Letter to an Afghan 30 year old woman : “You are a living bridge for our memory”

August 16th 2021

Dear R.,

I don’t know your name, but my only little sister is named R. So let’s pretend you’re my little sis’ for a while. Today was a tough day for me. But a tough day for a girl who lives in a peaceful country is probably the best day a girl like you can hope for. So I decided to put my troubles aside for a moment and take the time to write to you.

“To the world, it’s just a city that collapses, but to me, it’s not just a city. Because I know that in every city there are thousands of souls that collapse, and millions of dreams that collapse (…) so every time I hear a city collapses, I collapse again and again.”
(The Daily, New York Times, August 16 2021, Lynsea Garrison’s informant named “R”.)

When I heard your vocal messages in the New York Times Daily podcast this morning, something in me shivered. It was not about Afghanistan. I don’t have any particular relationship or interest in your country. I would have felt the same if you were a Tibetan or a Congolese. But I felt something stronger than a personal interest. I felt your powerlessness, as reflecting the one of millions of people. Not only your people, and not only the victims of civil wars, but of any single human being who facing something too big for him. Earthquakes, fires, pandemics, other wars that will come. And just sometimes, as I feel now, the stubbornness of life, when all opportunities close in front of you, one by one, and you feel just exhausted.

“I feel embarrassed and I feel ashamed on behalf of the countries that claim that they are human rights defenders and they are here to establish democracy, freedom of speech and women’s rights.”

Did you really believe that foreign countries would bring democracy and human rights to your people ? This is certainly one of the biggest lies of our recent history. Democracy and human rights cannot be inoculated from outside into any social body. They come, if ever they come, from the core of a society, from its own evolution and inner opposing forces, from it’s very being and its very will. Of course we are influenced by worldwide movements, ideologies and actions, but then we synthesize them in a unique version of its own. The dream of many Westerners to get miniature versions of their own societies abroad, is as short-sighted as the dream of those who are now seizing power. Forgive me, they have no power : for people who need guns to say become leaders have no power.

Our history, our culture, our art, our beauty, our life collapse”

Beloved, history culture art and beauty don’t collapse with the walls of cities. They only collapse with oblivion and with ignorance. It is you and people like you that carry it. It is in the very cry you are giving the world today. For your memory and your story carry something that they could never destroy.

I come from a family of exiled people. My grandmothers had to flee their countries, and other generations before them had to do the same. Their status in their own country changed many times. They were driven away by a series of decisions, of moves, of inaction and misunderstandings that dragged millions of people away from their homeland, from their friends, from their accomplishments and their dreams, and from their very dignity.

“I have to stay alive. I have to be strong because I need to document all these things, I need to record everything, because I don’t want this to be forgotten”

My grandmother had nothing but her memory to record everything. She knows well the sound of gunfire and of planes dropping bombs. She knows the silence of the long nights spent by the window wondering what will happen next. And because of some crazy sense of life she had, because of her courage and also because she told me her story, here I am, having the luxury to worry about my career, my love affairs and my cancelled projects. Carrying something into the world that I believe only those who had to flee carry. Maybe some kind of instinct. Maybe some kind of wisdom. Maybe some kind of madness. I don’t know.

And so will your children, sister of mine. Whether they will be born in Afghanistan or elsewhere, I know you will tell them your story, for I recognized you. You are one of the bridges of human memory. You remind me of this female elephant, Echo, who marched and marched, following one simple rule : flee to survive, remembering the paths her grandmother had shown her. You carry more than your own story. I know, this is nothing. But this may be all. All that we are left with. For when you are left with nothing, nothing becomes all. All that will enable life to continue beyond you and because of you.

Take care

Sarah, 30 years old, Paris.