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Letters From Kabul

Phyllis and Hammad, as Dr. Anwar was known to his in-laws in America, sent numerous letters to the Davidson family between June 1941 and the end of 1943, when they were forced to flee Afghanistan. Subject to wartime censorship by the British authorities in India, the letters give a fascinating glimpse into life in Kabul at that time. They also provide a documentary record of Phyllis Anwar's courageous refusal to wear the veil and other ways she challenged the enslavement of Afghan women.

Bombay to Kabul

Phyllis, July 1, 1941--The final jump from Bombay to Kabul has been taken and is over and no one is very sorry. After two months of traveling, that was a grueling four days. We received some money in Bombay, but freight charges being high it all went for baggage and I’ve had to travel inter-class. It’s between second and third class but closer to third. Costs less than half as much as 2nd and has one advantage over 3rd–leather seats. Here the seats aren’t arranged in pairs as in the States. Doors open from the outside in each compartment–which can hold as many as 15 or as few as 2 if you’re lucky. We were lucky when we left Bombay. We each had a pillow and stretched out on the benches–a luxury one never gets in the States. For two hours all was peaceful. Then about five people got in. Still we weren’t crowded for they took upper berths. But they had a baby which cried incessantly. It could be appeased only be allowing it to suckle it’s mother’s breasts all night long. She halted this regular alternation periodically only long enough to get down onto the floor and urinate. We managed to sleep in spite of these interruptions until 3 o’clock when a man with a wife, five children, and all his household goods got in. The occupants of the car cursed and complained, but he persisted, and after much crowding and pushing, he installed the whole outfit. But at what cost! Each of us had only about a square foot and a half for our bottoms–no room for feet, none for our heads and neither space nor air for breathing. The only consolation was that the night was cool. Once doesn’t mind dust as much when it’s cool.

But, oh, the next day–words don’t describe the hot parched feeling we endured for 36 hours. With the windows closed it was stifling and suffocating. With them open we consumed quantities of dust. If you’ve ever traveled 2 days thru 110 degrees of desert, you can imagine it slightly. Add bad water, a squat toilet, bawling babies, and uncushioned seats–you get it. In all my life I’ve never seen such dry land. For two days the only color we saw was yellow. Here and there stooped old men and women plowed the ground with wooden ploughs drawn by hunch-backed bullocks. But the earth they turned up was exactly the same color as the top soil. I don’t know what they hoped to grow. The soil probably hasn’t yielded anything but dust for hundreds of years, though all along the way we saw empty cracked irrigation ditches. Indian RR stations are equipped among other things with bathtubs. So at Delhi–dusty, tired & ugly, I took a cold tub bath. It was so wonderful that Hammad took one the next morning at Tahore. After Tahore we hit mountains. It got no cooler & no greener. One disadvantage was added–tunnels which filled our car with smelly smoke every five minutes.

On the second night at 9:15 or 21:15 Indian time, we reached Peshawar and decent beds. By American standards the beds were terrible, but after sleeping with the ants in Bombay and the dust on the train, Peshawar was a heavenly sanctuary–until morning. At 10 o’clock the temperature was over 100. We decided to leave immediately. So we loaded ourselves and our baggage onto the Post lorry and for an unbelievably small sum headed for Kabul. Hammad divided the whole journey into 3 parts–New York to Bombay, Bombay to Peshawar and Peshawar to Kabul. And he’s perfectly right. We left Peshawar at 1 P.M., stopped for passport examination twice before the border & twice afterwards, had 2 blowouts and really got on our way about 8 P.M.

After carefully carrying our records and phonograph all the way from N.Y. we had to leave them at the border for some customs technicality. They’re probably all broken by now. Take it from me that the Indian customs is the most inefficient in the world. Bureaucracy at it’s very worst!

Then for the trip to Kabul. Same heat, same color, same dust & bumps. For 160 miles we drove over roads like those leading to farm houses set far from the roads–after a very wet spring. It doesn’t look as if it were ever wet here but the roads are awful. Some places they are distinguished from the surrounding rocky countryside by a small pile of stones running along each side. Concrete is used only where streams cross the road and might wash it away. Not once did we cross a bridge. Trip required 24 hours of heavy driving at the end of which period I was rendered absolutely incapable of sitting down. I have since been told that it’s much easier if one first follows the streambed all the way. At least the river doesn’t make such sharp turns that one has to back up and make a second try at them!

Next time I’ll tell you about Kabul. It’s dry, it’s dusty, it’s old-fashioned and restrictring. But I like it and the country is majestic and beautiful. We have a family of 6–Hammad & I, his brother, his sister & her son & his other brother’s daughter. It’s nice. I don’t do any work at all, but the kids are wild and it’s a little hard to train them without knowing their language. They’re all very nice to me.

We got our first letter from you yesterday–Air Mail. Mailed June 2–received June 30–saves 2 months. We’ll send you an Air Mail once a month and boat letters every week.

P.S. Sent a letter from Bombay about the riots. You probably didn’t receive it.

Family broken to bits

Hammad, July 3, 1941--It’s almost two weeks since we arrived at Kabul but our lives are as uncoordinated as they were in New York City. Right now six of us, my younger brother and sister with her son (4 years old), a seven year old daughter of my older brother, Phyllis and I are living together in [a] three roomed flat plus a small washroom and an old fashioned kitchen. We are trying to find a house just outside the city connected with a garden if possible. We are planning to cultivate our own vegetables and flowers for next summer.

There has been quite a bit of improvement in Kabul since 1933: many new buildings, both governmental and public, have sprung up here and there. Most of these buildings are built outside the old city and gradually it [i.e., the old city–ed.] is abandoned.

As to positions, I have been offered many. Last week I spent a couple of days in a teachers’ school. The situation was pretty bad. It is stuffed with incompetent Indian teachers who are unaware of rudimentary knowledge of teaching. Their pay is three to four times higher than that of the local teachers but their efficiency as teachers is not half as good as our own teachers. I was so mad that I insulted (unfortunate as it may be) one of these asses. Yesterday the ministry promised to give me a laboratory in the faculty of science building besides the post of adviser in the ministry itself. As far as Phyllis is concerned, she has more freedom of action [than] any of the foreign wives of the Afghan students. With her American passport she is looked upon as a foreigner who is ready and capable to help promote the intellectual status of our women, which unfortunately is pitiably poor. She will start working as soon as she is able to make herself understood in Persian, and we hope it won’t be more than two months at the most.

When we arrived in Kabul I discovered that my father had been dead for almost two years and the family had been broken to bits. We did our best to gather a few together and are trying to maintain a house. My younger brother is responsible for [the] little comfort that we possess now. He not only works in the government publication department but also is a radio actor, a painter and a caricaturist for Kabul Daily News. He has a beautiful voice and Phyllis and I regret that Harry doesn’t have him under his tutelage. He is quite mature in his paintings and is dying to get to Italy for a couple of years. Well, maybe after this horrible war things will take a turn to the better.

Now, how are things on the other side of the globe? We received a wire that Kaliss and his wife are on the way. Give our best to the guy from T.C. and tell him we are doing everything possible to get him to come to Afghanistan------

Kabul's mud houses

Phyllis, July 19, 1941--Things aren’t completely settled but now at least we know the content of our family. Hammad’s older brother has taken his daughter home. I guess he thinks it’s cheaper than to hire a maid. Now we remain five: Hammad and I, the younger brother, a sister and her son who bawls all the time. The sister does all the work–I only sit around and read & sew a bit, waiting for this fall when I shall begin teaching at a ridiculously low salary. We’re still living in a small 3 room apt. on the outer fringe of a bazaar where men and donkeys pass at a furious rate 16 hrs. a day. Your nerves have never been tried if you haven’t had to spend a day listening to the agonized bray of donkeys. Rents are sky high and houses not to be found because of the foreigners who can afford to pay so much more than the Afghans. They’ve taken all the work too. Because of this the gov’t is giving us a five room house–free. Five rooms not counting the kitchen, trunk-room and servants’ quarters and everything. All this besides our regular salary.

