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Homeira Qaderi Reflects On Motherhood In Her New Memoir

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Homeira Qaderi's memoir is a public cry to be recognized and remembered by the person who would ordinarily be closest to her in life, her son, Siawash. Dr. Qaderi, an acclaimed writer, professor of literature, an adviser on equity for women to the Afghan government, had her son taken from her arms after her husband declared their marriage over in a three-word text message - divorce, divorce, divorce - when he wanted to take a second wife into their home. She's written a memoir to try to tell her son, who she says will grow up to inherit the country, about the lives of women in Afghanistan, including hers. Her memoir - "Dancing In The Mosque: An Afghan Mother's Letter To Her Son." And Homeira Qaderi joins us from Kabul. Thank you so much for being with us.

HOMEIRA QADERI: Thank you for invitation to your program.

SIMON: How do we in the West begin to understand what life has been like for your generation of women during Soviet occupation and then the Taliban?

QADERI: You know, for women in Afghanistan, it's no different where you are live or when you are living. It means that when we are Afghan women, we always carry our history, not our geography. So you think of Taliban. I remember Lida (ph), my best friend. I remember Shakiba (ph), another best friend - that school would close, and we saw each other in our house sometimes if the family allowed us to see each other. I remember that was really bad.

But I wanted to say our life was not only in the - bad or hard only the period of Taliban. In period of democracy, also, the women and girls doesn't have a good situation in this country.

SIMON: At the age of 13, you became a teacher of girls in secret, didn't you?

QADERI: Yes, exactly, in my house and also in the mosque.

SIMON: And it was the mosque where a student showed you how to dance.

QADERI: Exactly. It wasn't like a class for writing and reading. It was like a class for reading Quran Sharif, the holy book of Muslim.

SIMON: How did it feel to dance?

QADERI: I remember that girl who - and the boy, also. I even more remember the face of the boys who - dancing around the girls. The dance was really good and perfect.

SIMON: You were almost discovered, weren't you?

QADERI: Yes. You know, Taliban never count on me as a teacher and never take me very serious and don't care about me. When the girl or boys dancing in the class, the Talib came, and they attend. The mosque was a tent - big tent. And he also saw the dance. But I told him that it's not a dance. It's like a punishment for the girls and the boys who couldn't read Quran Sharif very well.

SIMON: You were married at the age of 17. And I have to ask, was there any love involved?

QADERI: Honestly, no. I married because my husband - my ex-husband living in Tehran, and he was a student of politics law. He promised me to make a scholarship and take a scholarship for me. It was like a dream for me to be a student in the university. Because of that, I really wanted to marry with that man. But after the marriage, yes, I loved him.

SIMON: What happened when you went back to Kabul?

QADERI: Yes, Kabul. I found Kabul a very strange place, a city whose residents are after (unintelligible) at any cost. I think in this regard, Iran was a better environment. Social values were different, or perhaps there was the protection of law one could always count on. My ex-husband had believed (ph) a great deal in life, as I remember, but he forgot his values as he became overcompetitive in Kabul with me. My education, my empowerment and social attitudes (ph) called his manhood into question.

SIMON: And I know I'm asking you to recall something painful, but how did he tell you he wanted a divorce and why?

QADERI: He told me that after, I think (ph) - I put his manhood into question. I think it was my punishment, that I should tolerate it. He told me that he wanted to marry, and he divorced me via Viber (ph). He just wrote me, divorce, divorce, divorce, and it was like a hill (ph) for me.

SIMON: You have been back in Kabul for, I gather, two years. And you're a senior adviser to the minister of education.

QADERI: Yes.

SIMON: You and your son are now together, I gather.

QADERI: Exactly.

SIMON: What does he know of what's gone on?

QADERI: When I wanted to see my son, my husband called to the police, and they arrest me. And he told me, you can see him, but you cannot say that you are his mother because they talk to him - he and his new wife, they talk to him - your mother has died. And I saw my son, and I said to him that I am your friend. After my son understand that I am his mother, he didn't want to speak with me because he said to me, you are a liar.

We are together now, but it's temporary. I have his custody. But according to the Sharia law in Afghanistan, after the age of 7, children belong to their fathers. I sent a custody lawsuit asking the court to extend my child custody, but I'm not sure about their verdict. You know, I'm sure it's an uphill battle for me.

SIMON: Do you see a future in Afghanistan that is better for women?

QADERI: Maybe. In Afghanistan is not a good place for women, but this country needs people fighting for the women rights, and I'm one of them.

SIMON: What do you hope for your son?

QADERI: I wanted to be for him as a teacher. I wrote this book for him to understand how much his mother suffering from this culture. I want from him to be a good man, a man who always protects the women of this country.

SIMON: Homeira Qaderi - her memoir, "Dancing In The Mosque: An Afghan Mother's Letter To Her Son" - thanks so much for speaking with us.

QADERI: Thank you.

SIMON: Our thanks to Professor Zaman Stanizai for his help and interpretation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.