. Zahra sees that the trousers have mating parts for the set below the waist, and she connects the eight pairs to ensure the trousers can’t slide down and the shirt can’t be lifted free of the trousers. Only four smaller items remain, and taking the first explains the fasteners around the neck. It’s a hood, again made from the same heavy cotton. A wide elastic band at the neck holds it quite tight around the head, and a circular opening for the mouth shows which is the front. Pulling it on the rim slides under the shirt ending at the collar bone, and then Zahra can mate the snap fasteners of the shirt and lace the shirt neck opening. Having worn a rather dark eye covering since leaving Naran, the new eye covering, seen from the inside is much less noticeable, not reducing her sight much. The hood has oval openings for the eyes in the opaque fabric, but a strip of sheer black silk attached to the inside makes the eyes little noticeable from the outside as well. A pair of gloves is next. Although black they deviate from the rest of the outfit by being made of thin satin, and with the shirt sleeves unlaced they are easily fitted, reaching a little above the wrists but an elastic cord sewn into the rims makes pulling them off impossible when the shirt sleeves are laced. Then Zahra is again completely covered except her mouth opening. This leaves no doubt where the last item goes. It’s a gag. A thick circular rod of some hard plastic-like material goes into the mouth from a larger oval plate formed like the end of an egg. At both ends of the plate leather straps are attached to be buckled to each other behind the head. With the rod inside the mouth the plate covers the lips without touching them. The front end of the rod and plate is formed like a small horizontal handle, which when turned to vertical releases the rod and most of the plate from the base, leaving a large oval opening to access the mouth. Finally the rod has a tube through its center, curving down to end below the tip of the chin and a small chain at one side so that it can hang from the base when out of the mouth. To get the rod into place Zahra has to open her mouth wide, but not to its maximum. On the other hand she is unable to close her mouth and the rod holds her tongue locked down. The straps buckling the thick rounded edge of the base puts pressure around her lips but doesn’t hurt. Turning the handle and pulling the rod out Zahra can open and close her mouth with only a little rubbing against the base. Mrs. Tariq, not having shown any part of herself so far, Zahra figures she has to leave the kitchen with the rod inserted to cover her mouth. A completely black figure but dressed in a traditional salwar kameez knocks the door.
In a minute Mrs. Tariq opens and it’s like looking in a mirror to Zahra. Mrs. Tariq just points to the bathroom door. She then pulls at Zahra’s waist and neck to check she has mated the snap fasteners and lifts at one of her wrists to check the lacing, her nodding head telling Zahra she has done things correctly. There is a knocking from the bathroom and Mrs. Tariq immediately goes to open the door. While Mrs. Tariq checks Noor as well, it’s clear Noor finds it strange looking at two reflections of herself. Mrs. Tariq goes to her pile of now khaki only clothing and takes the top item. Zahra and Noor copy her. It’s a long dress with long sleeves without any form of decoration and made of even thicker cotton than the black items. At first it’s simply dropped over the head placing the arms into the sleeves at the same time. A short zipper at the back closes the round neck opening which is far from tight. In fact the entire dress is very loose, only touching the body where unavoidable. The sleeves are loose as well, but a drawstring makes them end exactly at the wrist, with the cuffs unable to slide. Then Mrs. Tariq sits down with a pair of black leather sandals next to her. They have a strap with a buckle around the ankle to make them stay on. But after buckling them she lifts the hem of the dress to grab a short strap hanging from its left side, and attaches a clip at the end of the strap to a ring at the back of the ankle strap of the left sandal. This is of course repeated at the right side, but this strap is longer having two clips. The inner clip is connected to the right sandal like the first strap, but then the end clip is connected to the ring of the left sandal, tying them together. Standing up again Mrs. Tariq lifts at her dress to show Zahra and Noor that the dress can only be lifted a little and that the length of stride has been limited to less than one foot, reducing the likelihood of a foot showing from beneath the dress, and even less chance when burqa is being worn. All three wearing the dress Zahra notices that because Noor and herself are a little taller than Mrs. Tariq, only her dress barely touches the floor as it should be. Back to the remaining clothes Mrs. Tariq takes a pair of short khaki gloves made from a material thinner than the dress, more like that of the inner clothing. A drawstring at the rim and a pair of snap fasteners on the glove and the cuff of the dress ensures no black fabric will be seen here. Further the right glove has a small clip at the rim towards the body, and the left glove at the same place has a matching ring, but Mrs. Tariq doesn’t explain. Then only two large items remain. Zahra has long figured out that the largest bottom piece of clothing is a burqa for walking in public. Zahra and Noor both look when Mrs. Tariq unfolds and demonstrates the other item. Although never having worn one herself Zahra recognises it as a khimar. The lack of immediate identification is because the face opening doesn’t show. Covering the area of the face opening is a piece of cloth attached to the headband and reaching down on the chest with two mesh covered circular cut-outs, that show it is a veil or opaque bushiya. Mrs. Tariq turns her khimar inside out to show the headband in full, how it ties around the forehead to hold the khimar in place. Further the veil piece has an elastic cord from below one cheek to the other going through two eyelets in the khimar. Lifting the khimar over the top of her head she shows the elastic cord has to be pulled behind the head before placing the khimar correctly. Then she ties the forehead band and lifts her arms free of the khimar to lift at the veil and show how she fits the khimar tight around the head by lacing its neck opening under the chin. Finally she leans forward to demonstrate that the veil piece, due to the elastic cord stays close to the face even when facing downward.
A hand goes up under the veil and she finally speaks in a very low voice saying “This is wrong, but speaking is much faster.” Noor, having fitted her khimar as well, says close to whispering “You mean without a scarf in your mouth your voice is too clear, even if this thick veil muffles the sound?” Mrs. Tariq says “It makes it wrong here, but what I do is outrageous to a Kham Valley woman. Nonetheless, because it’s acceptable to you, let me quickly tell you a few things. First, only women with explicit permission from their husband show any skin or even the black inner covering except the feet and a little of the legs to him or any woman. Women are never to be found in the same room as other men without a burqa, implying the husband serves his male guests if there are no children to do it. But most importantly . . . no wait, are you feeling comfortable as Kham Valley women?” Zahra is feeling quite warm under two complete covering layers of heavy cotton and has realized why the black silk eye cover of the inner hood is quite thin. Combined with the mesh of the khimar veil her sight is now dark and blurred, making her think extra strong lighting is required for reading and other detailed viewing. Only her breathing is better than she would have expected by having her face covered this much. Breathing through the nose isn’t easy, but her mouth has a little space where air can enter, and when gagged she actually breathe easier because the tube reaches down where the veil is loose allowing close to free airflow that way. She says “I can breathe, see, speak and probably won’t get heat problems out of the sun, but isn’t it a bother having to do all sorts of work with this hip long khimar covering the hands unless the arms are lifted?” Mrs. Tariq says “You quickly get used to always working with your hands at chest height. I even often do it here when not wearing a khimar, because that was how I was brought up.” Noor says “I feel alright as well, but how do we identify each other when we all look identical?” Mrs. Tariq says “After some time in a room with more than three or four women their placements, actions and movements will tell you who is who, but often you just have to accept you don’t know who is addressing you or carrying out a particular task.” Zahra says “But if everybody started a speech by saying their name like this ‘Zahra speaking. I saw a peach not ripe yet much larger than the others.’ Then you would know who to ask when looking for that peach next time you went into the garden.” Mrs. Tariq says “That was what I was about to say when I interrupted myself a minute ago. But let’s first finish dressing.” She unfolds the last item of her pile, which as expected is a burqa, holding it in front of her, the face piece on her chest, explaining “This is quite similar to a Waral burqa regarding fabric, cut and lack of decoration. Fitted correctly it just touches the ground at the front, but is a little longer at the sides and back, trailing the ground, and making walking backwards difficult. Also it has no arm slits, Kham Valley women don’t use their hands in public. Finally what looks like a much denser mesh over the eyes is actually decoration in form of embroidery, indicating the eyes, but there are no openings, Kham valley women are blind in public. We’ll walk in a line, the first being guided by her husband or a child. The others bow their heads to touch the back of the one in front of them to sense her movements. It’s easy to learn, and if contact is completely lost the guide corrects you. Do you want to know more about the clothing?” After several moments of consideration, and trying to imagine what it’s like always being blind outside, both Zahra and Noor shake their heads.
