In this beautiful piece from Matter, Mujib Mashal takes the reader to the Afghani airwaves, into the hearts of its listeners. From the complications of arranged marriage to online dating woes, the youth of Afghanistan have a lot on their minds. DJ Ajmal Noorzai solemnly shares their stories on his program, The Night of Lovers. 

When the show first aired, callers were reticent to speak honestly. But slowly, with Ajmal’s guidance, they opened up — so much so that stories had to be debated before they were aired. In one, a young girl named Sameera sobbed as she recounted falling for a man other than her arranged spouse. Honor is everything in Afghan society; it is a highly shameful act for a female member of the family to engage in relations of any kind with a man before marriage. Producers had to be careful to safeguard Sameera’s identity.

Sameera had been engaged to a man for three years; he was a good man. But no matter how hard she tried “to send her heart his way,” she couldn’t. Her family — her sister, her brother — tried to help her forget the man she truly loved, without success. She felt trapped. “I just wanted to share this with the listeners. I am a very pained girl. Good night to you — and I pray that those who have not been united with each other, they meet again. God protect you.”

What struck Ajmal about Sameera’s story wasn’t just that she was speaking honestly, openly, about a taboo subject. It was that she was connecting to thousands of others united in pain and heartache. Afghanistan is a nation of suppressed pain, in its every color and form. A nation awash in PTSD. We have seen such extremes that what elsewhere would draw the attention of psychologists here is considered normal. Pain is something to be dealt with in solitude, to be “only shared with the mirrors,” as the poet Qahar Asi put it.

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