In My Father's Country

In My Father's Country by Saima Wahab Read Free Book Online

Book: In My Father's Country by Saima Wahab Read Free Book Online
Authors: Saima Wahab
plans for me, it had to go.
    KRISTEN SHOWED ME how the lockers were numbered. We walked to her locker, then to mine. She showed me how to turn the dial and work the combination, right-left-right.
    But no matter how helpful she was, she could not help me with my endless embarrassment. In the years before the Professor had sent for us in Peshawar, when I was daydreaming about what it would be like to be free in America, I had never imagined this constant sense of awkward humiliation. I was good at school; in Peshawar I was the best in the class. But in Peshawar I had classes in Islamic studies, not PE—and certainly not sex education.
    I had no idea it was a required class here in my new country. When I walked into the sex-ed classroom I was just thrilled to have arrived on time at the right place. The sun shone through the big windows. The other students were giggling, poking one another, throwing things. I remember thinking how squirmy Americans were, like kittens, constantly moving. I looked around at the walls. There were drawings of human torsos, with arrows on them pointing to places that I wasn’t supposedto know about. The pictures in the book the teacher passed out were even worse. That night I asked the uncles to write me a note excusing me from sex ed. I told them I was ashamed of sitting in that class with the other students, and that I didn’t understand 80 percent of what the teacher was talking about anyway. I’m sure they were happy for me to remain clueless about sex, as a typical Pashtun woman was meant to be, so they agreed. There were several times over the first few years when the uncles would write us notes to get out of classes and activities I found too shocking to take part in, including dissecting a pig.
    I also asked to be excused from swimming in PE, which I now regret since I realize what a great workout swimming is. But at the time the thought of shimmying into a tight swimsuit in the girls’ locker room, then striding out to the pool was impossible. My mind could not envision such a thing, nor did I want it to. Such an action would bring shame to me and my family. I couldn’t believe that the families of the other girls in class would allow them to walk around in public in what amounted to their underwear.
    “Why don’t you want to take swimming?” Kristen asked. “It’s the most fun part of PE.”
    I looked at her. I understood her but couldn’t begin to explain. “I don’t know how to swim,” I managed in English. This was true.
    “But I can teach you!”
    I wanted to tell her that where I was from women didn’t walk around in their underwear, but I just shook my head.
    I wish I could give a better account of that first year, of how great the cultural shock of just being in America was—let alone of going directly to high school and dealing with the terrifying newness of that environment. I was amazed by everything around me. The way the girls dressed—the short skirts they wore, the plunging necklines and low-rise jeans—was so alien, but especially shocking was the way they behaved. It went against everything I had ever been told about how women should act. The first couple of years of my life in the United States, I truly believed that the parents of these girls must not know how they were carryingon. How could a father be okay allowing his daughter to talk to boys in the hallways, wearing these revealing clothes? Didn’t they know that it was shameful? And where was the tribe? How could they allow the children of one family to embarrass the whole tribe?
    The boys were even more shocking. They weren’t harassing the girls like they should have been, considering how the girls were dressed. In Afghanistan, girls who covered only their head and not their faces were free game for boys to humiliate. Would I ever get used to the way people lived in this new country? It didn’t seem possible, and on those days when it got to be too much, I would desperately wish to be back in

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