Then Mrs. Tariq says “Kham Valley women never speak, except when alone with babies. When the gag is out, primarily to eat, it is expected you concentrate on being completely silent, even suppressing coughing, laughing, burping and other sounds not related to speech. Basic communication is done by gesturing, if expressing more complicated matters are necessary, it is written in as short a manner as possible on small blackboards, to be erased immediately it has been read, so that males do not get a chance to read it.” Zahra is about to ask if they are able to read the thick lines of a chalk-written message in indoor lighting, but obviously that is the case. After a pause to let Noor and Zahra grasp her words Mrs. Tariq continues “Now perhaps you understand why outsiders are not permitted to just enter the valley. The unique combination of customs, dress-code and lifestyle would fall apart right away. It sounds extremely strict and restricting, but is just going to the right limit of modesty and piety. Kham Valley women, knowing how I live here in Waral think I am risking my place in Paradise, speaking where bad men could listen and walking among men able to see, risking my thoughts turning towards other men or seeing obscene incidents. But the personalities inside the clothing are nice, happy and important to you forgiving women. You’ll be accepted like a girl just having reached puberty, expected to do as the adults, but their errors are ignored for the first months providing they are not repeated. I love going there and often regret I left. Having seen you conforming to Waral dress-code when coming here for the first time, I’m sure you’ll do fine in the Kham Valley as well. If I hear no questions after counting to ten, it’s rod in and burqa on. Ten, – – – nine, – – – eight, – – – ” While Noor puts a hand under her veil to put the rod into her mouth Zahra asks “If we are only allowed to remove the gag at mealtime, does it mean we can’t go out in the lovely gardens, I presume they have them as well, and eat a fresh peach directly from the tree?” Mrs. Tariq says “Of course you can. The important thing isn’t to be gagged, but to be silent. What does that imply?” Embarrassed at asking Zahra replies “I must be careful when tasting a wonderful fruit not to smack my lips.” Mrs. Tariq nods and starts counting from ten again, this time after saying ‘one’ lifting her hands to gag herself. Zahra has gagged immediately following her own answer. Then with the only gait possible, a mincing one, they walk to the door to the corridor and put their burqas on. Mrs. Tariq has forgotten to tell them something. Two leather pads, like headphone cups cover the ears, muting at least the sounds of the living room completely. Zahra discovers the pads also ensure the burqa is aligned correctly, the face piece at the front. Without some clue to alignment she could easily wear the burqa turned somewhat, making her look peculiar when walking and when guided, perhaps being touched on the breast instead of the shoulder. Then a surprise follows. Her burqa is lifted at the back, by Mrs. Tariq she assumes. Hands take first her left, then her right hand, guiding them behind her back. Here the wrists are held together, and when the hands are removed and the burqa drops to the floor again her wrists have been connected. Her hands are tied behind her back, meaning she can’t remove her burqa herself in case she is lost or panics because of loosing sense of time and place walking blind. Zahra has plenty of time to worry about what she has gotten herself into, because nothing happens for some time, ten, perhaps fifteen minutes. Full of worries, bound, blind and deaf counting the minutes is difficult.
Suddenly a hand touches her shoulder and she is guided to bow until her head touches another person. Mrs. Tariq said they had to walk in a line keeping the line by holding contact. Zahra tries to do that as the person in front of her starts moving. It is quite easy inside the house, but suddenly she falls forward only stopped by bumping her head rather hard into the person in front of her, the stumble caused by a small step. After that she can sense the flat but not so hard surface of the yard. Then the surface becomes more uneven, which both her feet and her head clearly feel, as the body in front of her makes small jumps up and down. They should be out on the road where cars can park close to the door, but they walk much further, the tiny steps of course make it feel much longer than it is, but somehow Zahra feels they are walking to the school. The school is a little above the road, and it feels like they are walking uphill. The walking pace is slowed down a little and they keep turning to the left. They are turning half a circle. Then it goes down. Zahra realizes they are being trained in walking blind. It seems to go without problems, but from the little Zahra has seen of this area it’s as flat as a dirt road can be. Walking in an almost straight line and a little downhill, Zahra has time to notice that no one touches her back, which means she is the end of the line. They stop. Amin’s voice suddenly sounds attenuated close to her ear “It’s Amin. You’ll now be lifted into the trunk. Don’t make sudden body movements and hold your head low while we drive to avoid your head bumping into the lid.” Of course, for women not allowed to show the least piece of skin or speak even to other women, being with non-mahram men in a small room for more than a few minutes is unacceptable, even if the women only show as a standard garment and the women can’t see or hear the men. Zahra is lifted to sit in the trunk with her feet over the edge. Carefully she moves backwards until hitting the lid. She sits with the side of the trunk to her left and senses Noor or Mrs. Tariq to her right. As the engine starts she leans forward. After driving for a few minutes, possibly leaving Waral, the car accelerates, and she needs no warnings to keep her head down. Even through the layers of face covering she feels the dust blowing around her head, making her bow until her face is hidden in her lap. After a while she has to lift her head a little as her muscles starts hurting in this cramped position. Changing position a little now and then she can manage. From studying maps she knows the drive is short, less than half an hour. The car slows down and a minute later comes to a stop, some time before Zahra had anticipated. They have reached the Lashari house inside the Kham Valley.
Zahra is guided to lean forward until partly resting on a shoulder, probably Amin’s. Then he moves backwards pulling her out of the trunk, her feet bumping to the ground. She is then guided to bow until her head touches a back. A new line has been formed and she is again the last. Although mincing, in two minutes the ground changes to a stone floor and a minute later they come to a halt. After less than a minute standing still they walk again for barely a minute. Immediately after stopping Zahra’s burqa is lifted at the back, hands find her wrists, which are unclipped and she is guided to lift the burqa off of herself. The room is in the same style but a little larger than the Tariq female living room. Next to her are two Kham Valley women with burqas hanging over their arms and chest like herself, Noor and Mrs. Tariq. In front of each of them stands a Kham Valley woman. The three are not wearing burqas, but are watching them uncover. The one in the middle lifts her right hand free of the khimar, points to herself and then points upward. The one facing Zahra repeats the action, but ends by showing two fingers. Finally the third woman, after pointing to herself, turns her head towards the center woman, who nods. The third woman lifts her dress to reveal a white sandal in a white covered foot. Zahra doesn’t understand a thing, it was her impression all Kham Valley women are dressed identically, even regarding colors. All three women then lift both hands free of the khimar reaching forward to take the burqas of their guests. They are put on hooks right behind them, and then the center woman walks across the room gesturing the guests to follow. She opens the door to a porch and a lovely garden, at first sight a little larger than the Tariq garden. The guests are gestured to sit on cushions next to each other leaning against the house wall and overlooking the garden. The woman doing the gesturing, along with one of the other women seat themselves a little distance away facing their guests. The third woman has not entered the porch. They sit just looking at each other for a couple of minutes, then the third woman arrives carrying a tray with tea and candied fruits. She puts the tray and herself down at the end not facing anyone directly. Then she unfolds a cloth, which is spread between them all. The small bowls of candied fruit are distributed on the cloth, six glasses of tea are poured and one glass placed in front of each. All the women except Zahra and the guest away from her take their right hand up under the veil to pull out the rod. Zahra now knows its Mrs. Tariq sitting next to her in the middle, and Noor on the other side of Mrs. Tariq. The right hand of Mrs. Tariq reaches for her glass, while the left hand is lifted free of the khimar as well to hold out the veil just enough to have room for the glass. Zahra and Noor copy Mrs. Tariq and the other women to drink not gagged. The sweet tea feels good in Zahra’s dry mouth. Although her heavy public covering must be an efficient dust filter, it feels like her mouth has been filled with dust during the drive anyway. With Mrs. Tariq having said that the gag is only removed at meals, Zahra is a little surprised to be drinking tea with the gag removed, but of course serving candied fruits would be futile if they have to stay gagged. Perhaps the fruits are a way to celebrate the guests from outside the valley. They are certainly very delicious, but Zahra is careful only to take one after having seen one of the others take one first. No sounds come from the women on the porch. It’s like sitting alone in a garden only surrounded by the sounds of nature, but being in a village, the sounds of hens and dogs are heard as well. After less than a quarter of an hour the leading woman takes her right hand to her veil and makes a turning movement. Zahra sees Mrs. Tariq make an obviously clear nod and takes her hand up under her veil. All the women do the same thing, Zahra and Noor a little behind. No more candied fruits, they have gagged. The woman with the tray collects the bowls and walks inside.
