Mariam Hotaki gives a unique perspective on Afghanistan and Afghan women

We are honored to have one of our volunteers, Mariam Hotaki contribute to this newsletter. Born in June 1993, Mariam Hotaki’s parents were both well-educated. Her mother was a professor of Kabul University and her father the founder of Taekwondo Poomsae in Afghanistan, had his own Taekwondo School. Mariam’s family stayed in Kabul during the Mujahedin era and a few years of the Taliban’s cruel reign before deciding they must relocate to Pakistan. As education was of significant importance to her parents, they ensured that Mariam and her siblings attended school and received special tutoring to never lose their native language.

After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Mariam and her family returned to Kabul where she attended Ferdawsi High School and graduated in 2008 at the age of 16. While in school, Mariam took English classes and volunteered with Save the Children. She also started a blog, Shahartash and began to write for Kabul based 8 Am Daily Newspaper and Warzendagi Weekly magazine.

In 2010, Mariam came to Virginia where some of her family resides. She attended Northern Virginia Community College and received an Associate’s Degree in Social Sciences. Mariam was a Phi Theta Kappa scholar and an NSCS (National Society of Collegiate Scholars) scholar. Afterwards, with the help and support of the Afghan Girls Financial Assistance Fund, she applied to Mount Holyoke College and received a scholarship to continue her studies there. Currently, she is a junior majoring in International Relations. Mariam plans to go home for the summer of 2013 and work on an oral history project while traveling around Afghanistan. After her undergraduate studies, she will apply to law school in hopes of studying international law.

Her contributed piece is autobiographical and based on an experience she had when she was thirteen years old. It is compelling and thought provoking. She does not know what ultimately happened to Ayesha, but her encounter with her all those years ago still resonates.

Ayesha by Mariam Hotaki

I remember when I was 13 years-old, in 9th grade, and I was in school working on my math assignment. It was a beautiful afternoon, and there I was stuck in school, working on an algebra equation. I was sitting under the shadow of the oldest, most beautiful willow tree with my books all over the bench. As if Kabul’s beautiful spring breeze was not enough of a distraction, voices of children playing outside tempted me to procrastinate my work.

“But I have to do well,” I reminded myself. Although my perfectionism was a source of stress, it also served to ensure that I kept persevering. The math problems, however, were difficult. I had been working on them for almost an hour, yet, I had not made it past the second question. I zoned out and watched the willow tree’s branches dance around with the wind when I heard Ayesha approach me.

Ayesha was Gul Bibi’s 15 year-old daughter and my previous classmate who had to leave school after Gul Bibi’s husband died. Gul Bibi and Ayesha worked at the school, and they lived in the old bathroom that was no longer used. Since we were around the same age, Ayesha and I would usually talk. She approached me and asked what was bothering me. I told her about my math problems. She offered to help. I smirked, underestimating her academic abilities, for I knew she had not attended class for more than a year. How could she possibly help me with the questions? I was the one who had attended class regularly and even joined some tutoring sessions. If anything, I should be the one helping her. She smiled and took the notebook from me. I sat back confidently with the smirk still on my face. Soon after, way sooner than I had anticipated, Ayesha started explaining the answers to me. To my surprise, it all made so much sense. I looked at her in disbelief. Gul Bibi’s voice broke the silence. Ayesha gave me the notebook back, took the broom and ran towards her mother to help her clean the classrooms.

That day, I realized that a lot of things in life are based merely on luck. I could have easily been in Ayesha’s place. There are so many things you are born into, so many things you have no say in. It makes you think: “What if?”

What if Ayesha was in my place, she would have so many different opportunities? She could grow and live her life to her full potential; she could be a leader, she could make a difference, she could even be the first woman president. Who knows? It is all in that simple ‘What if?’