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Essay News Poem Review Short Story

2023 | Essay

Men Explain Periods to Me

My essay, Men Explain Periods To Me, published in Los Angeles Review of Books.

My Ugandun friends have an expression, “Joke equals truth,” and it started as a joke. When my edited anthology Period Matters: Menstruation in South Asia was published last year, my sister said to me, “Now every man who’ll ever read your book will know about your first period. Doesn’t that feel weird?” I laughed, but then I realized that, by being open about a subject I felt needed to be discussed more authentically, I’d lost my “privacy” about an intimate bodily experience. I told myself it didn’t really matter since, after all, periods are a normal biological phenomenon. But back then, I had no way of anticipating how men would react to me or my book. And I had yet to realize that, while raising awareness about period poverty may be acceptable, discussing the shame around the female body is still taboo.

My interest in the problems faced by girls during menstruation goes back 20 years, to when I was working in Uganda and first read about how underprivileged girls and women managed their menstrual health. I had not before then heard about girls missing school because of a lack of access to menstrual products, poor sanitation, and inadequate toilet facilities. I was shocked to realize that, while the privileged enjoyed the luxury of choice in menstrual products, the poor had none. After that, it took 10 years for the idea of taking action to ferment and develop into a concrete plan.


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2023 | Review

Review: Rich and Poor People

Review by Mel Ulm of my short story Rich and Poor People, published in Markaz Review. You can read the story at themarkaz.org/rich-and-poor-people-fiction-by-farah-ahamed.

My main purpose today is to let the followers of my blog know of this wonderful story and to keep my records of her work. I reserve such coverage for writers whose talent and insight I greatly value.

I first began to follow the work of Farah Ahamed on April 3, 2015. Today’s story is the fourteenth of her work to be featured on The Reading Life.

The narrator of the story has been working as a maid for twelve years for Ma’am Farida and Mr. Abdul. Now Mr. Abdul has passed away. Farida has become very concerned with the fact that her neighbours feed KFC chicken to crows. Her maid sees this as a “rich person’s problem”…

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2023 | Essay

Khichdi, Operations and Freedom: A Food Essay

Winner of Bound’s Food Essay Contest

I was twelve years old when I first heard the words ‘coup d’etat’.

One Sunday, my mother came into my bedroom at three in the morning and woke me up saying I should move to her room. In her bed, behind a locked door, we could hear noises coming from outside that sounded like loud fireworks, bangs and shots. The telephone lines were dead and there was no power. My mother did not know what was happening and we had no way of contacting anyone.

That weekend my father was away in Kisumu attending the wedding of a family friend. This was unusual, he hardly ever went anywhere without my mother. My younger sister was at my cousin’s place for a sleepover. This too was rare, because she and I always visited our cousins together. My mother, a peacefully sleeping two year old baby sister and I, lay huddled in bed together.

We stayed in this locked bedroom, my mother only venturing downstairs to get us some breakfast, until noon, when the radio crackled to life…


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2023 | Short Story

Mary the Mchawi

My short story, Mary the Mchawi, has been published by The Los Angeles Review. Click the link to read the full story.

We in this house know our place. We never pry, ask unnecessary questions or poke our noses into our boss’s affairs. Occasionally, however, we admit, we gossip. Of course, we keep an eagle eye on anyone new who joins the house.  We work here and live in the DSQ, or Domestic Servants Quarters.

We want to tell you about Mary. She was the new cook and came at the beginning of March when the old cook sent Ma’am a message to say he wasn’t coming back. He didn’t offer any explanation and Ma’am said she’d been left in the lurch yet again. She grumbles, but we’ve been with the house for more than ten years and she knows we are faithful.

Before we had a chance to ask our relatives and friends if they wanted the old cook’s job, Mary showed up. She appeared one morning at the gate wearing an orange dress with purple flowers. When the guard asked her what she wanted, she said she had appointment with Ma’am. He let her in and we watched her walking to the kitchen door with slow, steady steps. The rucksack on her back looked heavy, which struck us as strange. What on earth was she carrying in that bag?


2023 | Essay

No Place for Women

My essay No Place for Women published in World Literature Today.

For the past few years I’ve been living in Lahore. Like they have for many, the brave women-led Iranian protests have made me reflect on the rights of women and the price we pay for freedom and justice. With this in mind, I decided to visit the Lahore High Courts to see what it was like for women living here.

So as to remain inconspicuous, a friend suggested I dress like a lawyer in a white salwar kameez and black coat. As I got ready that morning, I recalled the last time I’d been in a courtroom was over twenty years ago while working as a lawyer in Kenya.