Coming back within a minute she carries a folio sized blackboard. The leading woman gestures her to hand the blackboard to Mrs. Tariq. She just writes ‘Tariq’ using the full width of the board. Then she hands it to Zahra, who has to use smaller letters to write ‘Farooqi’ below. Noor is handed the blackboard and after writing holds it toward the woman at the end. The woman doesn’t let a hand appear from her khimar. Noor is puzzled for some seconds until the leading woman reaches for the blackboard. She reads what has been written, shows it to the woman next to her and finally holds it for the woman at the end to read. Then she erases it and hands it to Mrs. Tariq, who writes ‘Lashari first wife, daughter me.’ While showing it to Zahra and Noor she points to the leading woman opposite, who holds up her index finger. She was not pointing upwards after they had removed their burqas, but showing one finger. Next Mrs. Tariq erases the blackboard to write ‘Lashari second, son Mohammad, daughter.’ After Zahra and Noor have seen it she points to the other woman opposite, who shows two fingers. Mrs. Tariq then points to the word daughter and then towards the woman at the end serving the tea. Being pointed at the woman again lifts at her dress to show a white covered foot. Noor takes the blackboard, erases it and writes ‘Unmarried wears white instead of black?’ Mrs. Tariq nods and hands the blackboard to the first wife. She erases it and puts it down between them, then points to the tea and the daughter. Mrs. Tariq nods while the three hosts get up, the first wife gesturing doing housework. Mrs. Tariq nods to each of the two wives, and then all three go inside. Zahra takes the blackboard and writes ‘We drink tea here while they work?’ Mrs. Tariq nods while reaching for her glass. After nothing happens for some minutes Zahra writes again ‘When can we expect to meet my sister?’ Mrs. Tariq takes the blackboard and erases the words ‘my sister’, replacing them with ‘Rehman wives’ and then adds ‘During afternoon.’ Fifteen minutes later a woman comes through the door carrying a basket passing the guests without taking notice of them and continues out in the garden. Zahra is mesmerized by the gentle flowing movement that the chained feet dictate, but away from the porch the woman is hard to follow as her overall khaki clothing makes her one with the ground or the walls. The woman approaches them again some ten minutes later with her basket filled. Mrs. Tariq holds the teapot towards her. The hand not holding the basket appears from the khimar and takes the pot. Noor takes the blackboard and writes ‘Shouldn’t the daughter have the pot?’ Mrs. Tariq takes the blackboard, erases it and writes ‘It is the daughter. Lowest ranking is sent out in the sun.’ While she erases the writing a woman appears and bows to them, holding the pot and shaking her head. Then she makes part of a circle on her left wrist and holds her folded hands up. Mrs. Tariq nods and then points to the tea pot while shaking her head. A few minutes later a woman, probably the daughter, comes to remove the glasses and the cloth. For about a quarter of an hour they just sit and doze, Zahra and Noor can’t get enough of looking at the garden. Then a woman appears carrying what looks like a prayer gown. They get up and follow her inside. Prayer rugs are laid out on the floor and the two other hosts are already praying. First they are handed a small glass of water and gestured to wash the mouth and swallow. The mouth is the only part of the body accessible without a slow and complicated undressing, and the washing is the physical way of expressing the ritual cleansing. After each have been handed a prayer gown, Noor and Zahra are shown a tube that is just visible protruding from the fabric at the center of the chest. The woman then moves her finger making a line from the mouth down, and then she gestures assembling. Zahra and Noor both nod without really understanding. The prayer gown is a beige sack, very similar in appearance to the Waral version, but no elastic band is visible at the neck area and the top feels completely different, like a quilt. Zahra places herself in front of a prayer rug and pulls the gown over her head. Halfway on it becomes more difficult to get her head into it, but after a little more pulling her head reaches the top. Of course Zahra is blind, but it’s like her entire upper body and head has been isolated from the surroundings, making her deaf as well making it really hard to draw breath. Then she remembers the tube and feels for it inside the gown. It ends just below her chin, next to the tube under her veil that comes out of the mouth gag. To connect them together means she has to lift her veil over the gown tube and fit the two together. Doing this she can easily breathe through her mouth. Now she needs to fold the gown up to get her hands outside and feel her head and upper body. Down to her elbows it’s like her head and body has been wrapped in a duvet allowing no sound, light or draft to interfere with her praying. And it works, Zahra prays deeply and sincerely for her sister, her mother and any other relatives she might have. She has completely lost track of time when someone pats her shoulder. She could have continued praying twice as long.
After the prayers the guests are offered some cushions to sit down. Soon a cloth is spread on the floor between them and lunch served. Except when two people are reaching for the same dish they eat as if they were alone, of course not uttering a single sound. Zahra switches between enjoying the delicious food and hoping her prayers of having a large and healthy family will come true. With all present having practically stopped eating one of the hosts, probably the first wife, shows clearly for all to see that she gags herself. They all follow her instantly. Then another Leshari woman gets up and the first wife gestures to her for a blackboard. Getting it she waits while the woman fetching it starts clearing the lunch. At least now, when having guests, it seems the duty of the daughter to clear the kitchen and do the dishes. Then the first wife writes ‘Why have you come to the Kham Valley? Most relatives of Tariq never do?’ Zahra understands the Lashari women haven’t been told why they are here. Mrs. Tariq places herself between the two wives with the blackboard and quickly filling it a couple of times, mixed with some gesturing makes the situation clear to the wives. The first wife ends writing for Zahra and Noor to see ‘Now we know why we can expect the Rehman wives to visit soon.’ For some minutes nothing happens. Noor gestures if she may ask a question. Both the first wife and Mrs. Tariq nod. Noor writes ‘How much of the village and the valley have you seen?’ In reply the first wife writes ‘All of it before puberty, since then only the female rooms and the gardens.’ After Noor and Zahra have read the reply she takes it back to write ‘About once a month our husband takes us for a picnic in a secluded place on a mountainside or in a narrow side valley. It’s up to an hour with burqa flipped back.’ To have so much written at once the text size to has to be so small that Zahra and Noor have to read it several times, tilting the blackboard to find the best lighting. Then Zahra writes ‘Is first allowed to see son of second?’ The first wife answers ‘Yes until he marries. Husband and son mostly dine with us when no guests.’ Noor writes ‘Who may see you unveiled, and when?’ The first wife writes ‘Our husband may see us anytime alone with him. He usually does so in bed twice a month.’ Zahra and Noor read this and the first wife continues ‘Those having babies unveil to them daily. Children below puberty / twelve may ask their father for permission. A mother, daughter or sister ask the husband of the one they want to see. No one else sees us.’ Zahra and Noor read this twice, not because the text is too small, but because they realize married women never show themselves to each other except closest family, but that does not include co-wives. Taking the blackboard again the first wife continues ‘Unmarried women above puberty only unveil to their father and mother when they tell them to do so.’ Zahra asks ‘As I am a widow are my sister or mother allowed to see me?’ The first wife writes something, then pauses to think and then writes some more showing her writing to Mrs. Tariq and the second wife. They seem to consider what is written before nodding their approval and Zahra and Noor are permitted to read what is on the blackboard ‘Your guardian has to give permission. With your husband dead, your previous guardian, your adoptive father, is again your guardian – we believe – but it could be the father or a brother of your late husband.’ Noor then writes ‘Please ask questions about us.’ and hands the blackboard to the first wife. As she holds it for the second wife to read a bell sounds. The first wife gets up to go out the door leading to the male section. A minute later she comes back a little slower, a burqa covered woman touching her back, followed by a second burqa clad woman touching the first. Zahra is extremely excited. Is her sister in the same room as herself?
