Kabul abloom on Mother’s Day

June 14, 2010

Shopping on Kabul's Flower Street (UNAMA)

Shopping on Flower Street — pic by UNAMA

Only fresh flowers will do for Mother’s Day gifts in Afghanistan.

For the vendors of Kabul’s Flower Street, that meant a rare departure on Monday from selling the elaborate plastic bouquets favoured by many Afghan businesses, banquet halls and home parlours.

“On this day, my sales increase 30 percent,” beamed Mohammad Rafi of Mursal florists. His competitor next door, Sunbal, had a much rosier prediction that by day’s end profits would be up as much as 500 percent.

Mother’s Day has been celebrated for at least 40 years in Afghanistan, locals say, weathering the upheavals of the Soviet invasion, the tyranny and toppling of the Taliban, and the current insurgency against the NATO-led intervention.

Tributes tend to be private affairs, with Afghans gathering at home to present their mothers with floral arrangements, sweetmeats and jewellery. The practice is far more common in Kabul and other urban (and urbane) areas than the in the ultra-conservative countryside.

But there are hints of a more expansive and commercial tack.

One woman visiting Flower Street said she was there to find a Mother’s Day gift for her boss. Another shopper was Jawanshir Haidary, head of the Afghan filmmakers union, whose mother was deceased but who planned to treat his married female relatives to a feast at a restaurant.

While Father’s Day is not marked in Afghanistan, Mother’s Day is, arguably, co-extensive with patriarchy, perpetuating as it does a defined role for women. Perhaps that explains why the Taliban, having banned girls’ education and kept women hidden through burqas and segregation, let Mother’s Day pass.

“The only difference nowadays is that we can go out ourselves to buy the gifts,” said Nigina, a woman in her early 20s who joined several relatives in a shopping excursion.

The United Nations Population Fund used Mother’s Day to promote its campaign for better midwivery in Afghanistan. Only 14 percent of births in the country are attended by skilled health professionals, against a worldwide average of 59 percent, the U.N. agency said in a statement.

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