Sara stops next to my desk. Her hands wrenching in some kind of discomfort as if she could pull the problem out of her fingers, her smile a faint remembrance of a shy malaise.
“There is a difference from your culture to ours. Here you don’t talk with males, even not with male relatives, about pregnancy.”
I had asked her, what the word for ‘pregnant’ in Dari (afghan Persian) was. The office that I am working in is actually employing quite a number of women. I sit in a room filled with happy chatter and sometimes studious work silence from a bunch of other female colleagues. But the desk I took over was the desk of a former colleague who is now on maternity leave. And the desk across is also deserted due to the same reasons. Sara is my colleague who is going to be the next to leave. She is in her 8th month of pregnancy.
“There was a lady from the phillipines, Rebecca. One time in a meeting with all the colleagues she announced in front of everyone that one of our colleagues was pregnant. She said: ‘I have happy news for you! Our dear Rima is pregnant!’ – Everyone was embarrassed!”
Pregnancy is in the western understanding a happy event of carrying a new life into existence. It is to be congratulated and laudated upon. This is the case as well in Afghanistan. But here, the talk about the pregnancy seems to be more confined to the realm of female exchange. How so?
Are such sentiments of painfulness difficult to understand as talking about sex and intimate relationship issues has become nowadays a casual part of conversation in public in places like Germany? Be it flirtageous, factual or as an entertainment factor like in talkshows or in TV series like sex and the city, the theme is omnipresent and even overtly present on advertisement and billboard charts.
The women I talked to in Kabul expressed that talking with men about pregnancy as awkward and uncomfortable as it was much more a statement about how the growing child came into being. It is like screaming out the confession: “I had sex with my husband!”
Now picture the public discussion about sexual intercourse and its aftermath in a society in which it is still hard fought for (and even then quite more an urban phenomena) when women share the workplace with men and it is the norm not to have sex before and not outside the marriage (all that said it doesn’t mean that these things wouldn’t exist…).
While it might be a daily thing in ‘western’ countries to go to pregnancy yoga courses with comfy but tight body suits or to sometimes touch the belly of a pregnant friend in order to feel the movement of a child, women here seem to be hiding their big pregnant bellies more. The talk with men about this topic is being avoided due to its connection to unpleasant feelings and confessions. This in turn doesn’t mean that women wouldn’t exchange with one another about this. Here the talk and chatter is never ending! And that’s where the real exchange takes places!