‘Soldiers wives aren’t supposed to go to a war zone’. With her empathy and compassion for the women and children of Afghanistan, Danes is one woman who brought their story out of the war zone and into our living rooms.”
Gordon Trail, Editor – Australian Peacekeeper & Peacemaker Veterans’ Association – October 2010
Beneath The Pale Blue Burqa
One woman’s journey through Taliban Strongholds
by Kay Danes
Kay Danes knows what it is like to live dangerously. In June 2001, Kay and her husband Kerry, an Australian Special Forces soldier were illegally held hostage in Laos where they endured brutal interrogations, mock executions, torture, other violations of their human rights and separation from their three children. Nine years on, Kerry has continued
his Defence career, including several tours of Afghanistan, while Kay, inspired by her ordeal to help stop the suffering of others, has become a leading international
In November 2008, burying the haunting memories of her Laos ordeal in a plight to ease the suffering of Afghan women and children, Kay embarked on a humanitarian aid mission into war-torn Afghanistan. Beneath The Pale Blue Burqa is Kay’s incredible story of travelling the ancient silk route through Taliban strongholds in a dusty Toyota Hiace with her four fellow humanitarians, ordinary people from diverse backgrounds, determined to do whatever it took to deliver life changing opportunities and aid to people devastated by war.
Kay Danes is one of the few internationals that have travelled outside the safe bubble
of Kabul. Her readiness to venture outside the accepted boundaries allows us to see the impact on Afghans and a real perspective of post Taliban Afghanistan.
“The western media tend to give a snapshot of Afghanistan that focuses only on one aspect, the war. I want to show people the other side, the progress being made, the hope, the courage and resilience of the people.” – Kay Danes.
Along her journey Kay;
- Experienced the terror of roadside interrogations by Afghan “police”
- Witnessed the awe of US marines in full force patrolling for insurgents
- Was heartened to visit Universities finally back in operation and where girls, some with painted toenails and smiles, illegal under the Taliban, were studying alongside boys
- Delivered books from Australia to the Nangarhar Women’s p rison and met with prison officials to discuss further opportunities for support
- Was touched by the overwhelming response and acceptance at women’s and children’s health and education seminars conducted by her and her companions
- Saw the positive outcomes of the establishment of poultry farms sponsored by an American Rotary Club
- Stayed in Osama Bin Laden’s former Kabul home (he wasn’t there)!
Beneath The Pale Blue Burqa is an inspiring story and sheds light on the struggles faced by the Afghan people, particularly women and children.
Foreword By His Excellency Dr. Amanullah Jayhoon, Ambassador for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to Australia
Beneath the Pale Blue Burqa strikes back the shocking, disturbing and graphic image of the young Afghan woman in the middle of Ghazi stadium, executed by the Taliban Regime; however, no one knows her sin and no one heard her last wish. Though she was given the name Zarmina, even I am not sure it is her real name. Since then the Taliban has been removed from power and the Ghazi stadium is no more a place for execution but the journey to restore the rights and respect for Afghan women is sadly still a long way off. There are thousands of women like Zarmina who remain captive to their destiny. They are caught in the legacy of three decades of violence which has inflicted severe pain, hardship and suffering to every citizen of this once peaceful country, particularly the women.
Women have suffered as a mother while her son or daughter was killed in cold blood in front of her. Women have suffered as a wife when her husband was taken away by the warlords and she suffered as a sister when her brothers did not return from the front. My own Mother-in-Law suffers in this way still. Her husband was taken by the Communist regime in 1977. She continues to wait for news of him all these years later. She has no grave to visit. All she has is the memory that he was taken away and that he has not returned. This is a tragic but familiar story in Afghanistan. As familiar as the young women like Zarmina, who Beneath the Pale Blue Burqa, were killed in cold blood.
All of our lives have been touched by hardships and sorrow but we have learned not to give up. Atrocities come and go and world leaders promise that we will never allow human beings to ever suffer again in such ways. But the world seems to have a short memory at times. The world forgets women like Zarmina, women like my Mother-in- Law and the thousands who perished in the tragedy of 9/11. Women are left without husbands, and mothers without sons. We owe it to them to never forget and we must not be afraid to remember.
Kay Danes and her husband and many others in the world are trying to ensure an enduring peaceful environment in Afghanistan. They realise the importance of helping us provide an investment in the future of our future generations. They are helping so that Afghanistan will not roll back to the dark age of the Taliban. Childhood and youth are a treasure to any nation since the destiny of the country depends on them. The new generation can in time be the powerful pillars of society, and possibly the salvation of humanity.
