Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Lipstick in Afghanistan"

A nurse, humanitarian aid worker, and writer, Roberta Gately has served in third-world war zones ranging from Africa to Afghanistan. She has written extensively on the subject of refugees for the Journal of Emergency Nursing, as well as a series of articles for the BBC Worlds News Online. She speaks regularly on the plight of the world's refugees and displaced.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Lipstick in Afghanistan, and reported the following:
The trip was long, so long Parween thought it would never end, but finally, after a full day of travel by rickety bus and weary foot, they arrived at their new home. The fertile green valley, with trees everywhere, was nestled in the shadow of great sand colored cliffs dotted with caves. The gravel and dirt road was filled with people walking or sitting astride donkeys; the buzz of laughter and friendly conversation filled the air. Her eyes grew wide as she spotted two gigantic statues carved into the face of the mountain. Fascinated as she was, she caught only a glimpse before the family reached their destination, and unloaded their scant belongings into their new home.

While her brothers explored every nook and cranny of the compound, Parween stood in the center and peered around curiously. Each of the rooms opened onto a central courtyard that offered an open cooking area, a small well, and, off to the side, an open latrine. The dirt floor of the little room in which she stood was covered by a fading and fraying hand-woven carpet.

How beautiful it is, she thought with delight, and so soft on my feet.

They hadn’t possessed a carpet in Onai, and she squatted to run her hands over the worn fabric, its smooth feel and hint of color a welcome change from her old dirt floor.

Real window frames covered with plastic sheeting broke up the monotony of the mud-brown walls and offered her a murky glimpse out into the courtyard. The nearby well was a luxury, allowing them access to water without forcing Parween to trudge for hours balancing water jugs on poles across her small shoulders as she had in Onai. When the jugs were full, the poles – old sticks really – had gnawed at her bony shoulders, and she’d spent hours rubbing away the soreness. But with the well, all of that was finished, and she smiled, relieved.

Life will be easy here.
Set in Afghanistan, 1988, page 69 of Lipstick in Afghanistan is 2 pages into Part II, the story of Parween, my second central character and the Afghan woman who will befriend Elsa, the American volunteer nurse. On page 69, we follow Parween as she and her family move to their new home in Bamiyan where she is happy to find a bit of luxury in the form of a real rug for the earth floor and a nearby well. The unexpected comforts hint that life will be less about chores and more about adventure for ten year old Parween, who has just learned that already her mother is considering a search for a suitable husband for Parween, her recalcitrant youngest daughter. But even at the age of ten, Parween, a fighter at heart, will not fall easily into the traditional female role, and this page gives us a glimpse into the onset of her rebellion against the life she is expected to lead.
Read an excerpt from Lipstick in Afghanistan, and learn more about the book and author at Roberta Gately's website and blog.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue