After reading No More Mulberries, by Author Mary Smith, I wanted to get to know the central character, Miriam, better by interviewing her. 🙂
Set in Afghanistan, British-born Miriam finds her marriage to her Afghan doctor husband heading towards crisis. She has to journey into her past to understand how unresolved issues are damaging her relationship. It is a story of commitment and divided loyalties, of love and loss, set against a country struggling through transition.
My interview with Miriam, told by Author Mary Smith, is as follows:
(Her comments are in bold print)
“Hello April. First off, I want to say how delighted I am to have the chance of doing this interview with you. Usually, people interview the author asking all sorts of questions about how she developed Miriam’s character, if she is based on a real person, where her ideas come from. She (Mary Smith, the author) has even been asked to write a ‘day in the life’ piece about me but no one has ever asked to interview me, Miriam, central character in No More Mulberries. It’s very exciting!”
“Hi Miriam! Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed! I am excited too!”
“I know she thinks she ‘invented’ me but actually I was there inside her head all along. Took me ages to get her to hear my voice. Even now, when it’s my turn to be interviewed I have to be very firm with her or she wouldn’t answer your questions properly – not the way I want to answer you.”
“Yes, I understand that. I’m happy to get YOUR answers! I’m curious, and pardon me for being so bold by asking, but how did you feel when your husband cancelled your teaching lessons without consulting with you first? Was it that moment that you realized ‘you weren’t in Kansas’ (or in your case, Scotland) anymore?”
“No. Remember I had been living in Afghanistan for several years and had already got over most of the ‘not in Kansas’ moments. When Iqbal cancelled my teaching lessons with the boys it really made me realize how much he had changed from the man I married. The old Iqbal, the man who had courted me in Pakistan and who had been so openly loving towards me and full of fun seemed to have disappeared. I couldn’t understand why he had changed and Iqbal, being Iqbal wouldn’t talk about what was wrong. I felt our marriage was heading towards a crisis – and I didn’t know what to do about it.”
“Oh yes, I forgot that you had been living in Afghanistan for a little bit before that incident happened. Thank you for your honesty, Miriam. Was getting married to your second husband, Iqbal, the right thing for you, for your family, or both? Do you have any regrets?”
“I desperately wanted my son, Farid, to grow up in Afghanistan, in his father’s culture. I felt that was the best for him. I thought it might somehow lessen the pain of losing his father and keep his memory alive – of course he was really too young to remember his father. So I felt marrying Iqbal was the right thing for my son.”
“And that’s what she (author Mary Smith) explains in No More Mulberries but there is a bit more to it – and clever of you for maybe guessing so. I have to admit I always felt a bit of a misfit in my own country and culture. I was shy and had very little confidence or self-esteem, probably because of my mother’s attitudes and values, which were not mine. When I went to Afghanistan I felt for the first time in my life that I fit in. People were incredibly welcoming and accepting. Perhaps, if I’m really honest, being a foreigner in Afghanistan, and being offered such warm friendships, gave me a degree of self-esteem and self-confidence. I thought marrying Iqbal was the right thing to do for my son – but also for me.”
“Do I have regrets? Well, there were times when I wondered if I had made the wrong decision – but no, no regrets.”
“Miriam, I’m happy to hear that you ‘fit in’ and feel comfortable. I imagine it must have been difficult at first as a foreigner. What keeps you in Afghanistan?”
“There is something about the country which buries deep under the skin and never leaves you.”
“Of course, I did leave Afghanistan. By the end of No More Mulberries, Taliban had taken control of most of the country. It was a terrible time, especially for women and for the Hazara people. We left then and came to Pakistan to work and to wait. Jawad’s family had managed to escape as well so they were safe in Pakistan but thousands of Hazara people were massacred (she’s written a little bit about it in her non-fiction book Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women).”
“She stopped writing my story when I came to Pakistan. I keep grumbling at her to get on with the next part of it – what we did in Pakistan, what we did when Taliban were defeated. Did we manage to return to Afghanistan? She’s so slow!”
“Oh, Miriam… I would love to read about what happened when you came to Pakistan. and the defeat of the Taliban. I hope your story continues! I am such a big fan of you, and I think No More Mulberries is a novel worthy of a series!”
“I am curious about your daughter, Ruckshana. Will she be able to get an education in the future?”
“While we were in ‘exile’ in Pakistan, Ruckshana was able to go to school. At that time, in Afghanistan, it would have been impossible because Taliban did not allow girls to go to school. But, when Taliban were defeated, schools for girls re-opened and they could go on to university. Iqbal always wanted Ruckshana to be a doctor but she had other ideas and wanted to become an engineer. Iqbal says she gets her stubborn streak from me! Guess who won the argument about Ruckshana’s career choice?”
“I really wish she (author) would get a move on and write the next book. I so want people to read about what Afghanistan is like today – it is not how they see it on their televisions.”