The Lashari second wife is next to the first, each untying the hands of a guest. Zahra, Noor and Mrs. Tariq form a line a little behind them and the daughter watches from the kitchen doorway. Lashari’s first points to herself and lifts one finger, then Lashari’s second show two fingers. The guests reciprocate, the woman opposite Lashari’s second showing one finger and then the other showing two. Zahra has her gaze fixed on the second wife. Although she looks just like the other seven women in the room, she gets a special feeling knowing she is looking at her sister. With a gesture from Lashari’s first the daughter brings the blackboard. In sequence Mrs. Tariq, Zahra and Noor write their names for the newly arrived to see. The hosts name is known and it has been announced who has just arrived. Now everybody knows who is present. Zahra has to know right away. She walks over to Rehman’s second and gestures her to go with her, taking the blackboard as well. Rehman’s first points to them, puzzled, but first Lashari’s first and Mrs. Tariq and then Noor and Lashari’s second nod repeatedly to say they must. Zahra takes Rehman’s second to the porch to sit down on the cushions up against the wall. She takes both hands up under her veil to fiddle with the neck lacing of her khimar. Having left all her belongings to Amin in the car, including her purse and handbag, she has just brought one item, a piece of paper rolled to be held by the lacing of her khimar, the note made by the charity organization when receiving her for adoption. She pulls it out and hands it to Rehman’s second. The writing is small for their veiled eyes, but the light on the porch is the strongest possible and Zahra, although knowing it by heart, is able to read it. Rehman’s second reads ‘October 21. 1986: Newly widowed Rashida Khan from the town of Naran is only able to sustain one child and gives her youngest daughter to us.’ While Rehman’s second looks from the paper to Zahra and back to reading again, Zahra writes on the blackboard ‘Before marrying was your name Jamila?’ Reading this Rehman’s second drops the paper and the blackboard into her lap from where they slide to the ground as she leans forward to squeeze against Zahra, head on shoulder cheek to cheek. Zahra feels with her hands to get them under the other khimar, and as their hands touch it is immediately converted to a tight squeeze. They sit like that for a long time, then Rehman’s second picks up the note and the blackboard, returns the note to Zahra and writes over the entire surface of the blackboard ‘Sister!’ Then they hug again. After a while Rehman’s second writes as large as possible ‘Farooqi wife is sister to Rehman’s second.’ She starts getting up gesturing that they have to show this to those inside, but Zahra pulls her back, erases the happy message and writes ‘Mother?’ Rehman’s second after reading it extremely quickly writes below ‘Nawaz wife. Lives bottom of valley. We visit tomorrow.’ This time Zahra drops the blackboard to squeeze against her sister. Tears of joy are making wet spots on her inner hood. Minutes later she takes the blackboard and writes ‘Farooqi wife is sis’ She hands the chalk to her sister to write the second half. They get up to stand close side by side. Rehman’s second, only one hand outside her khimar holding one side of the blackboard that is positioned right between them, inviting Zahra to hold the other side. Close together both holding at the blackboard they mince inside. A cloth is on the floor with the others on cushions around it. Before the sisters reach the cloth they all get up and come to touch their foreheads and hold their hands. The daughter as the last is just allowed to touch on the forehead of each of the sisters before a Lashari wife, probably the first, drags her with her to the kitchen. Over the next few minutes both the daughter and the wife bring candied fruit, dates, bonbons and fresh fruit in bowls filled to the top, and then the fresh tea is served. Lashari’s first looks at Rehman’s first, who nods and they both show they are removing their gags. Zahra takes her glass and holds it towards her sister to let their glasses touch before they drink. Next time she takes her glass, she holds it up towards each of the other women for some seconds, until holding it towards her sister, who copies her before their glasses meet. Zahra eats a lot of candy and fruit to suppress her urge to scream something like ‘I Have Been Reunited with My Sister. I Love Her!’ After close to an hour, Lashari’s first gestures prayer time in five minutes. Zahra doesn’t think of the consequences when taking two large pieces of candied fruit. Handing one to her sister she quickly lets her hand slide up under her sister’s veil to hold the candy between her lips. She holds it there while urging her sister to do the same by lifting her hand towards her own veil. Her sister does it, and as Zahra senses the piece in her own mouth she drops the piece in her sister’s mouth. Wearing two sets of gloves they haven’t touched each other skin to skin, but it feels like it, and it’s the best piece of fruit Zahra has ever tasted. Immediately following this they all put in their gags. Rehman’s first holds her hands over her eyes to show she hasn’t seen this incident and the others copy her. The sisters lean cheek to cheek and nod in sync in thanks for accepting this lack of good manners.
The daughter serves small glasses of water to wash their mouth and prayer rugs are laid out. Zahra has to stay close to her sister and pulls two rugs side by side. Then they put on prayer gowns and Zahra moves sideways until touching her sister. Despite being blind and having no sound input for synchronization they pray moving synchronously. Zahra says thank you, thank you, thank you. All her previous prayers have been heard. When someone taps her shoulder as a signal to end the prayers, she shakes her head and continues, happy to sense Rehman’s second is still with her. When they stop and remove their prayer gowns an hour has passed. It seems to be Rehman’s first who gestures cooking to the second. Then a Lashari wife comes showing a blackboard saying ‘The boy to take you home has been delayed with sweets for half an hour. He leaves in five minutes.’ Zahra grabs the board and writes ‘Can I come with you?’ Rehman’s first writes ‘Not possible. Permission from guardian here, Marwat, and as outsider from our husband.’ She erases the words to continue ‘Tomorrow morning permissions acquired. Probably invited to stay.’ Zahra nods and puts her mouth to the forehead of Rehman’s first to say goodbye. Then she leans cheek to cheek with her sister while the others part with the two Rehman wives. Rehman’s second gently pushes her away to receive her burqa. Before putting it on she gestures that she would like Zahra to tie her wrists. Zahra understands her sister will feel it as having a tie to Zahra, and Zahra’s happy mood, for some minutes reduced by having to part from her sister, is restored. She sees two very different khaki burqas mincing out of the room. Then she asks the Lashiri first for permission to walk in the garden alone, which they all understand.
For Zahra the evening passes with great longing for her sister, but with great joy as well at having found her, and very likely meeting with her mother tomorrow. Half an hour before bedtime a wide thick mattress is placed on the floor for Mr. Lashari to sleep with the wife of the day, the second. Then two hammocks made of khaki canvas lined with woollen hides are stretched across the corner of the room from hooks in the walls, one above the other. First the daughter, by sitting down and swinging her connected ankles, is able to get into the lower hammock, where she lies completely stretched out her hands above her head. The second wife takes a small chain at the end of the hammock and attaches the clip at its end to the ring on one of the daughter’s sandals. She goes to the other end and clips the wrists together and then connects a similar small chain from the hammock to the wrist ring. A lace is then threaded through eyelets along the edges of the hammock to lace it closed, and three pairs of eyelets are secured with padlocks. Then the first wife has to have her ankles unchained to climb into the upper hammock, immediately to be chained in the same manner as the daughter. Zahra thinks the first wife lifts her head a little to make some final goodnight nods while the hammock is laced, but she is unable to move enough to nod clearly. All women not having a husband to sleep with obviously have to sleep warm and secure like that. Zahra and Noor have to get into their burqas to be able to pass Mr. Lashari decently. They are guided to the male reception room right away, but then nothing happens, apparently nobody is there. Blind and deaf they have to remain standing exactly where they were left. About a quarter of an hour later, Zahra suddenly hears the voice of Amin close to her ear “Mrs. Tariq being in the house of her parents, we have borrowed the reception room of a neighbour for the night, being strangers in all homes here. It’s less than two hundred feet to walk.” They walk for five minutes, then Zahra’s burqa is lifted and her wrists unclipped. She is directly in front of a hammock, which Amin, with a head movement, indicates her to climb into. She still has her burqa, now hanging across her stomach. Noor chains her but as the burqa is preventing the hammock being laced properly she unfolds it over Zahra like a blanket, covering her from the feet to the top of the head. While being laced Zahra finds she has to turn her head sideways to have her nose where the slit between the burqa and the hammock allows her most air. Feeling as if she is in a cocoon makes her think about her mother and looking forward to meeting her. Soon she is sound asleep.
The next morning, back in the Lashari female rooms the guests take it in turn to bathe. They can dress in a complete clean set of identical clothing, which Mrs. Tariq later writes makes it possible for her to take her clothes home with her. Now recognized as related to Sheik Rehman, Zahra, Noor and Amin have to stay as his guests. An hour after breakfast Zahra, Noor and Mrs. Tariq as guests again are relaxing on the porch while the Lashari women do housework. When one of the wives comes gesturing them quickly to follow her, they are shown into the kitchen, where a hatch as in the Tariq house, connects the kitchen with the male reception room. Shaking the curtain a male voice says “I’m Sheik Rehman. My second has made it clear that one of the women from outside who is visiting here is her sister, given away for adoption more than twenty years ago. I believe her, but as female testimony is less honoured, I would like to see the document she has been shown and learn how the woman in question knows my wife’s unmarried name.” Zahra quickly produces the charity organization note which is pushed through the hatch. Then she is handed a blackboard to write ‘I’ve talked with a Mrs. Bhatti in Peshawar who worked for the charity organization when I was delivered there. She took care of my sister, your wife, then six, while my mother was with the leader. Mrs. Bhatti learned her name while giving her a meal.’ The blackboard is pushed through the hatch. A few moments later Sheik Rehman speaks again “There can be no doubt. My wife has been found by her sister. Welcome to my family. Coming to a place where one has family, of course you stay with them. I’ve told Mr. Tariq that I’m very grateful for his contribution in achieving this family reunion, and of course to my fellow village member Mr. Lashari for his contribution. Mr. Lashari has kindly invited us for tea, implying you have about half an hour to part with the Tariq and the Lashari families.” A knocking at the hatch indicates the men want tea. Zahra and Noor each take a hand of Mrs. Tariq and go to sit in the living room, pushing three cushions close to sit with Mrs. Tariq between them, both leaning cheek to cheek with her. Nothing has to be written, Mrs. Tariq knows the role she has played in reaching Zahra’s sister. Within minutes tea is served to the women, but nothing to eat. They stay gagged not wanting to risk someone sobbing and breaking the custom. Needing to try to give something, back Zahra takes the blackboard and writes ‘I would like to give you a gift in return for our stay here and that you’ve done for us. What do you need most?’ After a little consideration both wives grab at their dresses, so first wife writes ‘Wearing the same dresses day and night they wear out fast. A length of some fabric called Kham Valley Khaki Cotton for Females would be nice. All the men here know where to buy it.’ Zahra and Noor nod repeatedly and then both walk around the tea cloth to lean cheek to cheek with a Lashari wife each. After a minute they swop. Then not to keep the men waiting they go for their burqas. But before they put them on all the other women are next to them to touch their foreheads as goodbye. Zahra has wet eyes again, but nobody can see it. They cover, their hands are tied and they are guided to the male reception room. Of course they have to wait for ten minutes in the corridor. Then a guide arrives and they leave the Lashari house. The only adult allowed to guide them is Amin, but it could be a boy of the village, Zahra can’t tell as she is walking behind touching Noor. It’s the longest blinded walk they have ever made, which is only to say it’s longer than walking to the school and back in Waral. Then they enter a house and a new surprise is waiting next to the Rehman wives once they can see again. A boy of seven or eight years seems to have been their guide. He says “I’m Yasir, son of Sheik Rehman and his second wife. I’m happy I have an aunt. But now I have to go back to the football field.” Zahra bows deep to him, not sure if he likes to be touched. Noor nods politely and the boy runs down the corridor. Then another woman, or is it a girl, because she is a head shorter than the adult women, comes forward from the kitchen doorway. Standing in front of Zahra she lifts the hem of her dress to show a white covered foot, and then instead of touching cheek to cheek or even more impossibly touching the forehead, she buries her face in Zahra’s bosom. One of the Rehman wives points to herself lifts one finger and then points to the girl. The girl points one hand towards the sun shaking it and points the other in the opposite direction. While still pointing opposite the sun the first hand shows three fingers and she grabs at her veil. Noor and Zahra both nod, having figured out she has been trying to tell them that she has been wearing the veil for three months, probably implying she is twelve or thirteen. They are interrupted by a knocking on the kitchen hatch. Sheik Rehman says “Mr. Marwat has bought some bread and cola. We bring it as our contribution to lunch at Nawaz. We go in Mr. Marwat’s car in half an hour.”
