Notes On A Month Spent Embedded In Afghanistan
ARUN RATH, HOST:
Our own producer, Rebecca Hersher, is just back from a six-week reporting trip where she was embedded with the Afghan army. Now she's back with me in the studio. Hi Becky, good...
REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Hi.
RATH: ...To have you back.
RATH: So you and I have been chatting a little bit this week about your trip. And one thing that was interesting - I know a lot of people have been asking you so what's it like to be a woman in Afghanistan, and your response is kind of - well, it's a tricky response.
HERSHER: Yeah, it's pretty tricky because one of the things that I noticed there is that I didn't meet any women. There aren't women around. You know, we traveled around the country a lot. We were in a lot of major cities. We were in multiple provinces. And in all of those places, one of the things I noticed is even as we interacted with shopkeepers, we were in markets, we saw people shopping, we went to hotels, we met maids in hotels - these are places where you usually see women, in my experience. We met no women. And so it's very hard to answer the question what is life like for women in Afghanistan because I didn't meet any. I think it's important to remember that there are really two countries. And the country that I experienced is a man's Afghanistan.
RATH: And especially - you were actually embedded with the Afghan military, so I imagine that wasn't especially friendly to interacting with women either.
HERSHER: So yeah, we - and that's me and two of my male NPR colleagues - we were embedded with the Afghan army for about two weeks. We went out with them on patrol. We slept in their barracks. We ate their food. We used their toilets. That was a very foreign experience for me and also for the men who I was with because they have rarely seen a woman on their military bases.
I was never harassed, but I was ignored. There was one morning where I came down to breakfast, and my male colleague was already sitting there. And the waiter came over and he looked at me and he looked at him, and he said does she want eggs? And my male colleague said I don't know. Do you want eggs? No, she doesn't want eggs. And that's a trivial example, but that, in general, was how I found that men in Afghanistan often treated me. It was with more confusion than anything else.
RATH: Right, wow. Now, you weren't able to really connect with any women in Afghanistan, but you did - you did connect with some younger women, some girls.
HERSHER: Yeah. I went to a school toward the end of my trip, and I was really hoping to talk to teenage girls. And I ended up talking to a handful. And one of the reasons I wanted to go is because on my whole trip, one of the most hopeful things I saw - this is a country that's undergone terrible war for over a decade - one of the most hopeful things is these girls walking to school. You see in every city - even in small villages, you see big groups of girls in the national uniform, which is white headscarves - they're walking to school. This is something that never could've happened with the Taliban.
HERSHER: And so I went to the school to talk to 14, 15, 16-year-old girls. These are average Afghan girls, and they have really big dreams. I asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: I want to become a president.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: Brain surgery.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #3: Journalist.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #4: I want to become a good doctor.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #5: Doctor.
HERSHER: That's president, brain surgeon, doctor, journalist - these are really big dreams. These are really hopeful things to see in the next generation of girls. And these are the girls who will become the women of Afghanistan and who might even lead the country.
RATH: Wow. We're going to hear more reporting about those girls coming up on NPR. That's our producer Rebecca Hersher back from a month-long trip in Afghanistan. Becky, good to have you back.
HERSHER: Thanks, Arun.
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