I AM THE BEGGAR OF THE WORLD: A book of poetry and photos


Excerpt taken from Poetry Magazine

 I call. You’re stone.                                                                                                                          One day you'll look and find I'm gone.


The teenage poet who uttered this folk poem called herself Rahila Muska. She lived in Helmand, a Taliban stronghold and one of the most restive of Afghanistan’s thirty-four provinces since the U.S. invasion began on October 7, 2001. Muska, like many young and rural Afghan women, wasn’t allowed to leave her home. Fearing that she’d be kidnapped or raped by warlords, her father pulled her out of school after the fifth grade. Poetry, which she learned from other women and on the radio, became her only form of education.

In Afghan culture, poetry is revered, particularly the high literary forms that derive from Persian or Arabic. But the poem above is a folk couplet — a landay — an oral and often anonymous scrap of song created by and for mostly illiterate people: the more than twenty million Pashtun women who span the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Traditionally, landays are sung aloud, often to the beat of a hand drum, which, along with other kinds of music, was banned by the Taliban from 1996 to 2001, and in some places, still is.

A landay has only a few formal properties. Each has twenty-two syllables: nine in the first line, thirteen in the second. The poem ends with the sound “ma” or “na.” Sometimes they rhyme, but more often not. In Pashto, they lilt internally from word to word in a kind of two-line lullaby that belies the sharpness of their content, which is distinctive not only for its beauty, bawdiness, and wit, but also for the piercing ability to articulate a common truth about war, separation, homeland, grief, or love. Within these five main tropes, the couplets express a collective fury, a lament, an earthy joke, a love of home, a longing for the end of separation, a call to arms, all of which frustrate any facile image of a Pashtun woman as nothing but a mute ghost beneath a blue burqa.

From the Aryan caravans that likely brought these poems to Afghanistan thousands of years ago to ongoing U.S. drone strikes, the subjects of landays are remixed like hip-hop, with old words swapped for newer, more relevant ones. A woman’s sleeve in a centuries-old landay becomes her bra strap today. A colonial British officer becomes a contemporary American soldier. A book becomes a gun. Each biting word change has much to teach about the social satire that ripples under the surface of a woman’s life. With the drawdown of American forces in 2014 looming, these are the voices of protest most at risk when the Americans pull out. Although some landays reflect fury at the presence of the U.S. military, many women fear that in the absence of America’s involvement they will return to lives of isolation and oppression, just as under the Taliban.


The full article in Poetry Magazine contains insightful details about cited landaysjuxtaposed against photos by photographer Seamus Murphy.

I AM THE BEGGAR OF THE WORLD can be purchased on Amazon.




1 1/4 cups brown rice, rinsed in cold water

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion or one cup green onions chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 pound ground turkey or beef

2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, more to taste

2 teaspoons coriander

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground clove

1 cup peas, frozen or fresh

2 cups spinach chopped, frozen or fresh

2 carrots, peeled and diced

1 large jalapeño pepper, seeded, chopped (optional)


Add the rice and several cups of water in a deep pot. The water should be two inches above the rice.

On high heat bring to boil, turn down the heat to medium and simmer for around fifteen minutes or until the rice is cooked through.

Place a large sauté pan on medium high heat. Add olive oil, onions and garlic. Sauté for two minutes or until the onions are translucent.

Add ground turkey to the sauté pan. Quickly break apart the meat with a spatula as it cooks all the way through, around five minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients, stir until ingredients, especially the spices are mixed well. Cover pan with a lid and cook on medium heat for around 10 minutes.

Drain the rice in a colander and let it sit until all the water drips out of the colander. Add the rice to the sauté pan.

Mix until the rice turns a light green color from the spinach and meat sauce.

Cover the sauté pan with aluminum foil folding the edges to make it airtight. Place the lid on the foiled pot, reduce the heat to low and cook for another fifteen minutes.

Serve with a side of salad or steamed vegetable.


Serves 4-6

By Humaira

Do you want to know the dirty secret of Afghan diaspora?

Our elders are addicted to Afghan television.

Yup! Twenty-four hours of non-stop, addictive, live television programming streamed from Afghanistan into living rooms of millions of Afghans that fled Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion in the 80’s. Our old and immobile waste their days away by watching what the young generation considers junk. Despite living outside Afghanistan for over thirty years, the elders have not found cultural roots in their adopted homes such as Los Angeles, Virginia, Sydney, and Frankfurt. Their community speaks their language and lives in a rectangular box.

Every time I call my mom or aunt, I compete with shrieks of soap opera actresses speaking in high-pitched Dari in the background. Talking to Jeja, my mom, during her favorite show is like talking to my fifteen year old—lots of gaps filled with silence and a “what” or “aha”.

Recently I spent a week with Jeja at her home in Los Angeles.  We bonded by breathing the same air while sitting side by side in-front of her big screen TV watching Afghan talk shows, comedy shows, and even Turkish and Korean soap operas (yes, they're dubbed in Dari). During meals, Jeja discussed the latest news and the clever plotting of the Turkish soap operas.

As Jeja felt pride in her media savvy-ness I on the other hand struggled a little with the formal Dari and at times asked her for clarification. After all these years, when I translated for Jeja at stores, at doctor’s appointments or at banks, the table is finally turned.

Thankfully there was one show I fully got, Pokht-o-Paz, a cooking show.  Aside from improving my formal Dari, I was thrilled to get a recipe out of this experience, even if it was from a show and not from Jeja.

Chef Habib Khashae of Pokht-o-Paz made Istanbuli Palau, a dish I hadn’t eaten before. It turns out that many countries in the Middle World have a version of Istanbuli Palau/Polo. I’m sharing the Afghan version.

This rice pilaf has ground meat, carrots, peas, spinach and flavorful spices. I modified the recipe by using brown rice instead of white and I used ground turkey instead of ground beef. Istanbuli Palau a quick and easy dish you can serve with a side of salad or maybe steamed broccoli on weeknights. The kids loved it and left overs were great the next day.