With five women in the trunk of the car it is crowded. Zahra envies Yasir, probably lounging on the back seat, but the drive lasts only some ten minutes. Removing the burqa, after her wrists have been unclipped, Zahra takes a first look at her mother. Her dress is of course identical to the other women, but she is a little shorter and then they all greet her by touching her forehead. The Rehman wives must have identified themselves, because Zahra is immediately handed a blackboard and gestured to write her name and then hand it to Noor to do the same. Seeing their names she nods politely, showing she has not been told why the family of her daughter is visiting and bringing outsiders. Then she starts walking towards the kitchen gesturing for Rehman’s second and the Rehman daughter to assist her. Rehman’s second, her own daughter takes her towards the garden door, and Rehman’s first indicates she will handle the lunch assisted by her daughter and Noor. Zahra, following her sister and mother, is aware this makes her mother worried and reaches for the charity organization note at her collar bone while they go out onto the porch. The garden is smaller, containing less of everything, but still beautiful. It matches the female living room, being much smaller than the other two homes of the valley Zahra has seen. But everything seems neat and clean, and for a couple old enough that the children are gone it is fine. Zahra hands the paper to her mother. She seems to have difficulty reading it, but enough to understand where and when it was written. After half a minute her pointing finger starts moving between the document and Zahra, who starts nodding. Zahra holds out her arms ready to embrace her mother when she has grasped that her younger daughter is with her again after more than twenty years. As her mother starts leaning towards her, Zahra pulls her tight and they sit cheek to cheek for some time, Zahra having closed her eyes. As they separate Mrs. Nawaz gestures for a blackboard which Rehman’s second hands to her. With a shaking hand she writes ‘My little girl has found me and she is a healthy mature woman.’ Zahra nods while erasing the blackboard to write ‘It is the most wonderful moment of my life. I have found my mother and sister healthy and living a good life.’ Mrs. Nawaz and Rehman’s second read the message and Zahra is touched by a veiled mouth on both cheeks. Then she writes ‘My adoptive parents are Muslim and have given me a good life. I hope you can communicate with them, but they live, as I have, far away in London.’ Mrs. Nawaz takes the blackboard and writes with a steady hand ‘I’ll pray your adoptive parents have a long and healthy life and are rewarded in heaven for giving my daughter a good upbringing.’ Then Zahra writes ‘I’ve seen father’s grave in Naran, may he rest in peace.’ Mrs. Nawaz writes ‘I loved your father. We had a good life in Naran until he died. Then Rehman’s second and I had some hard years until Sheik Rehman married her. He found my new husband, a widower himself. Since then I’ve only missed you.’ They hug again. Zahra writes ‘I got this paper after my eighteen’s birthday. Until then I was unaware that I was adopted. I had found a lovely husband, but five month ago he was killed in a car accident. Then I decided to search for you. We owe a lot to the Marwats for us being together.’ For the first time Rehman’s first take the blackboard to write ‘We’ll treat the Marwats as relatives, but we have nothing for them to take home.’ Zahra is about to write she has an inheritance when a woman comes out showing a prayer gown. Inside Zahra just notices someone pointing towards the kitchen hatch, before she gets overwhelmed by seeing her mother embracing Noor like she alone was responsible for bringing her daughter to her. The prayer gown feels a little different from previously. She can hear. Zahra puts a hand to one ear sensing that a small flap with a snap fastener hangs down her cheek to make a small opening in the duvet like inner covering. When there are males to lead the prayer, they can be followed, otherwise praying is isolated. An unknown male voice, which must belong to Mr. Nawaz, starts reciting. It sounds wonderful. Zahra remembers what the Arabic words mean. She is filled with joy. When the reciting stops Zahra continues on her own to thank for being reunited with her mother and sister. She is allowed to continue for five minutes, but then her gown is lifted. The room is small, and there’s no room for a cloth for the meal, cushions for six and someone praying at the same time. They are served the best food the valley can produce and there is cola to drink, which is very special, as all other beverages are based on the natural source water just outside. But only Noor and the girl eat very much. Rehman’s first is mainly at the hatch serving the men and the others enjoy what they eat, but their minds are not concentrating on the meal. Further Zahra is not used to having to stay silent no matter what emotions fill her and has to think of that as well. Having eaten only for about fifteen minutes Zahra gags herself and just sips cola while enjoying her mother and sister touching her from each side. When nobody is really eating anymore Mrs. Nawaz gags herself to signal the meal is over. The girl is about to get up to clear the dishes away, but Mrs. Nawaz gestures her to stay and fills her glass with cola. Then the girl gets up anyway to make her mouth touch the forehead of Mrs. Nawaz. A quarter of an hour later Rehman’s first gestures her daughter to come with her to the kitchen and Noor goes with them. The reunited former Khan family try to enjoy the company of each other for as long as possible. Rehman’s second gets a blackboard to write ‘How long can you stay Mrs. Farooqi?’ Zahra answers ‘I don’t know. The Marwats can’t stay for long. I guess I have to go with them. A woman can’t travel alone here, at least not until Peshawar.’ Rehman’s second writes again ‘You are a widow. Would you stay here if someone would marry you?’ Zahra waits for more than a minute before she starts writing the answer ‘I hope I won’t remain a widow for the rest of my life. I can restart my average career in London and hope to meet a man like Saeed again, but perhaps that will always make me long for him. Leaving London I will mostly miss my adoptive parents.’ Rehman’s second writes ‘Yasir has told us a young man drives to Naran to use something new called the indonet to communicate with a schoolmate having moved as far as Karachi. It should work all over the world, perhaps it works in London and your adoptive father can drive to where it is.’ Zahra writes ‘Yes, through a messenger I could stay in contact with my adoptive parents over the internet. They have it at home, and it will probably come to Waral soon. But although I’m not opposed to the customs and the dress-code here, I am without the skills needed for housekeeping.’ Rehman’s second writes ‘You enjoy working in the garden even if you get soaked in sweat, and you can have somebody used to keep house here working with you until you can manage on your own. Being brought up in a town, both mother and I had to learn a lot when we came here.’ Zahra writes ‘I have to think about it. In London people marrying have usually seen each other and know a little about each other in advance. I’m not prepared for the shock of having to live for the rest of my life with a total stranger.’ Mrs. Nawaz and Rehman’s second look at each other, not understanding such indecent customs. Rehman’s second writes ‘To me these London customs are neither Muslim nor Pakistani. I can’t promise you can see your husband, but you’ll be informed about his family and position.’ Zahra writes ‘Most importantly, in case I decide to leave, I’d like to see both of you, if you would show yourselves, but the Lashari wives told me I have to ask your husbands for permission, and I like it to be mutual, if you would like to see me.’ First Mrs. Nawaz writes ‘I would like to see you my youngest daughter, and perhaps Rehman’s second as well, I haven’t seen her for nearly a year. I will show myself to both of you if permitted, but it would be best seeing each other at the same time I agree. Sheik Rehman is the religious leader of the Kham Valley, but you being a widow and adopted he might like to write a Mullah in Naran about who should give permission for you to be seen.’ Rehman’s second writes next ‘I will show myself as well if permitted. And I completely agree with my mother.’