As it is emphasised by Kay, it is high time we realise that young people in Afghanistan need to believe in a moral code, strong values, knowledge, health and wisdom. Thus government, leaders and parents have a moral duty to provide the education, nutrition, love, and a promising future for the Children and Youth so that they might look forward to a happy, meaningful and rewarding life.
Kay, despite DFAT’s travel advisories that frightens people to take the adventure of going to a war zone, accepts the risk to fly to Afghanistan and walk the streets of Kabul, Jalalabad and Herat to find the facts about the plight of the Afghan women and children. Afghanistan, despite being dangerous is, as Kay says, an amazing place. Very few people get an opportunity to do what she did. She did not go to ski, though skiing in Afghanistan is fantastic the slopes are dangerous. She took to the roads, walked the streets, visited schools and prisons and produced a beautifully written interesting, informative and insightful book – Beneath the Pale Blue Burqa. She did not use the painful and tragic existence of the Afghan women as snapshot photography of a passerby. She shared their tragedy and has lived that tragedy earlier when she was captive in a prison in Laos.
This book is a journey of a brave woman in a war zone and her experiences are heartfelt. When you read the first page you will be tempted as I was to finish the entire book. You will see my country through the eyes of one foreign woman who now has the dust of Afghanistan in her veins. Thank you for being brave enough to visit my country Kay, and to share your journey with us. Yours is an important contribution that will enable others a rare glimpse of places they may never visit and of people they may never meet.
So true is the saying that; if you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your path. Clearly you have shown through your writing that the Land of the Afghan is still a beautiful, promising country enriched with wonderfully fascinating people, despite all of its current shortcomings.
‘It’s a shame so much reporting is done on Afghanistan and so little of it is from the Afghans’ point-of-view. Thank God for brave people like Kay Danes who dare to venture beyond the safe zones to tell the stories of those who matter most in Afghanistan’ – Josh Rushing co-host Al Jazeera’s Fault Lines Series, bestselling author Mission Al-Jazeera
‘A brave book written by a brave woman, but it is the courage of the Afghan women in the face of so many social atrocities that tugs at the heart and makes one reflect on the many aspects of the desperate situation that exists in that country. Nothing brings it home more than the words of those that are living the nightmare. Kay brings the confronting issue of what is happening to the Afghan people, and most particularly to its women, well and truly to the fore in a way that’s not been done before. A very thought provoking book’ – Yasmine Grey, Director, Gray Media Services
“In a country with few paved roads, a dirt poor, illiterate population blighted with poverty, disease, and violence, it is rare to find foreign reporters who will work outside the safe bubble of Kabul. As a result, Afghanistan’s people, culture, and traditions remain unknown to the world, or reduced to crude stereotypes. Kay Danes is one the few internationals who are determined to make a difference and brave enough to go outside the international “security bubble” to see for herself how the ordinary Afghans are fairing in post Taliban Afghanistan. She brings us back a delightful, informative story with wit, charm, a little humour and a lot of important information. One can only hope there are more people like her setting their sights on making a difference in difficult lands like Afghanistan.” – Tim Lynch, Vigilant Strategic Service Afghanistan.
University of NSW (September 2010)
In this optimistic, simply written book, Australian woman Kay Danes provides a rare glimpse of the Afghanistan beyond Kabul and the insurgencies and corruption that dominate international news. Just a few years after being held hostage in Laos, where she endured torture, mock executions and other abuses, Danes set off on a humanitarian mission to bring aid to people surviving in Afghan villages, hospitals and prisons. This book is her personal day-to-day account of her time in the image that we get of dusty war-torn Afghanistan through Danes fresh, hopeful eyes. Through Danes, the reader meets a teacher who daily risks her life to volunteer in her local girls school, nurses who spend their meagre pay on food to feed their inpatients, an American man determined to bring the ‘Cyber Pass’ internet to rural communities and a young man who has been cheerfully running an entire centre in Herat for people with disabilities from his wheelchair, ever since a Soviet bullet left him paralysed. As a light, hopeful read, Danes has written a good book for those wanting an accessible glimpse of Afghanistan beyond the headlines.
Sally Shrubb is a bookseller at the UNSW Bookshop.
Pre-Order online: Book released 18 October 2010: http://www.bigskypublishing.com.au/bookview.php?iid=172&vt=B
Book reviews (including radio interviews): here
More media at the ‘media link’.
Part 1 of Humanitarian Mission 2008
Part 2 of Humanitarian mission 2008
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