It isn’t at all like most houses in Kabul. Most of them are of mud–the walls inside being plastered. The floors are mud and have to be covered with rugs completely–this latter is quite warm for winter. These mud houses make Kabul an uninteresting succession of yellow mud walls with small doors in them. Even wealthy people with gardens surround them with high clay walls to shelter their women from prying eyes, so that even the best houses are represented to the world as tiny doors in fusty walls. Kabul is full of doors too low for any normal person. I’m not conditioned yet, and my head is full of bumps. Bathrooms here were the biggest surprise to me. They are small mud rooms with a hole in one corner over which one precariously stoops. Ours at present, though we’ll soon have a really modern one, has the added luxury of a box of paper. Most families are content to scoop dust from the corner–in time having quite a hole in the wall. Except for the latter practice these bathrooms are quite hygienic and more efficient than American ones–though I must admit I miss the quiet hour of reading which our habits allow!

Kitchens are similar mud rooms equipped with tiny mud frames for an open fire. Ovens are nonexistent and the stoves are large enough for only two pots. There are no chimneys–smoke leaves by the entrance for visitors. After a week or so it’s not hard to identify the kitchen. There’s a plan afoot to electrify Kabul, so by the time we build our house we’ll be heating and cooking by electricity. For the present, however, we are still in the fourteenth century–it’s 1320 here. Kabul boasts one paved street 2 blocks long–the only one in Afghanistan I guess. All materials are brought from India and costs are prohibitive. So all roads are gravel or dust. They are very efficiently watered by the most wasteful system imaginable. Kabul is irrigated and every road is flanked on either side by a ditch filled with water. All men rejected for military service are given shovel-like affairs. They take positions in the ditches and all day long throw water onto the roads. Every street is watered in this way. The distance at intersections is too great for this method, so the sturdy Mongols are given sheepskins to fill with water. These they carry to the center of the street and gradually empty onto the dusty ground. With a few large water trucks 8 men could water Kabul and all these fellows could be set to much better tasks than tossing water.

Hammad’s family is very good to me and they do everything to keep me from being homesick. Someday I’ll tell you about the older brother. He’s divorced two wives–children by each–and is well on his way with the 3rd–a 15 yr. old girl. He comes to us and crabs because she’s not a good wife and Hammad tells him that a man of his age, education, and experience should have known better than to pick a child he’d never even seen. But it’s pretty hard to get a wife here after two divorces–and this fellow is a demon. I expect the family to split over him any day. The younger brother is just the opposite–I’m crazy about him, but realize that I got the cream of the crop. He’s nice but not half so handsome as Hammad. In Kabul he’s quite famous. He left school early and set up his own studio so he wasn’t qualified for a gov’t job. A German saw his work and advised the gov’t not to waste his talent, so they put him in the lithographing dept. In three months he was head of the dept. Beside that he does beautiful watercolors and oils. His real fame lies in radio work, however. He’s Kabul’s outstanding radio comedian! All at the age of 21. There’s one funny thing about him. He always wears a hat or a tam. Even at night. He caught a fungus disease as a child and it ate away the hair roots at the crown of his head so he has a bald spot. He’s very self-conscious about it so we’d like to send him to India to get a toupee for him. Such things aren’t available in Kabul.

Well, we’re getting along pretty well and when next I see you we’ll have our own home. For two years we live rent-free in this 5 room house while the gov’t builds us a home on a large plot of land so that we can have a garden. When it’s finished, we move in and begin paying over a period of 30 years. Pretty good, eh?

Najmuddin sends his love. He’s not as happy here as we are. It’s so dusty here and he keeps joking about, “Dust be his desiny” and “Unto dust ye shall return.” Rahim is very homesick for America and still thinks about Marian. He’s very pleased that she’s married happily. He certainly was smitten. Much nicer since he got home. Our love to you all. We enjoy your letters tremendously. Did you receive the package we sent from China?

A mess in the Teachers' Training School

Hammad, July 19, 1941--As the cost of air mail is enormous here in Afghan currency we made an arrangement with Najmuddin so that he may send his letter inside ours and share the expense. Therefore, we would like you to forward his letter to his brother (full address can be found at the corner of his letter) to Illinois University.

I think Phyl is going to tell you in detail about Kabul and our family affairs. I myself am now engaged in educational work in the ministry as inspector but I have been promised bigger things in the near future. Last week I was also elected as one of the two assistant presidents of the Science Institute in Kabul. At present all my time is devoted to a rather large project of cleaning up a mess in a teachers’ training school caused by an incompetent staff of Indians. Only two of these Indian teachers are able and well-trained but unfortunately they are the minority and possess no responsible position.

Last week the Ministry ordered the teachers of the primary schools in Kabul area to come and extend their knowledge in a sort of summer school. There was neither a ready program of study nor any provisions made as to the teaching staff. Only yesterday I was informed to prepare myself for a series to lectures starting tomorrow. Things like this happen so often in Afghanistan that by now we are all used to it.

I am planning to propose Dan’s name as a teacher in the next general meeting which will be held shortly. We are informed by Mr. Omer that Kaliss and his wife as well as Zahir and Yusef are on their way to Afghanistan. We need both teachers and doctors very badly. To avoid prejudice I let Phyllis tell you all about her impressions of Kabul and life in general here. By the way she is also employed by the government to teach in a girls’ school. The pay is awfully small but she accepted it in order to be busy.

Tell Harry we are able to send him his rug, any kind. But we think it will be lost on the way. Anyway if he is willing to take a risk we shall send it. I miss you all terribly and am living to see you all again.

Women are treated very badly here

Phyllis, August 12, 1941--This is Hammad’s and my second anniversary. I’m afraid it won’t be a very big affair. People here don’t celebrate anniversaries and birthdays. Half of them don’t even know how old they are. If you ask them they say–between 20 and 30. In the country they reckon age by the number of caps they’ve worn out. It’s a country, as you can see, of ignorant, uneducated, absolutely fresh and unselfconscious people. Their wants are few–which fact is lucky because they receive little or no pay. Their pleasures are simple. Their tastes bear absolutely no relation to ours. It’s the fashion to spend surplus funds on gold teeth which can be bought in the bazaar for 1/4 rupee or 2 ½¢! These are fitted in a conspicuous foreplace over a perfectly good tooth! Women are heartily ashamed if a baby isn’t born at least every year and a half! I’ve been offered several concoctions to make me pregnant! Their habits are positively medieval. Babies for the first 3 months or so are bound tightly in small blankets with their arms inside–like a papoose so that they can’t even wiggle a toe or a finger. A friend of ours is a doctor. We saw his baby swaddled like that and asked him why he permitted it. “Oh, you know, the women,” he said, “tradition and all that.” Imagine such a thing from a doctor.

Afghan doctors are lousy. They’re trained by Turks who in turn know nothing–so thank God for a few foreign-trained boys. I had diarrhea and one of the Afghan boys diagnosed it as malaria because I had chills with it. Then a French-trained boy told me to lay off fruit for a couple of days and right away I got better. Fruit forms a major part of the diet here. We consume a watermelon or an immense melon like a cantaloupe in one meal. Everybody eats about a lb. of fruit a day and I wasn’t used to that kind of diet. Now I’m adjusted–except to grapes.

