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There I received an education — an expensive, almost deadly one — but a valuable one, too.I understand firsthand how deep-seated the hatred of women is in that culture.The doctor, however, manages to get me alone for a brief moment and tells me that I must return to the States for treatment. The next thing I remember is someone tugging at my IV line. I call out and am rescued by a sister-in-law, who sits with me through the night. He arrives and almost immediately says: “I think it will be best if you leave with our approval on an Afghan passport, which I have obtained for you. My husband grows incensed and begins to hit me and call me names. Even when I board the first plane out, he still believes that as a dutiful wife I will one day return to him.
I repeat the words: “There is one God, Allah, and Mohammed was his prophet.” I am now a Muslim — at least in my mother-in-law’s eyes — but that still isn’t enough for her. She calls me “Yahud” or “Jew.” When I complain to my husband, he dismisses me as being dramatic. Looking both ways, I walk out feeling like a criminal. “Is this imprisonment meant to tame me, break me, teach me to accept my fate as an Afghan woman?
I came as a young Jewish bride of the son of one of the country’s wealthiest men. I am only 18 when my prince — a dark, older, handsome, westernized foreigner who had traveled abroad from his native home in Afghanistan — bedazzles me. We marry in a civil ceremony in Poughkeepsie with no family present.
I was held in a type of captivity — but it’s not as if I had been kidnapped. We meet at Bard College, where he is studying economics and politics and I am studying literature on scholarship. For our honeymoon, we travel around Europe with a plan to stop off in Kabul to meet his family. I am too shocked to speak, too shocked to question what these three women might mean for my future. The family is warm and inviting — I try to forget about my husband’s glaring omission. Both the official and my husband assure me that this is a mere formality.
Abdul-Kareem is the son of one of the founders of the modern banking system in Afghanistan. Then, when I express my desire to travel, he asks me to marry him. I did not know that this would be our final destination. I learn that my real mother-in-law, Abdul-Kareem’s biological mother, is only my father-in-law’s first wife. But before the caravan of black Mercedes-Benzes can leave, an airport official demands that I turn over my American passport. It will soon be returned to me, so I reluctantly relinquish it. That means — I would soon learn — that I would not be able to leave Afghanistan at will.
He wears designer sunglasses and bespoke suits and when he visits New York City, he stays at the Plaza. I am Jewish, raised in an Orthodox home in Borough Park, Brooklyn, the daughter of Polish immigrants. Instead, we stay up all night discussing film, opera and theater. “There is no other way for us to travel together in the Muslim world,” he says. I am now subject to the laws and custom of Afghanistan, and as an Afghan woman, that means hardly any rights at all. Our arrival is celebrated with a feast of unending and delicious dishes.
Perhaps he never wanted a Jewish American daughter-in-law at all. And when I finally land on American soil, I literally kiss the ground.