For some time the women from the kitchen have been sitting just inside the kitchen door without interfering, only Noor and Rehman’s first exchanging a few lines on a blackboard now and then. They have all forgotten time, and are surprised when after a knock on the kitchen hatch Mr. Nawaz says “Prayer time.” Quickly a glass is filled for all to sip to wash their mouth, while prayer rugs are spread and then prayer gowns put on. The men pray for just over ten minutes, then, without any agreement, the sisters and their mother close their ear flaps and continue praying. Having made tea for the men, a quarter of an hour later Rehman’s first decides she, Noor and her daughter will have tea in the kitchen. Half an hour later they are still sipping tea and the women in the living room still praying when the hatch is knocked, only for Sheik Rehman to say they go home in half an hour. The praying is stopped without any of them surprised that the other two have continued as well. The first thing Zahra does is to find a blackboard and writes ‘I promise I won’t leave the Kham Valley without us meeting again mother.’ They hug. Zahra continues ‘As soon as I have found out what to do, I’ll have someone bring a note to your husband.’ They hug again. Zahra writes again ‘Is there something you would like to have? Mr. Marwat is good at getting things. Then you can have it when we meet again.’ Mrs. Nawaz writes ‘Today I got what I missed most. We produce enough to always have something to eat, but we don’t get much for selling our surplus produce. Enough fabric called Kham Valley Khaki Cotton for Females to make one or two sets of outer covering would be nice thank you.’ Zahra nods and they hug again. Then Rehman’s first bring Zahra and Rehman’s second their burqas. Zahra gestures that she would like her mother to clip her wrists and then touches her forehead. While mincing out Zahra thinks her chained wrists feel like when her adaptive mother had put her in a warm coat on a cold day.
Nothing special happens until dinner ends. Then suddenly Amin speaks through the hatch saying ‘I have got great confidence in Sheik Rehman. I have told him the truth about our relationship, that we are not related to your adoptive parents, that our relationship started just professionally, but now have become a friendship and that for as long as possible we have made recordings to make this search into a television program. Please Sheik Rehman.” Sheik Rehman says “Mrs. Farooqi you know a woman travelling with a non-mahram male is not allowed according to our customs, but on the other hand I know where you come from women travel alone. With you being a widow, and your adoptive father unable to travel here, it is better that you travel with a respectable couple than traveling alone. Mr. Marwat and his wife are professional missing person searchers, but to find your sister and mother you had to be here in person, making the three of you travel together a necessity for achieving your goal. And like Mr. Marwat trusts me, I trust him when he says that nothing wrong has happened between you and him. All this must stay between us here, not even your mother is to know, to her and everybody else Mr. Marwat is the son of your adoptive father and as your adoptive father is or has been your guardian, it would probably be acceptable that Mr. Marwat is chaperoning you. We’ll go and have tea with the village men.” While the men have been talking Rehman’s first has written on a blackboard, which she now pushes through the curtain causing Sheik Rehman to say “If I can persuade Mr. Marwat to wait outside you can come in here for a few minutes.” Then Mr. Marwat says “If you allow Yasir to take me to the tea room you can talk without the need to hurry because of me. I’ll buy him a cola or something and he can introduce me to the men of the village.” Sheik Rehman says “You go with Mr. Marwat boy, and remember until I arrive you represent the Rehman family. Let’s talk wives.” The wives take a blackboard and their burqas, which are flipped down their backs. The daughter, Zahra and Noor clear the kitchen. The wives return after fifteen minutes. Zahra immediately takes the blackboard and writes ‘Did you ask about permission for me seeing my mother and sister and them seeing me?’ One of the wives writes ‘Our husband will think about it until tomorrow and perhaps discuss it at the tea room. Then you can think about staying until tomorrow as well.’ The women spend a quiet evening only exchanging a few gestures. Being out of the house a part of the day they do some cleaning, but most of it is needlework. Making all the clothes for both males and females themselves there is plenty to be done, and Zahra and Noor see how quickly an evening passes without television, radio or computer. Soon after the Sheik has left a wife had made the male reception room ready for Amin, Noor and Zahra to sleep. Just after ten o’clock the daughter, as the first, prepares for the night. It is exactly as in the Lashari home, except there is an extra, smaller mattress for Yasir at the opposite wall of the Sheik’s mattress. Yasir, although much younger than her half sister, won’t lie down until she is. As the daughter is ready it is accepted. She willingly enters the hammock after having gestured for and being allowed to have Zahra tie her up. While lacing the hammock, Zahra makes some funny movements with her fingers and hands over the face of the daughter, hopefully making her fall asleep giggling inside. Then Rehman’s second gets into the hammock above. Rehman’s first asks Noor to handle her to be sure she will do it right when having to cocoon Zahra. Then Zahra and Noor get into their burqas, are chained and guided to the male reception room, where they have to stand up waiting for more than half an hour before the men arrive. Zahra is asleep almost before the hammock is locked.
Just having finished breakfast the women are called to the hatch. Sheik Rehman says “Mrs. Farooqi. staying here of course means marrying a man of the Kham Valley. You would like to marry a man you know a little. This seems contradictory, but my wives have suggested the man here you know best, and whom your friend Mr. Marwat has come to see as a trustworthy friend of his. Me!” Zahra is shocked, but the Sheik is right. Further his wives seem to love him, and just as importantly her mother wrote very favourably about him. Knowing that Zahra has to have time to absorb what he has said the Sheik waits a minute before he continues “For you it means you’ll always be close to your sister and for my second the same thing. My first gets less work to do and one more to head. I get increased prestige and more varied nights. And we all, the entire Valley, get someone knowing the world, who can give advice, as all sorts of new outside challenges and customs try to invade the Kham Valley.” Amin, forgetting the custom here says “You’ll like the Sheik Zahra. He is not too old for you, well groomed and handsome.” Sheik Rehman goes on “Further staying here, marrying me, or somebody else, will remove all the doubts about who should give permission for you to show yourself. Marriage will make all this clear. If you accept Mr. Marwat has kindly offered to drive us to Naran right away for you to phone your adoptive parents, and for me to go to a Mullah to fill out the necessary documents, which Mr. Marwat then will have your adoptive father sign over the internet. We can celebrate our wedding by having lunch.” Zahra had really decided some time ago, when she contacted the television station, to do everything possible to find her mother and sister. Taking that step she knew she would never leave them if they were found alive and had missed her as well. She takes a blackboard and writes ‘It will be an honour for me to become your third wife Sheik Rehman.’ She holds the blackboard for the other women to see before pushing it under the curtain through the hatch. To Zahra it seems like forever, but within five seconds Sheik Rehman says “It is with great delight that I’ll make the necessary arrangements to take the respectable Farooqi widow as my third wife. We leave immediately.” Zahra gets the meaning of the words clearly enough, although her hearing since letting the blackboard go has been further reduced by the khimars of her soon to be co-wives against her cheeks. In a tight squeeze they push and pull her towards the door leading outside. Noor brings her burqa and they all touch her forehead before she is blinded and her wrists tied.
Out in the street she is lifted inside the trunk. It has been filled with cushions giving her a soft surface to rest on, and she has to lie down because the trunk is closed. She knows the duration of the ride, but until the last part, on the main road to Naran, it is impossible to sleep or even doze. As the trunk is opened her burqa is immediately lifted at the back to untie her. Amin says close to her ear “Just flip the burqa back and ungag yourself, I have a cordless phone you can use right here.” Zahra, sitting in the open trunk, sees the car is inside a small yard with only Amin present, before she has to concentrate on speaking to her adoptive parents. The call goes through quickly and her adoptive mother answers. She calls her husband to the phone and of course they are delighted to hear she has found her biological sister and mother, healthy and doing fine. It is no surprise to them that she wants to stay with them in Pakistan, but going into a polygamous marriage is a little off from what they would expect Zahra to accept. But she tells them it’s very common in this part of the country, and it will bring her closer to her sister than a neighbour. Zahra of course will stay in regular contact with them as she has done ever since leaving their home, but the Valley, being so remote not even telephone is available, the contact has to be reduced to something like once a month through email and a messenger. It has to be like this, but Zahra expects the frequency can be increased when internet, in the not too distant future reaches the villages just outside the valley. Then Zahra tells her adoptive father to await and sign the papers which will be e-mailed within an hour. They should merely state who marries, but if he finds something he doesn’t like then he can just answer without attaching the signed copy and he will be contacted to resolve the matter. Her adoptive parents congratulate her, wish her a happy future life, a happy wedding and honeymoon, and then they agree to end the call. Zahra gags herself and then Amin says “Pull your burqa down, let me tie you and lie down. I have to lock you up in the trunk, while the Sheik and I get the papers signed. If no technical problems occur we will be back in an hour.” Half an hour or two hours, it doesn’t matter, because now lying down blind on cushions in a hot quiet car with all the hard decisions made, her brain gets no input and she needs to relax, making her fall in a deep sleep.