Yesterday we had our first American food since we arrived. Pancakes for lunch which raised Hammad’s spirits considerably, and Swiss Steak and Mashed Potatoes for dinner. I capitalize because this sort of thing is important here. Afghan food is good, but lacks variety. Remember how Hammad cooked for us? Well, every day we have a large kettle of one vegetable cooked that way. Some is eaten for lunch, the rest for dinner. It [can] get somewhat monotonous. I’ve added salads to lunch to help out but lettuce is out of season and the only refrigerators in town are in the bacteriology dept. in the medical school. To return to our dinner–Najmuddin and Majed (from Calif.) came and the only thing un-American about it was the funny tasting butter and bread. Bread here is flat–I’ll have to use imported baking powder for cakes–and long. Each person gets a slab of bread 2 feet long and a foot wide set before him and we all eat from a center dish. I’m the only one who can’t eat all my bread at one meal. As soon as we have money we’re going to get a bigger table and some dishes and adopt European methods of eating. Mother, my salt and pepper shakers make a terrific impression. Everybody picks them up, asks what they are and marvels at the ingenuity of Americans. Juandai wants to come with me on my first return visit to America. Everybody I know longs for [the] U.S. Juandai wants to study dramatics. Rahim wants to see Marion and eat huckleberry pie. Naj has a cookbook and I have one, and every time an American-trained boy comes to the house he gets out a cookbook and pores over it. Pie is the predominant demand, but I’m not sure I can get pie tins. I had a terrible time trying to get a breadboard.

Yesterday our records came from India. They have been detained by customs regulations so we sent a friend to recover them. He brought the records more or less intact–2 volumes were completely smashed, a Brahms symphony and a Schubert quartet, several isolated records were broken, and one volume was kept by censors–6 songs for Spanish Democracy. But the radio–hardly a part larger than 6 inches is left. It will cost about 300 or 400 rupees to fix it. The consolation is that we didn’t have to pay customs on a broken instrument. Now the piano and sewing machine are on their way. I hope they fare better than the records.

Hammad’s family are very nice to me. I like especially the younger brother. The younger sister is nice but dreadfully ignorant in a way you don’t meet in the U.S., where there’s compulsory education for both sexes. I tell her things which an American child would know. But she is intelligent and more than anxious to know our ways. In fact it’s embarrassing they way she copies me. She even picks up the incorrect way I speak Persian & and fancy words I use, not knowing which are in the everyday vernacular and which are not. Even Farouk, her son, is developing the American-Persian accent.

Did I tell you Rahim is to be married? When he got home he found that his father had picked out a wife for him. No matter how he argued he couldn’t break the contract. The girl probably doesn’t want to marry either, but that’s the way things are done here. Divorce is very prevalent because of the antiquated marriage system. Shaw is also married. Kabir is still holding out against his father. I’ve seen Zahir’s son. He’s about seventeen years old.

There are so few people here who can be considered society that one can’t help at least seeing from a distance the ranking big shots. Once when having tea with an English woman I saw the Prime Minister having tea with the men in the garden. I’ve met a Minister and know an Assistant Minister quite well. Aren’t I coming up in the world.

Women are treated very badly here, wearing yards and yards of heavy cotton cloth as a veil in the street, living with men they don’t love, having a baby every 9 months, having to eat separately if any man other than in the family arrives. I’m excused from every one of these customs. When we visit I stay with Hammad except for a short visit to the women’s part of the house unless I especially like the women and prefer to stay with them. Usually I don’t, I don’t yet feel sure of Persian without an interpreter. The other night I was the only woman in a party of about 20. I do absolutely no house work, just sew and read. I’ve read about 10 books, big ones, the best of which was My Name Is Aram. I’ve made Diljan a dress. Farouk a suit shirt, stockings, and a crocheted hat. I’ve made a dress for another relative, too, but hereafter I’ll stay in the immediate family. Not much for six weeks, is it?

Write often & please will the rest of you add your notes to the airmail letters?

Phyllis whistling the Tom Joad Ballad

Hammad, August 12, 1941--Darn it, I am furiously mad about the way we are ignored. So far we have seen only Mother’s handwriting. Lois, Joan, someday you will find us again in the U.S. and then you’ll be sorry [about] the way you’ve treated us.

Well, we are having a wedding on our hands. No, not mine. One of my cousins is getting married. Marriage is a big affair here. It starts today and is finished three days later. Women folks, including Phyl, are getting dressed up in the other room. Phyl is mending a stocking while whistling the “Tom Joad Ballad” furiously.

Wartime shortages

Phyllis, September 10, 1941--It’s a long time since I’ve written but a longer one since I’ve heard from you. No letter for five weeks. I don’t know whether they’re lost or what. However, I’ve been very busy trying to maintain a healthful standard of living in a country where no facilities at all are available. For the past two days we’ve been canning tomatoes. We brought 75 lbs of tomatoes for about 45¢ and squeezed half for juice and stewed the rest. Got about 29 gallons of juice and the same amount of tomatoes. Mason jars and rubber rings are unknown here so we bought a bunch of glazed earthenware jars and sealed the tops on with melted candle wax. The wax was the most expensive part, but we can use it again next year. It was an awful lot of trouble, but we had to have it. Farouk (Diljan’s son) has T.B., we’ve been told by these unreliable doctors. But he’s young enough to stop it if he received proper food. But proper food isn’t available here in the winter, so we canned tomatoes.

Life gets more difficult here every day because of the war. Prices in everything are rising. First foreign made goods got expensive and disappeared. Now everything we use is rising because the Afghans have to charge in order to pay for the foreign goods. Even labor costs are rising. Our gasoline supply is completely shut off. Private car owners received ½ gal. a day for a while, but now receive nothing. Busses to important points are still running, but no freight can be done by motor and everyone has to have his wood and supplies hauled by donkey or camel. It’s interesting to see a string of eight or ten camels all tied together and slowly plodding through town. Their feet are much too big for their legs.

That nice house I diagramed for you didn’t materialize. The Gov’t wouldn’t give it to us for just a year. But the ministry recognized that it’s difficult for us to adjust to our present income and gave us an apartment free of rent until our house is built. We’ll probably move in next fall. The apartment is no wonder, but we’ll be comfortable. It’s really two apartments so we’ll have 2 baths, 2 kitchens and two toilets. I’ll be glad to be in one place for a whole year so that we can have curtains at the windows again.

I start teaching in two weeks. Not English. There are no students old enough to teach so that begins next year. You can imagine the work that means. Besides making my lesson plans each night, I have to translate them into Persian and learn the Persian. However, it’s a good way to learn the language.

Hammad’s going to be awfully busy too this year. Besides his regular duties in the ministry, he’s taking a class of private pupils in English. They’ll meet twice or 3 X a week and will add to his present income by half. He has also been offered a job as a radio announcer in English over a short- wave program being initiated in Kabul.

It’s only a five minute recital but is a daily affair and involves translating the news from Persian. We don’t get much news here, by the way. Rahim’s wife turned out pretty well considering Afghan women on the whole. At least, he’s happy with her. She’s not pretty, but he thinks she is because she reminds him of Marion. Every cute thing she does, he beams and says, “Isn’t that just like Marion?” He sure was smitten with that girl. It’s the custom here for a girl to buy and be given material for dresses in great quantities.

Rahim’s wife received 35–most of them Japanese, made especially [for] Afghanistan, which is another way of saying atrocious–bright, gaudy, and not durable. Several days after the wedding Rahim sorted through all this mess to find the good ones and throw away the bad. He kept 3. His wife was furious, but he was adamant. He says if she’s his wife, she has to conform to American standards.

Najmuddin hasn’t married. He can’t afford it. He and Juandai (Hammad’s younger brother) and Majid (the guy who was in California) are planning to marry one person. They’ll flip a coin to see who marries her, and then live their married life on the crop rotation principle.

