Jennifer Musa was a seriously tough old lady. This Irish battleaxe of a woman not only looks she could have been Clint Eastwood's grandmother, it's entirely believable that she was also the sort of person who might have flipped over a card table and beaten you to death with a broken-off chair leg if she'd thought for a second that you were cheating during your weekly bridge game. While the above image alone might be enough to warrant a mutter of "damn that lady looks pretty badass", what's even more hardcore than her ferocious, imposing stare is the fact that this take-no-bullshit old lady was well-known throughout the lawless deserts of Central Asia as "The Irish Queen of Balochistan", and earned a name for herself by making sure everybody in Central Asia knew that she was the toughest motherfucker in town. Now there's a hell of a title.
The Future Queen of Balochistan was inauspiciously born in County Kerry, Ireland, in 1911. Like any good Irish Catholic worthy of her rosary, this young farmgirl was one of about a hundred kids, though life in a packed-out farmhouse wasn't exactly what she had in mind for a career path. Instead, she moved to Oxford, where she trained to be a nurse. This is where things take an interesting turn.
While living in Oxford, Jennifer met and fell in love with a Philosophy student named Qasi Musi. Qasi's father, incidentally, just so happened to be a pretty badass Afghan war leader who had led a successful cavalry charge against the British during the Battle of Maiwand in 1880. After the Second Anglo-Afghan War, the Brits decided they didn't like the idea of this saber-swinging maniac busting English asses all over Central Asia, so they expelled him from his tribal homeland in Kandahar. Qasi's dad moved across the mountains to a region called Balochistan, which sounds like a made-up place, but is actually a province in present-day Pakistan. As a proven badass, is was easy for this guy to establish himself as a local tribal authority.
This is Balochistan.
Jennifer and Qasi got married, and in 1948 (just a few months after Pakistan earned its independence from Britain), they moved to Balochistan, bought a 110 year-old mud hut in the town of Pishin, and immediately started decorating it with badass shit like giant-ass swords and pelts from white tigers they had presumably killed with the afore-mentioned giant-ass swords.
Right off the bat, Jennifer Musa's arrival in Pishin was kind of like a kick in the teeth to the local population. Here was this ancient tribal culture that believed pretty strongly in Purdah, the religious belief that women were not allowed to be seen by men in public, and then their entire system was curbstomped by the arrival of this hot-tempered mouthy Irish broad who refused to wear the burka, pounded shots of Bailey's Irish Cream, and didn't take shit from anyone. Nobody knew what the hell to think. It was so weird that there came a rumor around town was that Jennifer was a British Princess who had been given to Qasi as a gift by the British Royal Family as a reward for the Balochistanian prince killing a wild tiger with his bare hands. This was not the case.
Balochistan is very far away from Ireland.
Jennifer's husband died in an automobile accident in 1956, which is tragic but also kind of morbidly humorous when you consider that the Telegraph article I link to below makes a point of mentioning that Jennifer and Qasi owned the only car in the entire town. With her husband dead and a young child to care for, 39 year-old Jennifer had two options – return home to Ireland, or stay in Balochistan. She opted to stay so that the couple's son could remain with his extended family. And presumably also because being a tribal leader in Balochistan is pretty sweet.
But shit was just getting started for Jennifer Musa. After her husband died, this tough broad stepped in and started kicking metaphorical asses all over the place, getting involved in both local and national politics and ferociously battling to protect the Baloch people she loved and the rights of women who had been oppressed by unfair laws for generations. She joined the Pakistani National Freedom Party, and got elected to the only Balochistanian seat when Pakistan formed its first Parliament in 1970. When President (and noted world leader) Zulfikar Ali Bhutto tried to bully her into ratifying a constitution that Jennifer felt didn't provide enough safeguards for Balochistan to preserve its regional autonomy, she told him he could bite her pasty ass and light up the constitution while doing so. Bhutto was so adamant about wanting the ratification to be unanimous that he even tried to get Jennifer's own brother-in-law to pressure her to sign, but when the Constitution was signed in 1973 Jennifer held the distinction of being the only member of Parliament not to deposit ink onto it. Fuck it – if she didn't agree with that bullshit, she wasn't going to just bow down and go along with it because the leader of her country told her to. That's just how this chick rolled – nothng could break her iron will.
The Musa is not impressed by your puny conventional weapons.
In 1977 a coup by the Pakistani Army overthrew Democracy and dissolved the Parliament, so the now-former-MP returned home to her beloved Balochistan. By this point, everybody in Balochistan had gotten over their cheauve-tastic preconceptions about what women were capable of, and they all pretty much unanimously understood that "Mummy Jennifer" was the Sherriff in town.
Now, I've never really been to rural Pakistan, but I kind of picture this region going down like Fallout with camels. It's miles of hot desert, incredibly poor, ruled by tribal warlords, and even the shepherds out there are packing full-auto assault rifles. Still, despite this harsh, only-the-strong-survive environment, Jennifer Musa proved that she was the woman in charge – local people from farmers to warlords would come to her to help arbitrate disputes and settle arguments, and what she said went. She also continued her work on women's rights, establishing literacy among the local female population, and when men weren't treating their women right she bullied them into acting a little more civilized by cracking them with sticks. The Telegraph piece I referenced earlier mentions an interview with the local police chief, who mentioned that he was scared of her growing up because when he would fuck up she'd drag him around town by his ear until he apologized. By the time that guy was thirty years old and running the police department, you can be damn sure he had nothing but respect for Mummy Jennifer. This mini-fiefdom is even more awesome, when you read that she didn't even really speak the language very well – according to her, "I speak a little Pashto and Urdu, but when I get really angry I go down to English and they understand me." It's like anything else I suppose – badassitude transcends the language barrier.
These are the kinds of guys that came to her for help and advice.
While it's pretty obvious that you didn't fuck with this lady, the Irish Queen of Balochistan also went out of her way to help people whenever she could. During the Baloch revolt in the late 1970s, when local freedom fighters were battling the Pakistani government, she worked with both sides to restore peace in the region. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in the 1980s, she not only took in refugees fleeing the destruction, but used her own money to build an ice factory so that she could produce cold water for the refugees and reliable refrigeration for a region that didn't have much in the way of electricity. Even this guy came to her on one occasion asking for help and advice. Jennifer told Akbar to compromise and work together for a peacible solution, but he decided to revolt anyways, and got blown up for it.
Jennifer remained in Belochistan for six decades, refusing to leave even when the neighboring Afghan province of Khandahar was overrun by Taliban insurgents. She raised her son to become a diplomat (he was served a Pakistan's Ambassador to both the United States and Russia) and fight for what he believed in, and when she died in 2008 at the age of 90, her entire village came out to pay their respects to the Irish Queen of Belochistan.
|"I joined thinking I could do something for Baluchistan and something for women. But you can't liberate women until you liberate men. They expected a woman in a burka. So when I arrived, they were a bit surprised."
ThingsAsian Interview with the Queen of Balochistan
The New York Times
The Daily Times