She doesn’t hear or sense the trunk being opened and she has to be shaken to make her wake. His mouth close to her ear Sheik Rehman tells Zahra “I’m happy to announce we are now husband and wife. You are now Rehman’s third. Let me help you out. Now that I’m mahram to you, you can ride in the back seat. It is also necessary because we have lots of stuff to put in the trunk. Because of that I’ll pack the cushions around you. It feels nice touching your body, although covered in heavy clothing.” As she is being guided to a back door Amin speaks “Congratulations Sheik Rehman’s third. Your bridal dress is something different, but at least you’re veiled like most brides.” Zahra nods with an unheard giggle while being guided into the back seat. The burqa prevents her from hearing someone talking just a meter away in quiet surroundings, promoted to the back seat doesn’t give her access to the men’s communication. But she sits upright comfortably only heating slowly being covered in cushions everywhere but her head. They only drive for a few minutes, then she senses the car tilting as the trunk is loaded with some heavy goods. And at a second stop the empty seat next to her is filled as well. Then there are no more stops. Having just slept it’s a long ride with only pleasant thoughts about her future filling her mind. As they stop she is so hot, she would like a bath as the first thing. Her door isn’t opened, only a part of the heavy goods are removed from the trunk. When they drive again they stop in less than a minute. Now as the first thing her door is opened. She is guided into a house, her new home, and then has to wait for a minute before being guided again. Noor, still in the Rehman home, the Sheik himself can’t enter the women’s quarters. For the first time her burqa is removed completely by those receiving her. It is lifted away by a woman on each side of her, who are of course her co-wives. Then a large glass of orange juice is handed to one of the wives, without any showing of fingers, Zahra now knows the first wife is to her right. Her hands are untied by either the daughter or Noor, then she is handed the glass. The juice being cold, it is the next best thing after a bath and she takes a large sip. Taking the glass below her veil the first wife reaches for it, and then she takes a large sip. Then it is handed to the second wife, who empties it. It seems a ritual that they have shared a glass like they share their husband. The daughter brings prayer gowns and small glasses of water to wash their mouths. Zahra sees the prayer rugs have been spread on the floor. At the front three rugs are placed side by side. Before putting on the gowns the first wife takes the center position guiding Zahra to her left, and Rehman’s second takes the right position. The Sheik leads the prayer and the three wives can move synchronously which makes Zahra happy. They stop when the men stop. The garden door is opened and a rectangular cloth, the width of the doorway, is placed in front of it. Five cushions are placed, two along each side and one at the opposite end to the door. Here Zahra is placed to look at the garden and the cloth being filled with dishes. Soon Noor joins her, taking one of the cushions at the door. Getting ready for the lunch goes a little slowly as the main priority of the women is serving the men. But three women to serve three men, including Yasir, the women are about ready to eat after a quarter of an hour. Only the daughter stays in the kitchen when the first and second wives sit down on either side of Zahra. The dishes are made from the best the valley can produce, and the women have probably worked in the kitchen all morning while Zahra got married in Naran. Zahra starts drinking cherry juice and as the first thing she does is to hold her glass forward, first towards the first and then towards the second. The wives do know what it is to toast and just nod. Noor then gestures for attention. She holds her glass towards the first wife, who lifts her glass to let them meet. Then Noor turns her glass towards the second wife, who is already waiting with her glass high. Finally Noor and Zahra let their glasses meet. Of course what is said for such toasts is more or less predictable, but Zahra misses some honorable words to accompany the glass ritual. This makes her think soon she will probably see her sister and mother, but will she ever hear their voices? Permitted to see a woman unveiled doesn’t necessarily mean allowed to hear her speak, like now they are allowed to remove their muting gags, but they are not allowed to make a sound. Zahra will ask at an appropriate moment. Right now they are enjoying the most wonderful meal, and that a new threesome to last for many years has been formed. No questions with possible negative outcome should spoil that. The daughter has joined them now as well, indicating the men won’t be served any new dishes. Noor gestures for attention. She gets up and leans out the garden door. Turning back she holds three large white flowers in her hand. She goes to the first wife and with a safety pin attaches the flower to the part of the veil resting on the chest. The white flower is like a light on the khaki brown background. She continues to the second and third wife decorating all the brides, as by the getting of a new co-wife sort of makes the first and second brides again as well. Excluding the food, this is the first sign that today is something special, that this is a wedding. But not being used to wearing any form of jewelry, decoration, embroidery or showing colors different from the surroundings, it is of course not in their minds to celebrate in this manner, and perhaps deemed inappropriate. But the first and the second wives bow to thank Noor and show they have not been offended.
After a knocking on the hatch the women gag and leave the meal to listen. The Sheik says “Today I took the long trip to Naran to marry a woman having traveled half way around the world to find what she was missing in the Kham Valley. She has been missed here as well. The previous time I went to Naran I married her sister and brought their mother here. Men are allowed to marry without informing their current wives in advance, but if I again say I go to Naran you can figure out what to expect. Colorful decorations, public showing or music is not according to our customs. We’ve had a wonderful lunch with those being most important to the bride right now outside her family. But of course the happy news is out all over the valley and I’ve decided to invite the entire valley to celebrate on Thursday afternoon. This house, including the front yard and the male section will be reserved for the women and I’ll borrow the Lashari home for the men and invite the Tariqs. But of course this afternoon has to be something special as well. I’ll borrow a pickup and then we’ll drive up the mountainside to where there is a good view over the valley so that my third sees what a wonderful place her new home is. Of course this means burqas will be removed up there, and that is why the Marwats have to go on their own to a just as nice site on the opposite mountain side. When we meet them again it’s time to say goodbye. Mr. Marwat has decided to go to Naran tonight to be home in London in some days. Prepare so we can have tea while enjoying the view, we’ll leave in half an hour. What you can’t manage to clear you can leave until we return.” In turn they all touch Noor cheek to cheek before clearing and packing. The first wife gestures Noor and Zahra to sit down to have some time for saying their goodbyes. Zahra starts writing ‘I’ve talked to my adoptive parents and they were of course delighted I’ve found my sister and mother. They had expected I would stay here in Pakistan if successful. We will stay in contact, me writing letters a young man from here take to Naran and send as email. I would like to stay in contact with you the same way.’ Noor writes in reply ‘Of course we should stay in contact, but I think all the communication possible for you should go to your adoptive parents. Then you could write some lines for us at the end of their letter to be forwarded, and then our messages to you could be appended to the mails of your adoptive parents.’ Zahra writes ‘It’s sweet of you, my communication will be much less than my adoptive parents hope for and I don’t mind you reading my letters to them, making forwarding simpler.’ Noor having read the message Zahra takes the blackboard back to continue ‘I would like you to stop briefly in Waral and tell the Tariqs. You can give them their invitation for Thursday as well. And then our plain salwar kameez, coats and black scarves used in Waral, I’d like you to give them to Mrs. Tariq. She so much admired our new clothing. You can stay in Kham Valley clothing until somewhere just before Naran and then change directly to a colorful salwar kameez.’ Noor replies ‘I’ll give both of our Waral dresses to Mrs. Tariq, I promise. But what I wear now belong to the Lashari wives, I can’t take that out of the valley.’ Zahra writes ‘I think you should take your current clothing home as a souvenir and to show that there actually exists a society of identically dressed, heavily veiled and silent women here. I’ll give them a set of mine, and then they are promised a roll of this fabric.’ Noor writes ‘I can’t think of a better souvenir. I promise to show it very selectively to avoid the valley being besieged by sensation hunting camera crews and feminists wanting to liberate the women.’ Zahra writes ‘I’m sure you will be discreet. The Sheik probably used the Mullah of the Northern Mosque in Naran, implying Mrs. Qadir has been informed of our search result and my wedding. I can get a message through to Mrs. Ahmad or she will learn soon through her many contacts, but if you stay for the night in Naran anyway, I would like you to just pass her door and let her know.’ Noor writes ‘I can assure you I’ll visit Mrs. Ahmad. She was so important to our success, and your mother thinks she saved her life.’ Zahra has nothing more to say and can only hug Noor tightly. While they are sitting close another wife brings their burqas. The two first wives and the daughter exchange forehead touches with Noor. Then Noor grabs the blackboard and writes for Zahra to see ‘Enjoy your wedding night!’ Without erasing it Zahra writes below ‘Have a safe journey home.’ Then they look at each other, of course only seeing any Kham Valley woman, while they are both dressed by one of the others. As they are blinded they both believe to have looked into a pair of well-known eyes.