Now life here supplies no luxuries. If you want them you have to make them. And we want them, so I need recipes and advice. Please don’t forget anything I ask for. First of all–house plans. They don’t exist here. Then the recipe for ginger bread on the Br’er Rabbit Molasses can and the recipe for pumpkin pie that we always use. Then a recipe for wine, both white and red grapes. They have lots of apples here and hard wines are frowned upon so I’d like some information on making sweet cider. I’ve discovered the temperature for soft-ball stage of fudge so it comes out pretty well even here.

We’re planning carefully and in a year we’ll have everything our friends have acquired in ten, besides having saved a third of the amount necessary for a trip home.

Beating of wives a highly respected custom here

Phyllis, October 10, 1941--Hammad’s head over heels in work in his new school. It’s a 12 yr dormitory school which has a very large apportionment from the bureau of finance in the Ministry, but owns not one book, no erasers, nothing. The school furnishes suits but the boys for some reason have none. The school furnishes doctors but syphilitic boys roam with the well ones. There’s a dormitory director but he’s ineffective as a stopper for the sexual abnormalities running rampant. It’s Hammad’s job to fix all this. If he can’t it’s his own fault. He’s been given powers there like a little Mussolini. In a year & a half all will be well out there.

As for me, I was hired as an English teacher, but there are no pupils for the subject so I’ve become a teacher of sewing in Persian. I, too, will have to work. My Persian, I’m told, is good for 3 months in Afghanistan but, hell, it’s not enough for teaching. But I’ll work because the Ministry has hinted that after several years I may become principal. They want a wife of an Afghan because she’ll accept a lower salary. I’m saving my whole income for a trip home in three years. There’s only one hitch. Hammad gets a three month vacation in winter and I get a similar one in summer. I think he’ll go to India for his vacation. Guess I’ll raise a garden in mine.

We have a daughter again. Hammad’s older brother got into a fight with his new father-in-law and nearly killed him by choking him while he beat him over the head with a teapot. (He has quite a temper.) The family suddenly began to fear that he might become angry with his wife and over-beat her, too (I say over-beat because in moderate amounts beating of wives is a highly respected custom here). So they took both husband and wife to live with them and gave away the brother’s children by his first wives. We got the girl. She’s pretty and smart as a whip. Not at all like our boy who is beautiful but dumb and will be problem to us all our lives. She’s bright–too bright–but very badly trained. But potentially she’s a lark. We couldn’t have had a better child ourselves. The mother must have been a peach, and I’m rather inclined to think Hammad’s brother didn’t have much hand in her manufacture.

Now for some more news. Miss Kolbe wrote that Daddy had gone to Minn. Details please. Did Laina marry that fellow in Texas? Have Claude and Helen gone to Germany? Why don’t you do that year of school and get it off your mind? How does Joan like N.J. schools? How do they run the house without you? Has Mother given up work? What records do you have?

Right now we’re in the month of fast. Musselmen can neither eat nor drink from sunrise to sunset. Of course we’re heathens and the whole family has to eat because they can’t stand the smell of food. But it’s hard because the men can’t come home at noon. It’s also hard on our pocketbook because everybody in town knows we eat and every Friday and every other holiday they come and have a midday meal with us. Our grocery bill has gone up a third so that we now pay about $25 a month for food. That’s a big hunk out of our incomes.

Well I’m dry of news except that I’ve had diarrhea for 2 weeks. My regards to your new family.

Ideal climate, ankle-deep filth

Phyllis, December 6, 1941--I’m sure you can’t imagine how delighted we were to get your last letter. In the belief that our letters never reached you anyway, we had given up writing. So we were simply overjoyed to know that however late, our letters really do get through, tho we’ll not send air mail any more. We’re part of the world again, where previously we were stray bits in a highly disorganized universe. It helps also for the news to be as cheerful as yours was. If you have financial and parental problems, we yearn to be there and help solve them. It takes a tremendous load off our minds to know that your class is growing beyond belief, Daddy, and that Mother can finally go on part-time jobs. She’ll probably be bored with less than that.

You seemed concerned about our financial situation, Mother, so I’ll give it to you in detail. But it’s hard to compare salaries here and in America, for standards are different, and things that are cheap in [the] U.S. are rare and expensive here, and vice versa. Our aggregate income amounts to about 1600 Afghanis (Rs), or $110; but it has a purchasing power of about $180 or more in America. The only trouble is that there is nothing to buy here, nor any amusements upon which to spend money. Hammad earns about 600 Rs as a superintendent in the Teachers’ Training School. This occupies his time until 2 every afternoon. At present he has no other job to fill the rest of his time, but he’ll soon get some translation work. We get our rent free, and our grocery bill for six people is about 300 Rs a month ($20). So if our house were furnished, we could easily live on Hammad’s salary alone. I earn 400 Rs at the girls’ school as a sewing teacher. This money goes to furnish our house. The other 500 Afghanis ($35) comes from teaching nine hours a week at the Turkish school. It’s interesting. None of the Turks know English and Persian, and I know no Turkish. This money is monthly set aside for my trip to America. As soon as our house is settled, the rest will go for the same purpose. So you see we’re not badly off. In fact few here except foreigners can boast as well as we, and I’m sure that few foreigners save this much.

You asked about foreigners here. They’re not particularly snobbish, I suppose, but their incomes are so far above the Afghans’ that the natives can’t afford to entertain nor be invited into their social plane. Also, in general they’re poorly equipped for their work which fetches them soaring salaries. The Afghans resent them because of this. The foreigners don’t exactly consider Kabul Heaven, and their irritation causes them to fight among themselves. There is also animosity among the different nationalities here.

The climate is ideal. All the Afghans tell me that winters are severe here, but we had our first snow December 2, and I am still wearing my summer coat. At this rate, my winter coat will last forever. The sun shines every day as hot as can be. But oh! the mud. There is one paved street in Kabul, in a place where nobody goes. The other streets are dirt–not gravel. Most of them are about six feet wide and slope to the center where the filthy drainage from sewage and garbage accumulates. At present they are full of the stickiest, the gooiest mud I ever saw, and what with the peril from gaudis and donkeys, the poor pedestrian is in constant danger of his life. Kabul would be an ideal location for a T.B. sanatorium if it were not so filthy and dusty. But now it’s awfully dirty. Toilets are built next to the street wall so the filth may drop into little cubicles which open onto the street. These are intended to be emptied regularly, but are often allowed to overflow into the street. In winter the situation is aggravated by rains which wash the disease-dealing matter to the center of the road. In summer the situation is different, but equally dangerous. There is not a drop of rain for three or four months, and the dust in these narrow streets stands ankle deep. If it were not for this glorious sun we have, the whole Kabul population would be dead by now. The sad part of it is that with a sincere effort the whole thing could soon be cleared up. The best cure would be to evacuate the population, bomb the old city and its rotten mud houses to the ground, and then spray its ruins with insecticides.

I’ve been through my first earthquake!!!! At first I didn’t realize what it was, but when Hammad grabbed one of the kids and started to run, I knew that the house wasn’t creaking from the wind. It was only a slight shake, and I must confess that my knees far exceeded it in the violence of their tremors. We’re expecting a major disturbance in 1944.

Kabir is back in Kabul, fatter than the pig he so despises. Rahim thrives on married life, while Najmuddin struggles under financial and social burdens and, like me, suffers from Kabul-itis (diarrhea). All send their regards.

P.S. Please excuse the typewriting, I think it will pass the censor faster than my poor handwriting (which is still better than yours, Joan) tho this is still pretty bad.