As we drove through the streets of Lahore, the December sky was a cloudless, dull gray, there was heavy smog, and the roads were jammed with traffic. Pigeons sat like guardians on the electricity wires crisscrossing the city. A man with a basket at the roundabout shouted in a raucous voice for passers-by to buy his boiled eggs.

The iconic red-brick High Court building sits in the shadow of Anarkali and the general post office on Mall Road and was built in 1889 by the British in Indo-Saracenic style. The main materials used in its construction were brick masonry, kankar-lime mortar, Nowshera pink marble, and terracotta jaali. It is an imposing building, signaling the weight and might of the law.

I made my way through the tall gates to the main courtyard and found a well-landscaped compound; tall, leafy trees and walkways lined with flowers and low bushes. But despite the greenery, the atmosphere was taut; a mood of expectation tinged with a premonition of disappointment. The place had a strange energy—a feeling of paralysis and listlessness, on one hand, and a preying, animalistic aggression on the other….


2023 | Short Story

Rich and Poor People

My short story Rich and Poor People published The Markaz Review.

Rich people have no idea what it’s like to be poor.


When you’re poor, you’re used to people dropping dead like flies and spending half your salary every month on funerals. Being poor means you’ll die young, because if you’re ill, you won’t have a car to take you to the hospital. And if by some luck you get there by bus, you’ll have to sit on the cold floor in the hospital corridor and wait for hours. And when the nurse finally takes you in, there’ll be no bed, medicine, or doctor. If you survive, your baby might die. If you hit your chest and cry, everyone will say it was God’s will, and if He took away your child, maybe one day He’ll give you a chance to change your destiny and know what it’s like to live like the rich.

Rich people have the luxury to mourn. They make a fuss about every death as if it were not a daily occurrence. Take Ma’am Farida and Mr. Abdul. I’ve been working for them for twelve years now. Last month Mr. Abdul died of a heart attack, and now Ma’am Farida is heartbroken. Every morning she opens the sliding doors to the balcony and looks at the apartment directly across the way. If you asked her why she was so interested in the neighbors, she’d tell you she didn’t care about them — it was what they were feeding the crows that bothered her. That’s another trait of the rich: They’re not interested in the poor, but more worried about the birds starving…


2023 | News

Hot Mango Chutney Sauce

I’m delighted that my short story, Hot Mango Chutney Sauce, has been published by The Dream Machine.

It was only yesterday when the last girl, Maryam, took her turn with paracetamols and cheap alcohol. A few weeks earlier, Zainab had done the same, but Laila, who had followed Hafsa, had slit her wrists. When the police took us in for questioning, we said we were ready to cooperate. We even offered to share our photographs. After all, who better than us could explain what happened to the girls? We sit in the row of kiosks on the left side of the car park as you face the front of the shrine. The tasbihs and Ajrak scarves hanging on the frames of our windows provide a curtain from behind which we observed the events as they unfolded in the shrine compound…


2022 | Essay

No Time To Sleep

My essay, No Time To Sleep: a theatre experience, has been published by Memoir Monday.

Memoir Monday is a weekly newsletter featuring the best personal essays from around the web, in collaboration with a wide range of publications including: Narratively, The Rumpus, Catapult, Granta, Guernica, Oldster Magazine, Literary Hub, and Orion Magazine.

In 2019, according to Amnesty, there were at least 2,307 deaths from capital punishment and 27,000 facing the death sentence in 56 countries. This number is considered to be artificially low because of the unavailability of reliable information. 60% of the world’s population live in states where capital punishment is legal.

No Time to Sleep, is a twenty four hour live performance in the shoes of a dead man, showing acting at its most powerful. I watched it two years ago when I was in Lahore, but even now, I often wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it. The play is based on the final hours of Prisoner Z or Dr Zulfiqar Ali Khan, a person, charged with murder in Pakistan. Even though his lawyers argued that Zulfiqar had acted purely out of self-defence during an armed robbery he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Zulfiqar spent seventeen years incarcerated, and seven years on the death-row during which time his execution was scheduled and halted more than twenty times. He was executed in 2015…


2022 | Review

Anarkali, or Six Early Deaths in Lahore

A review by Mel Ulm of my short story, Anarkali, or Six Early Deaths in Lahore. Published in The Reading Life.

I have been closely following the work of Farah Ahamed since April 15, 2015.  Anarkali, or Six Deaths in Lahore is set in contemporary Lagore, the capital of Pakistan. This marvellous story focuses on how six connected people die as a result of the corruption and deeply embedded cultural and religious prejudices in Pakistan…


2022 | News

Shortlisted, Bridport Short Story Prize

I am very pleased to have been shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize, for my story Just a Name.