Many conversations with new friends center on family. “Do you have brothers and sisters? Are you married? How many children? Where do they live? “ My conversations with young Afghan women are about these also, and the picture of American family life is often not pretty.

My only son lives on the other coast most of the year. We miss each other, but that is just the way it is today in many families. My Afghan friends must think it very sad that my one child, my son, is so far away. My only brother also lives far away, so visits are rare. Fortunately, my siblings visited our parents’ home when our kids were growing up. Now, however, with our parents gone and the kids grown and spread out, it’s hard to keep family traditions and values alive.

Our divorce rate, our school dropout rates, our college graduates’ debt burdens, the warehousing of our elderly - these family topics also come up when speaking with my Afghan friends. In speaking of marriage traditions, a friend in Kabul spoke of the father’s right to give his approval or not to a prospective husband whom the women of the family have chosen. Men can judge men better than women can, as women can other women, my friend explains. Given such a context, I hesitate to pass judgment.

We can share our customs and beliefs with one another, but we need to keep in mind that Afghans do not want our sympathy, in spite of images of vulnerable-looking, veiled women in our mass media.

gang_rapeThey seek our willingness to learn about them and from them. We must share our weaknesses as a society as well as our strengths. If, in addition, we can stand with them against tyranny in all its forms and provide some resources for re-building, we’re all winners.