P.P.S. I just heard a beautiful Christmas carol of bells outside. Looked out just in time to see a caravan of camels headed for the hinterland. [Each] calk had a bell of a different pitch attached to it. It beat the Riverside Church caroling all hollow.


Hammad--Though the news about the American-Jap war is distasteful to me, I am sure these warlords of Asia will go down just like their Fascist brothers in Germany and Italy.

A better world for our children to grow in

Hammad, Winter 1942--Your letters have been the only warm objects we have received in this cold winter we are having in Afghanistan. Not only the cold but also the terrible war is creeping up and destroying city after city and country after country. The hideous war machine of Japan is killing and enslaving the people of the Orient just as that of Germany has destroyed and mutilated the civilization of Europe. At present the world looks darker than ever and our only hope lies with the triumph of the people everywhere, that may out of the ashes and the smoke of the old build a better world for our children to grow in.

We are as happy here as [we would] expect to be anywhere in the world. Our income is sufficient to cover all our expenses. So far we have bought many things for our house, and as soon as our household necessities are complete, we shall save most of our income for Phyl’s trip to America.

My school is closed for the winter (till the 22nd of March) and I have ample time to translate, read and write at home. The last few days I had a chest cold and Phyl forced me to confine [myself] in bed, so I read practically everything within my reach. Just now I finished one of Anatole France’s novels: “The Gods Are Athirst.” Some days I go to the ministry of education and advise them on science programs. So far I have had many a hot battle with the Turkish professors who come there for the same purpose. One of them, a biology professor (who draws about $500 a month) criticized a biology program I had written. The poor fool had never heard of such a thing as [the] “carbon cycle” or “nitrogen cycle” and was furious that America should bestow doctor’s degrees on those who write such nonsense. Of course, the ministry politely told him that his services are not needed any more on such scientific subjects as biology, which he claims to have taught for 25 years in the Turkish schools. Well, what can one expect from Turkey.

The other day my sister sent her little boy to the barber, and when our stupid servant brought him back, he was a sight to see. If he didn’t look like a mutilated grasshopper, why nothing ever did. Phyl and I just about died from laughter while the little fellow would look at us [in surprise], forcing little smiles every now and then. Only after he looked at the mirror did he realize what it was all about.

Naj read your last letter and said he would change his Afghan food any day with your beans and p. He is the only one of the Afghan boys who has remained faithful to his point of view and we admire him very much. Kabir is as big a hypocrite as he is fat, and poor Rahim doesn’t count. We see very little of Majid (who studied at Berkeley) but Phyl has a good impression of him.

Say, mother, that old man of yours is fast becoming a capitalist with [a] Lincoln car and Riverside Drive. But tell him that in spite of that we miss him a lot. Joanie might have become taller but her handwriting is just as bad as she used to write me [in] Baltimore. Tell Lois that I miss her and wish her all the happiness her little delicate heart can afford to hold.

The new fashion I've started--removal of the chaderi

Phyllis, Winter 1942--Winter is almost over now–thank God (Mohammad’s). It got so bad the kids had to pray in the streets for the snow to stop, but it is improving a little now. It’s not that winter is so bad here, it’s never below zero, but people don’t prepare for it. Houses like ours with six rooms have one stove, if they’re "upper class"–the kind of stove we used to make out of oil barrels–so damn hot you’re irritable one minute then you freeze the next. But most people can’t afford wood, so they deep warm with a device called a sandali that burns charcoal. They put a low table on the floor and cover it with an immense quilt. Under the table is a pan of hot coals. Everyone sits around it on mattresses. You’d be surprised how warm you can be for no money. I hate it because sitting on the floor makes my legs go to sleep. Also the feet roast while the hands are pieces of ice. This has been a tough winter. Because of the war there is no petrol, so no wood or flour was brought from distant spots.

Then it snowed like hell so that donkeys and camels couldn’t bring anything either. There was a time when not a rupee’s worth of wood, charcoal or flour could be bought in Kabul. It’s terrible on the poor people and everyone is miserably poor here. Hammad and Naj fret about it a lot. They are unique in Afghanistan. When snow fell in America, I was always happy to see it, but here my first thought is of the hardships it brings. Roads become impassable, prices rise, food becomes scarce and roofs have to be cleaned. This last is really a bother. Roofs here are flat because the houses are made of mud–and a gabled roof would wash away. But snow doesn’t slide off flat roofs, so when it snows two or three times a day, the roofs have to be scraped. If not, they cave in from the weight of the snow and water. And where is the snow scraped? Why, into the street, of course. That is where everything goes in Kabul. And if you pass by–that is too damn bad. You [nurse] a headache for the rest of the day. It’s hardest for us foreigners, for though we know many rhythms, we haven’t yet learned to time [ourselves] to the rhythm of snow being scraped from a roof. The day after the snow is also troublesome. In front of each house is a pile of snow four feet high. So you go up and suddenly down and then you stumble up another slippery slope. By the time it’s cleared away, it snows again. Gosh I’ll be glad to see spring this year.

Our income is increasing by bounds. Hammad translates all day long, and I give so many English lessons at Rs. 15 per hour, that I have only two free afternoons a week.

You haven’t heard of the new fashion I’ve started. It’s the removal of the chaderi, or veil. At first I was the only foreign wife without a veil. After several months I met Mrs. Nisam, this German wife I like so well. She was dreadfully unhappy and lonesome. We became friends, and then she wasn’t so lonesome, but probably more unhappy. You can imagine that to see a woman every day who has the same background as you, but is entitled to go without a veil while you are bound in yards of sheeting material is hard. After some deliberation, she decided that if she were going to remove it, she had better do it now than later. It was a very difficult thing to do, because she was afraid that her husband would suffer because of it, and also everyone knew she was veiled and would now whisper behind her back. But she did it and her husband hasn’t been bothered at all. The day after Mrs. Nisam went without her veil, another woman who has been here ten years took hers off. Now the three of us go skiing and to the movies, and are as happy as larks.

They say the first year here is the hardest. I must say that if it gets any easier, I’ll feel guilty, for it hasn’t been hard at all. But then I have a remarkable husband. Also he’s not a Dr. of medicine, so I get to see him fairly regularly.

We’re kept pretty well informed about the war here by British news bulletins and radio reports, though perhaps not as well as you are in [the U.S.]. However, we know the general major developments, and are overjoyed by the Russian successes, as is everyone here.

Love to you all (it's hard to say in typewriting). We'll be seeing you when the war is over.

New Ideas

Phyllis, May 31, 1942--Dear Folks, at last my conscience bothers me enough to get a letter started. We’ve been getting airmail letters from you once a month since Christmas and they take no longer than before the U.S. entered the war–about 4 to 6 weeks. We even got a boat letter full of bobby pins–but no stockings. Probably Indian censors need them as much as I. We certainly pay for them here–$2.00 per for 9½’s–no 10 or 10½’s can be found in Asia. We haven’t written because we kept thinking that the inefficient Asiatic post offices wouldn’t push our letters through.

We’re busy as locusts in a wheat scourge. I work 20 hrs. a wk. at one school, 9 hrs. at another, and give 10 hrs. of English lessons privately weekly. Evenings I make all my clothes and Jubaida’s (she’s Hammad’s 8 yr old niece who lives with us). I started to sew all of H’s p.j.’s too but I soon saw that for every pair for him, I had to make one for his younger brother, so I gave it up and sent them to a tailor. He didn’t think I was good enough anyway! Hammad spends his mornings making the best school in Kabul out of an old rundown poverty-stricken establishment that was ridden with every form of moral and mental filth. He is doing a wonderful job. Given a little authority, with his personality, he could reform the whole world. His p.m.’s are spend at the “ministry” fighting for revised programs for the whole Afghan school system. Next week he adds to this a couple of evening classes (10 hrs. a wk.) in psychology & chemistry. You can guess he hasn’t gained any weight. Financially we are getting along great. But it’s a little discouraging to think of turning these Afghan rupees into U.S. dollars. It takes such a hell of [a] lot of them to make a dollar.