“She aspires to be an engineer?! WOW!!! Awesome! And hahaha, I would have loved to overhear your conversation with your husband over Ruckshana’s future career choice.” 🙂
“Miriam, what was so special about your first husband Jawad? Was he the ‘super-being’ you made him out to be?”
“April, you are making me squirm a bit here. Jawad was special in so many ways. We were meant for each other. He made me feel safe – even while taking me to live in potentially one of the most dangerous countries in the world (at that time – there are far more dangerous places now). He made me feel loved in a way I’d never before experienced. But, no, he was not the ‘super-being’ I built him up to be after his death. He was a wonderful man and I am so grateful he came into my life but he was human and humans are not perfect.
Maybe it was the circumstances of his death and the fact I was so far away when it happened that I built him up into a ‘super-being’ – something I came to regret when I understood how damaging this was to both my second marriage and to Farid, my son.”
“This may be a difficult question for you to answer, but if Jawad hadn’t been killed, how would your life be different?”
“I really can’t answer that. Perhaps we would have stayed where we were, doing the work we were doing but I wonder, now, if that would have been enough for him, for both of us. I don’t know. Part of me feels Jawad’s death was inevitable. And if he hadn’t been killed, I wouldn’t have married Iqbal and had my gorgeous daughter Ruckshana and my son, Daud.”
“Yes, that is true…
“What do you enjoy more, medical work, or teaching?”
“I enjoy my medical work most, especially when I can combine it with teaching women about health care for themselves and their children. That, for me is the most rewarding. I enjoyed teaching English to the boys in the village but it was less important to me (don’t tell Iqbal I said that) and done in response to their request for lessons.”
“Hehehe, I won’t tell Iqbal! Let’s just hope he doesn’t catch wind of this interview!” 😉
“Speaking of your medical work, how did it feel to defy your husband, and go with Dr Jeanine for work at the medical teaching camp? Were you scared, excited or both?”
“Both! For one thing Dr Jeanine was a pretty scary lady. Mainly, though, I was excited by the opportunity to meet up with the other paramedics, some of whom I already knew – and being away from Iqbal and the problems we were facing. I really hoped having that space might help me understand why things were going wrong between us. Also, Farid had gone to visit his grandparents so it was good to have something to take my mind of worrying about him. But, I was scared my defiance might make Iqbal decide our marriage wasn’t worth saving. At least when I was at the teaching camp we were so busy I hardly had time to worry about anything. And then along came Ismail, a link with Jawad, and things became more scary and confusing!”
“Oh I know it! I was afraid of the repercussions, for you. I was worried about what you may have returned to when you got home. I must say, I am so proud of you for going! You really made a difference!
“I have to ask, how would you feel if your husband took a second wife, like other men in your village?”
“I’d be devastated! I’m glad to say that I know Iqbal never would (despite a little wobble of doubt at one point). The majority of Afghan men don’t take second wives but some do, for a variety of reasons. It may be that the first wife failed to conceive. Sometimes a man might marry his dead brother’s widow. In Islam, the brother has a duty to protect and look after his widowed sister-in-law and sometimes this results in marriage, especially if it is to keep land in the family. Jawad’s brother offered to marry me! I have to say, I have seen it working out – and I’ve seen it cause misery.”
“Miriam, did you ever learn to milk a goat?” 🙂
“No – I never did learn to milk a goat! They are very uncooperative creatures. Nor could I manage to embroider like the women could, nor spin wool properly. I know my inability to carry out the most basic of things Afghan women can do did sometimes make them wonder about the value of ‘education’.”
“Again, April, thank you for allowing me this opportunity to hold forth with my point of view, regardless of what she, the author, might think of my answers. Lots of readers have asked about a sequel to No More Mulberries and if I had my way there would be one – but she is so slow about getting on with it I fear I might be a grandmother before she gets it written.”
Hahaha! Gosh, I hope it won’t be that long! But if so, all the more stories about you will be included! 🙂 Thank you Miriam for your honesty and candor. I have a better knowledge of you now, and so will other readers of No More Mulberries!
About the Author of No More Mulberries
“Mary Smith has always loved writing. As a child she wrote stories in homemade books made from wallpaper trimmings – but she never thought people could grow up and become real writers. She spent a year working in a bank, which she hated – all numbers, very few words – ten years with Oxfam in the UK, followed by ten years working in Pakistan and Afghanistan. She longed to allow others to share her amazing, life-changing experiences so she wrote about them – fiction, non-fiction, poetry and journalism. And she discovered the little girl who wrote stories had become a real writer after all.
Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women is an account of her time in Afghanistan and her debut novel No More Mulberries is also set in Afghanistan.
Mary lives in beautiful south west Scotland and is currently working, with award-winning photographer Phil McMenemy, on an illustrated book on the town of Dumfries.” –Amazon Author Bio
Mary loves interacting with her readers and her website is http://www.marysmith.co.uk.
***The above photos, with the exception of the book cover for No More Mulberries, were found using Google search. I do not own any of these images. No copyright infringement intended. If you own anything and would like it to be credited or removed, contact me and I will gladly oblige.