Afghanistan is a war-torn country of rugged peaks and winding passes leading into vast valleys where shadows of ancient empires persist. A sense of timelessness blankets the muted beauty of earthly hues, creating a background against which young men struggle to fulfill the traditional expectations placed upon them even as they strive to move forward.
Caught in a myriad of difficult circumstances that range from poverty and unemployment to violence and corruption, young men in Afghanistan have much to consider as they weigh their choices and gain their maturity, said Muhammed Sadeqi, a 24-year-old from Kabul. However, marriage is a primary concern no matter what sort of chaos a man may find himself in.
The future in general is a far and distant concept, one fraught with uncertainty and often believed to be better left in the hands of Allah. Marriage though creates family, and family binds people, reaching beyond even death to provide a lineage and heritage from which to draw an identity.
This is why marriage is serious business, Sadeqi said. Engagements can take upwards of two years with many visits made between families as details are negotiated and settled. Such a lengthy process benefits the couple even as it gives the extended family members a chance to establish relationships with one another.
"It should be a long time," Sadeqi said, "because the boy and girl should know about themselves - their thinking, their manners, everything."
Young men usually begin thinking of marriage around 18, he said, however, the costs associated with weddings and providing for a new bride typically put a damper on quickly securing a wife. Depending on the agreements made between families and whether a dowry is expected, a man with limited resources may have to save for years before being able to meet the financial requirements. This is to be expected, according to Sadeqi.
"The cost is on the boy," he said, "not the girl's family. The boy pays for the ring, for the ceremony, everything. That is the way it is."
Sadeqi suddenly pauses in his explanation. Personal details are not spoken of lightly in Afghanistan, especially those involving women. Still, when he resumes speaking, his voice reflects his excitement. "I will be getting engaged soon," Sadeqi said. "I will try to get married soon too, but if I do not have enough money for that, well, then it will take time."
He has known the girl for two months, he said, and he will send his family to begin talking with her parents in another month. Selection of candidates for potential spouses is still most arranged by mothers, aunts and family members, but as times change, Sadeqi said he hears of more instances where the boy and girls cross paths and see one another without that initial familial matchmaking. Such stories are typically heard in cities and urban centers than rural settings and villages.
Regardless of how the couple first meets, Sadeqi said, the parents and families become the conduit to introductions and establishing a relationship. Ultimately, the parents are the deciding force in whether to go through with the union.
"The parents, they say, 'you should do this,'" Sadeqi said, "but sometimes now they may leave it for the boy and girl to choose."
This traditional role of the family dictating matters in marriages has caused a problem for Zia Miri, a 28 year old man from Ghazni Province. Engaged for two years, his marriage was to take place this month; however, when his brother went to claim Miri's fiance and take her to their family home, her father suddenly balked. He refused to allow her to go, claiming he no longer agrees to the match.
"This is difficult," Miri said. "Her father is a mullah and he says 'I am leader of my house, I should choose.' But most people are getting away from such traditions. If the boy and girl accept one another, then the parents should accept the marriage."
Since his parents are deceased, Miri will send his brother to his fiance's father to attempt to change his mind. This will take time, Miri said, and his brother will likely have to meet with the man three or four times before a final outcome can be expected. Should Miri's would-be father-in-law continue to deny the marriage, few options will exist for the couple.
"If he does not accept, there may be no way for me," Miri said. Still he worries more for his fiance. "We have a connection. She is very upset and does not want anyone else."
Because the engagement was lengthy and well known among both families, Miri said he may legally be able to claim his wife against her father's wishes. Sworn statements and affidavits attesting to the original arrangement can be gathered and filed with the government to enable the couple to unite through what is essentially a civil ceremony.
"It is possible for us to change," Miri said in his soft-spoken yet forceful voice. "My family and I, we have very good traditions. In every part of our lives, we discuss and share with one another, but we make the decisions for ourselves. My advice for young people is to prepare with education and knowledge so they don't let their parents chose their lives and futures for them. They will be the ones to live it, not their parents."