My sister-in-law & I get along great. She’s the best of H’s relatives. At 24, she looks 38 or 40–and has had a hard life. Her 1st child was born when she was 16 (the rule rather than the exception in Afghanistan). Her second 3 yrs. later. Her husband divorced her three years ago and kept the oldest boy, so she took the youngest one & went to live with her brother. He’s been in Germany 8 yrs., but gives no more evidence of being civilized than the worst mullah (Afghan priest). He beat her thoroughly & regularly and she worked like a horse. When we came she left her brother & came to us. She does all the work with one servant and tho she still works hard, it’s better than ever before in her life, and, at that, she is the most idle person in the house.

You may think it funny for 2 people to have to work so hard at one house, but this isn’t America where all the work can be done in 2 hrs. In the first place the floors are all dirt floors, so [they] have to be completely covered with rugs, which must be swept at least once a day & sometimes oftener. Once a month they must be taken up and beaten, because the dust seeps up from the floors. Then the air is dry here, for it doesn’t rain for 6 months of the year, so everything must be thoroughly cleaned of dust very often. Cooking is the biggest job. Salt & pepper are bought whole. We have no gas or electricity to cook with so we use charcoal, which means standing and fanning the whole time. Canned goods are unheard of or can be bought for 75¢ or $1ºº a can. We bake our own bread. Nothing can be bought in the bazaars. A tailor makes Hammad’s shirts and suits & pj’s. Sheets must be sewed at home–also curtains & tablecloths. Clothes must be washed by hand in cold water. Most people have to carry the water from distant faucets but we’re lucky enough to have electricity, running water and flush toilets. But we’re not allowed much water and our 2 toilets take most of it.

Life is much easier for us now than it was last year. Now we have an apartment with glass in the windows. I’ve put up curtains and we have enough rugs to cover all our floors. I’ve put up a fine material to keep out mosquitoes, so there is no danger of malaria. And we have been inoculated again for typhoid. Also we guard against diarrhea by boiling our drinking water and soaking uncooked vegetables & fruits in a solution of potassium manganate. You can see that we don’t exactly sail through life, but if you put your mind to it, you can be very comfortable.

There is a movie house here which once in a great while shows an American picture we haven’t seen. It’s very expensive (5Rs or 35¢) but we go anyhow–because it’s the only amusement in town.

Hammad and I lead Kabul’s native population to new ideas. First I went without the veil. Now I’m going to buy a bicycle and show these frightened foreign wives that life can really be lived here if they only dare.

We’ve had an unfortunate business on our hands for the past six weeks. Hammad’s brother (the younger) lost his mind on Easter Sunday. We were frightened at first, because he became violent all of a sudden one night. So Hammad took him to the asylum. They gave him weekly injections of insulin and now he is much better. We brought him home one weekend but the sudden change was too much for him, and though he had been perfectly sane at the hospital, he just sat around here and wouldn’t talk. Now he’s much better. He is still in the hospital, but only shows signs of abnormality on occasional days of melancholy. We don’t know what caused it. Very probably it’s sexual, for life is one grand sex repression here. Or he may have eaten or smoked one of the dangerous drugs illegally circulated here. Anyway we still hope for the best.

Have you heard? An American Legation is coming to Kabul. The Consul-general at Beirut was appointed and a group has been sent to [the] U.S. Don’t get your hopes up. Hammad is the only educated man in the ministry of education & they need him too badly to send him to America. But we’ll be seeing you soon anyway.

Americans in Kabul

Phyllis, July 29, 1942--Your monthly letters are coming thru regularly. The last one was somewhat censored and I was about to write to the censor, congratulating him on the neat job he did, when your postscript explained that you did it yourself. I wouldn’t waste money on boat letters however. The only one we ever received was the one with the hair pins. (I’ve lost them all in the swimming pool, by the way.) For our part, we send only air mail, regularly on the first of the month–since June 1st.

Life is much easier for us this year than last. I go to the pool all three days allotted to foreigners. Hammad goes on Afghan days–though yesterday he made bold enough to go with me–and no one said anything. We even go to the movies together now (Last nite we saw Cary Grant in “My Favorite Wife”) tho we still don’t walk on the streets together during the day. Hammad has had a raise of 150 R’s a mo., and my class is growing so fast that I think I can give up the Turkish school this year–which I hate!–the school, I mean! The other American woman is going home this week and she turned 3 of her pupils over to me. She’s pretty sick–had typhoid & malaria and now has a new baby. So between fear for her health and fear that when their contract ends next year, they will be flat broke with doctor’s bills, they decided to ship her home. I don’t see her very often, but it will seem funny to be the only American woman here. The Am. minister’s wife will be here sometime this summer.

We’re developing quite a colony here now and the minister seems to be quite a nice fellow. He was in Abyssinia when the Italians came & in Syria when the British came. I wonder whom he is preparing to welcome here?!! The clerk in the legation & a teacher are our best friends here. Every week we meet...at our house for music records. Next week at their place for 500! Imagine it, among all these Culbertson disciples here. Last week Schaeffer & I lost from the point of view of no. of games played–but when we figured up the actual scores, we skinned them by 2 to 1. Hammad & I have been fighting about it all week. Schaeffer is a T.C. grad (M.A.). He spent 3 summers in N.Y.C. living at International House. I think he may know Helen & Louise, though I’ve never asked him. I may add that we 4 are fairly sympathetic in our views!!

Hammad’s brother is completely recovered and is getting married next week. He’s been out of the hospital about 1½ mo. now. He wasn’t very pleased to hear that he & his wife would have to establish a separate home after their wedding. But Hammad & I have no intention of setting up a patriarchal establishment–even if it means financial dependency outside our four walls.

Rahim’s wife has presented him with a son after 11 mo. of married life and he is sore as hell that I don’t go and see it. But I have no desire to go & be pitied by a bunch of over-prolific Afghans–because I haven’t managed anything yet! The funny part is that I can’t decide whether I want to propagate or not, and Hammad’s rather subdued by the war.

Najmuddin is not getting along so well here. He’s far and away the best dentist here–in fact the only one. But he is not soft-spoken enough. So first he was removed from the male & foreign clinic to the women’s clinic–which is equivalent to a dentist’s hell. And now he has been supplanted there by a Turkish woman. That country can turn out more half baked professionals than any place in the world–and Afghanistan eats it up like gingerbread. I don’t know what Naj will do now. It makes you sore to think that a man who was offered a $100 a month internship, to be followed by a position on the staff at Taft Medical College in Boston, is now assistant to a dope who couldn’t pass the entrance examination to that college.

We have become capitalists in the meanest sense of the word–that is, we furnish mortgage capital at interest (22%!). Interest is forbidden here, so the custom is to mortgage your house and allow the mortgager to live in it until the debt is paid off! Or to mortgage your land and give a certain quantity of wheat at each harvest season. That is what we did & if you count up the return it means 22%. But what can we do? Wheat can’t be bought at any price & sugar & salt are rare. That is–there is plenty in the hinterland but no gas to bring it to Kabul. Last winter we had a heavy snow and for a while even camels & donkeys couldn’t get through. So we had no charcoal or wood for a month. War’s a tough business and I for one will be damn glad when it’s finished. It even degrades honest people like us into selling our souls and accepting usurial rates of interest. But as I’ve always said–“It’s da system!”

Well at least I don’t have to complain that my food is being taken by the overlords as my French & Polish friends do!

