Synopsis of Anoja Wijeyesekera’s FACING the TALIBAN
It is the night of 11th September 2001. Anoja is frantically gathering her things. In the background, the falling bombs shake the foundations of the house, but her thoughts are far away. The scene is far from the ravaged Manhattan skyline. Anoja is one of the UN aid workers being evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan. In the midst of the bombardment which was getting closer as the night wore on, she can only think of her brother, Srinath, who is himself trapped in the debris of the Twin Towers in New York. In a cruel twist of fate, two siblings find themselves as bystanders on opposite sides of what would soon become a cruel and painful conflict.
This dramatic opening to Anoja’s autobiographical account is just a small window into the fascinating and tumultuous tale of an aid-worker, mother and woman who finds herself in a place that would soon become a focal point of global politics.
In 1997, it was a late night phone call that changed the course of Anoja Wijeyesekera’s life. It transported her to a situation in which she had to pursue the UNICEF mandate for the protection of women and children in the most hostile of environments.
With its intelligentsia in exile, its political structures shattered and its people disenfranchised; Afghanistan is in a state of acute crisis. Anoja was one of the few female aid-workers deployed to head an office within a chauvinistic male regime ruled by the Taliban.nThrough the various encounters she recounts in her memoirs, we see how her position as a woman enabled her to communicate with both men and women. It is her cultural sensitivity, patience and steely determination that enables her to diffuse the difficulty of being a woman working within a regime that is hell-bent on the suppression of women.
Amidst the heart-wrenching tales, there are instances of humour. The Taliban’s obsessions with their weird rules from the length of a man’s beard and the covering of a woman’s face are some humorous nuggets amid a bleak environment. Beard tugging by the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice and their merry band of whip-lashing youths was commonplace in Afghanistan at the time. Short beards were doomed to twenty lashes in public and two weeks imprisonment while playing a game of cards called for one hundred lashes and six months in prison.
Anoja’s encounters give a rare insight into the working of the Taliban government. Her responsibilities ranged from negotiating with Taliban officials to ensure the implementation of UNICEF programmes for women and children as well as to get staff released from prison. She and her team successfully negotiated five separate ceasefires to implement national immunisation days for polio eradication. Through her stories, we witness how sometimes the Taliban themselves were bewildered by the absurdities of their own rules.
The book ends with the culmination of Taliban edicts going haywire and leading to the destruction of the Bamyan Buddha statues, the two gigantic and iconic structures of the ancient world, akin in a symbolic way to the attack on the Twin Towers of New York which is the starting point of the book.
The ceaseless battle of wits between the Al Qaeda and the international community ensues. This unconquerable land continues to evade capture.
Anoja’s reminiscences provide a unique picture of a country at the brink of a bloody chapter. Through disenfranchisement and Taliban edicts, emerges a moving picture of a compassionate and kind people that are victims and prisoners of afate that has spiralled beyond their control.
- Paperback: 376 pages
- Publisher: Vijitha Yapa Publications, Sri Lanka; 1ST edition (2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-13: 978-9556651959
www.vijithayapa.com Rs 1,000.00
www.amazon.com US$ 29.99
www.amazon.co.uk GBP 19.99