The drive at the back of a pickup truck takes about twenty minutes, but they don’t get far. Most of the trip is up a very bad track, the car tilting in all directions. The burqa of Zahra is lifted at the back while still on the car. Her hands free she lifts her burqa, not to see the scenery as the first, but to see, Sheik Rehman, her husband for the first time. With a nod and a smile to her he says “I hope I live up to the nice words Mr. Marwat said about my looks.” Zahra gets down from the car and finding hugging or kissing, even with her veiled face too intimate, she puts her mouth to his forehead as she would to greet a woman. The Sheik says “A wife should bow or perhaps even kneel to show she likes her husband and submits to his will, but I understand what you did is the same with a foreign accent.” Zahra gets on her knees on the hard ground, but protected by layers of clothing, putting her head to the ground and then looking up to see a strong body seeming eager to touch her skin to skin. The other wives have ignited a gas burner promising tea soon. Zahra looks out over the valley. It’s the most wonderful sight she has ever seen. Through the centre a small but rich river winds its way. The entire flat part of the valley is green and on both sides, where the mountainsides begin to rise are small clusters of houses, all having a large walled gardens stretching towards the river. She has seen a couple of the gardens from the inside. From up here she can see them all at once. They have tea while looking at the scenery, but with the women remaining gagged, only the Sheik and Yasir have dates and chocolate biscuits with their tea. The males don’t misuse their ability to talk. After fifteen minutes, for Zahra’s benefit the Sheik explains “Above us are pastures with cattle and sheep. We can go up there one day and see, having Yasir replace the shepherd for a little while. Yasir is good at tending to the animals. He helps the older boys when not at school and wants to be a shepherd himself after finishing school.” Yasir says “I like sheep, but I would also like to drive a big tractor.” For half an hour only the sounds of nature are heard before the Sheik gets up saying “It’s time for the afternoon prayers. Put our things in the car first. Then wash your mouths and put on your burqas. We pray standing.” The Sheik recites the prayers loudly on the deserted mountain side, but being in attenuating burqas and not prayer gowns open at the ears, the women have difficulty hearing him as they stand a few meters behind him. Fortunately he recites some of the most well known verses of the Quran, which even Zahra can repeat without hearing every word. Perhaps the Sheik has chosen these verses to be sure she can follow, feel part of the family. This prayer very much makes her feel as part of a family again, and it feels wonderful.
After only ten minutes of bumpy riding downhill the car stops. Hands direct the wives to lean towards each other before the Sheik says “Can you all hear me?” Apparently they all nod because he continues “I have a special surprise for my third. The Marwat car is right next to us. They wanted to say goodbye to the Nawaz and deliver what we brought from Naran for them. We bought an entire roll, enough for thirty sets of clothing of Kham Valley Khaki Cotton for Females. I had it divided into four, half for us, a quarter for the Lashari wives and a quarter for the Nawaz wife. My third you can go with the Marwats to deliver it, and you’ll bring permission for unveiling to the Nawaz wife as well. Move towards the back and I’ll guide you to the Marwat car.” Zahra moves nodding to say thank you. It’s a short drive, but being guided inside they are not immediately unclipped. But when it happens after a few minutes Noor and Zahra immediately see why. A large roll of fabric fills a corner of the room and as Mr. Marwat is not permitted to see Mrs. Nawaz while she is not wearing her burqa, and Mr. Nawaz not permitted to see Noor or Zahra without theirs, they had to wait while the roll was dragged in here. After touching foreheads Mrs. Nawaz, apparently having been told by her husband takes a blackboard and writes ‘You can’t stay for long. Would you Mrs. Marwat serve the men while Rehman’s third and I unveil to each other?’ Noor makes a deep bow and heads for the kitchen. Zahra follows her mother, who from a cupboard takes two pieces of black clothing, and then they go to the bathroom where the door is locked.
Her mother puts her hands up under her veil to unlace the khimar neck opening. Then she puts them behind her head to untie the head band of the khimar. Then the khimar with the attached veil is removed to show the black hood and the mouth gag. Zahra has done likewise. Her mother produces a piece of paper on which is written ‘I hereby allow my third wife to show her face to the Nawaz wife. Sheik Rehman.’ Her mother points to ‘show her face’ and nods and then to Zahra’s gagged mouth and shakes her head. To emphasize she puts a lifted finger to her mouth, and then she unbuckles the gag. Zarah unbuckles as well and both gags are put in the sink for the rods to be washed before being used again. Then they both unzip the neck opening of their dress, which allows them to unsnap the hood from the shirt, and the hood can be pulled off. Although it’s a strange sight seeing the body of the inhuman form of a Kham Valley woman with a living human head on top Zahra smiles because her mother looks good. Zahra even thinks she can recognize characteristics of her own appearance in her mother’s face. And her mother is still pretty, especially for a woman close to fifty. Her mother looks both happy and relieved. The child she gave away more than twenty years ago, to let her get a good life, but separated from her, looks as she has had a good life, and now is with her again. Although her mother is smiling, a tear starts running from her eye. Zahra reaches for a towel and wipes the eyes of her mother. Then she puts her cheek to hers, and feeling the warmth of another human against her own skin for the first time for several days nearly makes her cry as well. They change to opposite cheeks and get the same sensation there. After a minute her mother kisses her cheeks, points to her own left wrist and finally they kiss mouth to mouth. Her mother washes the gags and then hands her daughter a fresh hood. Looking into each others eyes, at the same time they lift the hoods over their heads. Faces hidden, they quickly dress to become one colored anonymous Kham Valley women again but Zahra gets a short, tight hug before the Nawaz wife unlocks the bathroom door. A few minutes after they enter the kitchen Amin tells them through the hatch that it’s time to go. Noor parts with Mrs. Nawaz, and Zahra and Noor enter the dark world of the Kham Valley burqa.
Not many minutes later the car stops. Zahra and Noor lean towards each other to touch, and even if there are layers of clothing separating them, it feels special as it may be the last time. Inside the house Zahra is guided out on the porch to sit on a cushion and enjoy the garden which is showing the first coolness of the late afternoon. She will not be involved in house chores today. A glass of fresh juice is placed next to her. Within ten minutes the Sheik arrives to sit on a cushion on the opposite side of the door. With only the family in the house now he can be with them in the female quarters. The daughter brings him a glass of juice as well. Zahra takes a blackboard and writes ‘Thank you for so quickly letting me see my mother.’ Zahra erases ‘my mother’ replacing the words with ‘the Nawaz wife. She continues to write ‘Seeing her healthy and happy was the final proof that the worst fears of my search were wrong. But when can I see the face of your second?’ The Sheik reads the words his third has written, puts the blackboard down and then moves across the doorway to sit on a cushion right next to Zahra. Then he says “As sisters you may be allowed to see each other. As wives you’re not allowed to see each other. That would create jealousy and competition, and in this case make a huge difference between my first and my second and third. In cases where sisters marry the same husband and these two rules contradict, it is clear that being co-wives takes precedence. I’m very sorry, but I would break the centuries old rules that make our society such a peaceful one, if I allowed you to see each others faces. Being with your sister most hours prevents you from ever seeing her.” Zahra doesn’t cry. It is completely logical what her husband says. She lets the back of her head rest in his lap looking at the one of only two adult faces she will see while living here. She looks forward to seeing the rest of the body belonging to this handsome face, and to show her own body to him. He bows his head to kiss first her covered forehead and then her veiled mouth.
Copyright © 2008, Bo_Emp ; bo_emp ‘at’ yahoo ‘dot’ com
Thanks to Nye North for proof reading
This story is based on the Danish documentary series Sporløs (translation: Without a trace). The program presents itself like this: In each episode a person is seeking long missing relatives or biological family all over the world. The search often starts from very little factual information – a name or perhaps a memory from long ago – and continue with many surprises in distant countries. New information is found the most unlikely places, and unlikely people bring information to make the search continue. A part of the thrill is if we are able to solve the case at all. And then every case is heartbreaking. For most participants the search becomes the journey of their life, where they seek and find answers to questions that have followed them their entire life. The end is incredibly touching, when two family members separated for many years meet again.
Because “Without A Trace” is a quite different widespread American television series, I have chosen to call the story and the television program in the story Family Search.