Trouble at the Teachers' Training School

Phyllis, August 5, 1942--I’ve been trying for a week to get Hammad to write, but he’s not in the mood. He was in bed several days with a strained ligament in his back–so he couldn’t go to school. When he got back the boys were all out of hand. (They are a pretty tough lot.) The first day they all came ½ hr. late. There’s no excuse, you see, for they are all dormitory students. When they saw Hammad, they fell back into line because they are afraid of him. But the next night they organized a gang & stormed the assistant’s room intending to beat up the poor fellow. A clerk came for Hammad in the middle of the night and he spent the whole next day picking out culprits and beating them up. He’s the only person who can handle them. They tried to hang the last principal. I told him he’d have more enduring discipline if he’d lick them with their pants down before an audience, but he hates to do anything so drastic. (It’s a mortal shame here to be seen naked!) They even wear shirts in the bath house. I’ll get him to write the next letter.

Here one really learns what oppression is

Phyllis, September 4, 1942--Your last letter mailed in July came thru in 4 weeks, a speed up of 2 weeks. It looks as if they haven’t got us beat yet, anyway.

You asked about our house. I assure you it is not very beautiful, but neither Hammad nor I are possession proud, so we’re happy in it. In the first place our floors are dirt and have to be completely covered with rugs. Our living room has projections that stand out from the wall and no rug on earth would really fit the floor–so we have 4 rugs–all different patterns and different shades of red. This of course demands that everything else in the room be chastely plain. For some months our only article of furniture was a battered 3rd [hand] library table. It got on my nerves so that I finally threw it out, leaving the house absolutely empty except for the rugs. The walls were dead white and miles high, so at cost $2½ we painted them pale blue and put a dark stripe about two feet from the ceiling to make the room lower. Result: success. It ceased to look like an employment office and adopted the attitude of a home. Then curtains. That was awful during wartime when only awful Japanese material can be found. We needed something heavy to keep out the winter wind. After a week of scouting Hammad found some Russian navy blue corduroy. Total cash for windows–$34. That was five months ago. Yesterday I added white georgette curtains to set off the dark drapes. Windowsills here are just three feet deep and made of dirty mud. We covered them with tiny carpets–and our windows look really royal. But our furniture. Grr–!! Most of our stuff is 2nd and 3rd hand junk. Anybody looking at it would know that I came from the Davidson family, Riverside Drive, N.Y.C. Two months ago we took inventory. We had 2 straight chairs, 2 easy chairs that are too uncomfortable to sit in and 2 in-betweens, also broken. We had an ugly buffet bought in despair, after 5 months of keeping our dishes on the floor. Our dining table was two feet in diameter.

So we began a campaign. First we bought a bookcase, a beautiful monster of walnut–6 ft. high and 7 ft. long. It holds all our books, records and pamphlets and makes the room look superbly intellectual. Then we got a real antique Afghan rug (for Daddy) and hung it on the opposite wall. Then we ordered a dining room table. That was two months ago. We are still waiting for our table. Everything has to be made from order here and it takes devilishly long. If we have the patience of Job we will some day have a table on which to put your crocheted table cloth, Mother. Our two articles of value are the rug and a lovely lamp made from a camel’s stomach. It gives a lovely luminous light and throws everyone into rapture. The total result is comfortable, but a ridiculous conglomeration of valuable things and old furniture at various stages of decomposition. It’s not a beautiful home, I suppose, but it smells like us. And that’s the most important thing about a home. Unlike Lois, we have no vacuum sweeper, refrigerator, or gas range. Our only electrical equipment is an iron and a hot plate. The iron works well, but the darned hot plate strikes every day just at noon. Last week it quit on us for good. We still keep our underclothes in a trunk. It really looks beautiful. Much better than those ugly ponderous wardrobes foreigners sport here. Our bed has no springs. It’s made of reed ropes woven together. And each of us has a picture on the wall in frames brought from America. It probably sounds pitifully inadequate to you all–but we know how much effort went into each little thing and we are very proud of it all.

Lois is irked because I don’t write specially to her, I know. But you mustn’t be. I can only afford one airmail letter a month, and I don’t think boat letters get through. So I have to make that one letter general.

How has Claude fared since the war began? I hope he knows how to behave himself, in order to protect his and Helen’s interests.

Life goes on for us in the same steady way. We work hard and spend all our money trying to keep our standard of living up in spite of high prices. Many essentials are not to be found, and others are prohibitively expensive. But who can complain when thousands of men not only do without, but die every day to keep the rest of us free. Perhaps so far away from it all in America, you don’t realize the importance of it. But here where the outcome will have a tremendous influence on our lives, we watch operations with the greatest seriousness. In this part of the world one really learns what oppression is.

Intellectual life here is not imposing, and perhaps for that reason everybody tries his best to help [one] another and books are borrowed and lent with terrific speed. But it’s all old. A new drop of life would go a long way. Thru the U.S. legation now we often see the Time Magazine and 3 Mo. old issues of Reader’s Digest. Also we play 500 and give record concerts every week. Those who can go to legations of course have more variety than we have. But they also spend more money.

Hammad works all morning at school, all afternoon at the Ministry, and teaches till 9 P.M. at another school and my hours are about the same. It’s a great life if you don’t weaken. And really we don’t. We are the original “Hope Springs Eternal.”

This is the Malaria month. Three-fourths of the population lies abed now with alternate fever and chills. Hammad and I are careful about mosquitoes and neither of us have it yet–but three members of our household are down and consuming quinine at a tremendous rate. Hammad has no ill health and I have only occasional excursions into the realm of diarrhea.

Have I told you that Rahim’s wife has a baby boy and that Kabir is married. Rahim is very happy and Kabir married in despair and I suppose it makes no difference who she is. His father in any case is pleased because she has money and social position. (I must tell you, however, that social position here is another way of saying that your family is syphilitic, homosexual, closely intermarried, and imbecilic.)

Today–joy of joys–we received a letter saying you had gotten one from us in 17 days. That means we write and get an answer in 2¼ mo. Some speed considering how bad things have been looking. I think we wrote two of our monthly letters before that. They were probably mislaid on the way. But what the Hell! If 1 out of every 3 gets there it’s a wonderful average in the fourth year of war. Also, Lois had the pictures numbered to ten but we got a total of 6 including the postscript. What happened to the others. Morty is certainly a good looking devil.

Keep writing. It is cheering to have something to look forward to at the end of the month besides our salaries. Joan, your postscripts could be lengthened a little and still do no harm.


Hammad--There are many things I would like to relate to you with great relish decorating it with my peculiar (as it may seem to you) philosophy, but unfortunately the circumstances hold my pen back. Phyl and I are still the same two scatterbrains holding the same views about life, now only too convincingly. I feel a bit guilty because I am not in a position to add up my little energy to that great reservoir of human force striking to free itself from bondage. But at the same time when I survey the world from this remotest region a smile of contentment passes my lips that this force has finally created the appearance of a significant affirmation and the end will be a better place for our lot to live in. I must assure you that our hearts bleed for the folly of men but we must analyze their psychological mood not through a sense of hatred but toleration and sympathy. Yes the originators of this brute and cruel force must be destroyed, but the raw material through which this force is operated should be painstakingly diverted to useful channels.

We are very much relieved that you have finally received our letter. I feel ashamed of myself not to be able to write to all of you individually and to others of my friends in the U.S., but I know that only a few of my letters can reach there. Since I am partial to Afghanistan, I let Phyl give you all the local news. We are both so busy that we have very little time to spend with each other. Today is a holiday and Phyl has gone out to help a girlfriend pack her things for a trip to Herat (ext. west of Afg.). I think she will be quite lonesome without her because she was Phyl’s best friend in Kabul.

