If you know me, you know I love ice cream. You can make me happy with it anytime of the day. Ice cream sandwich for breakfast – sure! (I tried this in Sicily, Italy, where it’s very common). Ice cream for dessert – yes please, best part of the meal.
In Afghanistan, they have this type of ice cream called “sheere yakh” – literally stands for “cold milk.” It’s handmade right in front of you using a heavy machine, it has a strong milk taste and it’s very sweet. A type of ice cream you can’t find anywhere else — oh my, how much I love it. I can still vividly remember the taste.
With my parents both being the oldest in their family of 9 and 5 kids, and me being their first child – I am lucky to be the first grandchild and niece of a large family. So that meant I could always pull a big smile and convince my many uncles and aunts to take me out for ice cream.
One afternoon after a long day at primary school, I convinced one of my uncles (who now lives in Canada), to take me down to this little shop that was just outside of our apartment building – less than a 5-minute walk.
While my ice cream cone is handed over to me, I suddenly feel my uncle holding my hand very tight and pulling me towards him. I feel the tenseness in his body. He is shaking. I look up, and I see this tall man in front of us — with a fierce face. He comes closer to us. He looks at my uncle, then at me, and back at my uncle.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he asks. “Do you know the new rules of this country?”
“All women, including this girl, need to wear a veil outside!” He points at me. I’m not sure I understand what he’s saying, but I start shaking. I don’t think it’s possible to hold my uncle’s arm even tighter.
“But she’s only six,” my uncle says with a shaking voice. “And we’re just down for 5 minutes to get some ice cream…”
Suddenly the man pulls his firearm. I never imagined seeing any other weapons than the toys our neighboring boys were often playing with. He moves it up and puts it to my uncle’s head.
I’m in shock. As I see my uncle turning pale, he squeezes my hands so tight that my fingers start turning blue. But I can’t feel the pain.
“Who do you think you are, talking to me like this! I don’t care how old she is! All women will be covered!”
“If I see you one more time like this, I’ll shoot you in front of her. And while she watches you dying, I’ll shoot her! Get off!”
Suddenly I feel I’m being lifted up. My uncle grabs me, puts his head down and runs.
My ice cream cone falls on the ground.
About the photo
In 2010 I went back to Kabul for the first time after we’d left 18 years before. As I didn’t want to experience the country as a “tourist,” I decided to live there for three months. One of the first few things I did was finding “sheere yakh”, the typical Afghan ice cream. You can see how happy it made me, though again I was covered by a veil. While women and girls are no longer obliged to wear veils or burqas (the complete body cover) like in some other countries like Iran – most of them still wear it. Many years of war and suppression have left scars and fears behind that are not easy to take away. In a way, it feels safe to be invisible under a veil or burqa. But more about that later.