No veil--how deliciously revolutionary that is

Phyllis, March 5, 1943--Today I received 3 letters. One from you, mother, had been held at censors and cut full of holes. God knows why. The things he cut out were repetitions of things you told us months ago. I don’t know why he suddenly decided they should be secret. Perhaps it was a new man. Anyway we could always tell what you meant from the context. Don’t bother to send clippings. Only the unimportant ones get through. We always read Life, Time and the Reader’s Digest anyway.

What makes you think we’re defaulting? I almost came back to do my bit for the war, but it’s hard to get a ticket and I hated to leave Hammad alone here on the edge of the world. However our plans are definite. From now on don’t try to send us money. We’re giving some Afghanis after a few months to a friend. He’ll send a check in dollars to you mother. Please open an account in my name with it. Thereafter deposits will be rather large and regular. I hope this will raise your spirits somewhat. I don’t think it’s wise to mention the subject again.

It’s good to have Hammad home again. The kids are glad, too. They cluster around him like bees after honey. They sure look cute, even though they’re rather dirty tonight. (We cleaned house today and that means worlds in Afghanistan.) I made them identical blue corduroy overalls and Hammad brought them bright colored sweaters from India. With their rosy cheeks they far surpass the undernourished Afghans one usually sees here. The younger one is really pretty with tousled hair but I prefer the older. He’s more intelligent and better natured.

Haven’t I told you about an Afghan house cleaning? It occurs every 2½ or 3 months. Every dish and piece of furntiture is carried out. Then the mud floors are wet down and swept, the walls are tubbed clean of the yellow dust that settles on the rough spots, and doors and windows are scrubbed. Then 4 men are hired to shake the rugs (5 or 6) clear of dust and then everything is put back. Ours has to be done on one day–Friday–when the office downstairs is closed. The whole family pitches in and several boys from school come to help. Toward evening we finish; everyone is dragging pretty low, but there’s no fighting or complaining. They’re the best natured people you ever saw. They lie as naturally as they breathe, but they’re never ugly. I’m the only sourpuss in the house, but they bear with me like angels.

I forget whether I ever sent that letter for South America or not. In any case, I can’t find it here. I’ll ask for the address so you can write to them. The man is the twin brother of a man I know here in Kabul. He’s an architect to the King and is on his second royal palace. Seems silly to build so many of them in wartime when after all he can only live in one at a time. I guess I just can’t understand this royalty business. Especially here, it seems like declaring oneself emperor of Podunk Center!

I’m buying a bicycle for going to school. People here hold their breath at our daring. Firstly–no veil. I hope you realize how deliciously revolutionary that is here. First time in History. Second–I go to the movies!!! Thirdly–I go swimming!!!! And now–a bicycle. At each new step they’ve said, “You can’t get away with it.” Then after several months they adjust, so I guess they will again, this time. Love to you all.

Happy about the turn the war is taking

Hammad, March 5, 1943--It has been such a long time since I have written to you that I am a bit ashamed of my forgetfulness. However, I am not going to follow the beaten track of beginning the letter with apologies. I know that the bond of love that is holding us is strong enough to withstand any eventuality. But in order to make up for my lack of proportion I am going to make this letter quite interesting (at least I’ll try) and full of personal news. Before going into details of our lives here, however, I would like to congratulate Harry for his great success as a mechanical mastermind. I always had trust and confidence in your ability, Pa, but your inferiority complex just got the best of you. Now you realize yourself that any dumb cluck could spend a few years of his life in one of those so-called great institutions of learning and come out with a piece of paper in his hand while his folks back home would proudly display junior’s picture with a cap and gown on the mantlepiece. But it takes guts to go into the world and make a man out of yourself, degree or no degree. So, if I were you I wouldn’t bother myself about those folders with Butler’s signature upon them. You have a mind, just put it to work. Harry, I have learned plenty in these last two years and I am sure there is plenty more to learn. When you see me again, which I hope will not be too far off you’ll find me more stable and less a philosopher.

Lois, dear, thank you so much for your lovely letters. I am so happy that you found the guy you were looking for. I’d very much like to meet him. His picture seems so familiar to me by now that when we meet I don’t think your introduction will be necessary.

Joany, I am horrified at your letter. Why, it’s absolutely outrageous to send a typewritten letter 14,000 miles away. It reminds me of the Japanese printed postcards. All the soldiers have to do is to sign their names and send them home. I realize that it takes an astrologer to decipher your handwriting, nevertheless the sight of your crooked lines and crazy y’s and T’s sends a happy shiver through my backbone. Why? ‘cause I love you.

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you about my trip to India. You know Phyl and I were planning to have a few weeks of rest in India but unfortunately at the last minute [Phyl] decided not to go and I made mine as short as possible, only three weeks, covering almost 3,000 miles to Bombay. I brought about $2,000 worth of books for the Science Faculty where I am teaching Chemistry. It was quite expensive in India and the damn Yankees have occupied all the best hotels.

We receive news quite regularly here and are very happy about the turn the war situation is taking. Today we heard of another American success against the Japs (90,000 tons sunk) and the Russians aren’t doing badly either. They captured the city of Rzhei in [the] central front. I think that the Germans will crack up very soon.

Did I tell you that Phyl has become a habitual smoker? Why, she is positively a problem child. (It’s a lie–Phyl.)

Today winter was over for us because we got rid of our sandali. We also cleaned house top to bottom. Phyl doesn’t believe it but I did most of the work (ordering everyone).

I haven’t seen Rahim for a long time and Kabir and Shah are out of town, but I see Majid and Najmuddin quite regularly. You’ve never seen a more unhappy soul than Najmuddin. He works very hard and gets the least credit and appreciation for it. He is very bitter because he has a highly sensitive nature.

Make way for progressive forces...

Hammad, June 21, 1943--Our second year stay in Kabul which so remarkably coincides with the second year anniversary of the treacherous fascist onslaught on [the] U.S.S.R. passed very calmly. While the liberty loving people has sacrificed everything to preserve their way of life, we, Phyl and I, were thrown by the hand of fate into this remote corner of oblivion and darkness. We wanted so badly to play our little part in this great world drama. Day after day we hear of misery and oppression that are destituting the human race and day after day our hearts are torn by the morbid thoughts of our uselessness.

Mother, we enjoy your letters tremendously. I wish the censor would stop cutting windows in them. Your analysis of the coal strike was remarkable (fortunately we heard last night that it’s over) but we had lost faith in J.L.L. three years ago when he made his inopportune speech and rode the R.P.’s bandwagon. There are still quite a number of selfish labor leaders in [the] U.S. and they are doing more harm to labor reforms than some of those Southern gentlemen in Washington.

America is becoming more popular every day in these parts of the world and everyone is hoping that the high ideals that are cherished and put forcefully in speech and print will be put in practice as soon as the war is over. Half the human race in Asia are bewildered but hopeful. They look back upon their past history with bitterness and remorse; but they look ahead with confidence and courage. They figure that this process of catch-as-catch-can cannot go on indefinitely. “The past must bury its past” and make way for the progressive forces that are emerging with remarkable rapidity.

Local news: The U.S. colony (with a few exceptions) is a bunch of crackpots. The American teachers are unworthy of the name. The best of the lot are the clerks! Tonight we are invited to a Polish dance party. Although my taste for dance has exceedingly diminished, nevertheless, I am expecting a good time. It sounds fantastic but here we find our source of intellectual intercourse in old Jewish couples that have been chased out of Germany. They are cultured, musical and enjoyable to talk to. Phyl has become quite well known among the Kabul population. The school girls love her and the musical programs she arranges (recorded) are the talk of the town, not to mention her reckless bike rides through the Kabul bazaars.

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