Depressed, despondent, powerless. That was how I felt during the worst phase, the first two months following the Taliban’s takeover of power. Admittedly, I am still not very hopeful. But I try to motivate myself and lift my own spirits. And yes, I am again feeling more energetic than in the autumn. Back then, there was only shock, anger, chaos and fear. Great fear of what could happen next.
The Taliban takeover of power was not entirely surprising. We knew that it could happen. And we women have been constantly aware in recent years that we could not take our freedoms for granted, that our rights could be curtailed at any time. For that very reason, most girls went to school with great drive and motivation, and most women were passionate about going to work. Then, with the return of the Taliban in August, it was women in particular whose prospects were all taken away in one fell swoop.
Mood of fear, sorrow and anger
I had taken my nieces to the kindergarten on the morning of the day when it all started again. Like most people in Kabul, I live together with a large family in one house: with my mother, two brothers, a sister-in-law, three nieces and a nephew. The girls are between five and seven years old. So I took them to the kindergarten, which is about 10 minutes from our house in downtown Kabul. There was a strange atmosphere in the streets, but I still had no idea what was happening.
On the way back I tried to withdraw some money, which I was to take to my mother who was in hospital with a serious COVID infection. But nothing came out of the ATM. So I went on home. And there I heard the news that they had reached the outskirts of Kabul, that they had come and released the prisoners. That created fear and panic among the population, which soon gave rise to enormous traffic chaos. I just about managed to have my nieces picked up from the kindergarten. Luckily. Suddenly a mood of fear hung over the city. We knew from past experience what was to be expected of the Taliban.
During the first month we only stayed at home, we wept often or talked about who could flee, how, and where to. The evacuations were chaotic, and in one go, many, many people lost their jobs – former government employees and some NGO workers, of whom there were many in Kabul. Many teachers too lost their jobs. With girls no longer allowed to attend school as from the seventh grade, teachers were therefore no longer needed. No one felt safe, we did not even know whether we could go out into the street, or how to dress to do so.
My birthday was a month after the takeover of power, I turned 41. That was the very first time that we ventured out again. It felt strange – somehow normal, but not the same as before. Practically all my family members have lost their jobs. One of my cousins still works as a doctor, but she must now do so in very conservative clothing, and her salary has been docked by a third. I am the family's main breadwinner. And we don't know how much longer that can continue. Things are getting harder every day in Afghanistan, and millions of people lack food and fuel for the days ahead.
Life has become a struggle
As a woman I can move about in public with a head covering, the way I wore it in the past. Again I am taking my nieces to the kindergarten and sometimes I accompany them to the playground. And yet, life is no longer life, it has become a struggle. We have no prospects, we struggle to survive. A few weeks ago a young woman was shot, at a checkpoint, just like that, from behind, for no reason. That is alarming and extremely destabilising. Why are they doing that? Who will be next?
Twice now on the street I have seen Taliban groups falling out and going after one another, even opening fire. We hear of executions, just because someone has made the wrong comment on Facebook. And we are wondering why countries like Norway or Switzerland still invited the Taliban to talks in January. Some feel abandoned by the whole world. Why doesn't the world see that these are terrorists? What do people out there even know about our plight? I am not judging anyone. But I see that outsiders cannot really form a picture of our situation. Shops and restaurants are closing, as they are no longer profitable, there is enormous hardship, and the outlook is gloomy. Everyone is suffering. And we don't know if and when things will improve.
It does good to talk things over in the family
I might have been able to leave the country at the very beginning, as I hold a Canadian passport. But that was out of the question for me, as I did not wish to abandon my family; I would not have survived that. But I do understand all those who have fled. We too are considering whether we can still leave the country somehow, to go to Turkey, for instance. But only as a family, we are leaving no one back here!
And while I'm here, let me add that I would actually be teaching English. I have in fact decided to offer online classes to female relatives who are interested. One cousin logs on from Iran and another from London, having fled to those places with their families; other female family members in Kabul also participate. They want to learn English, and not remain passive. There are many women in Afghanistan who are engaged in one way or another in resisting the regime. We will not give up.
Of course, we hope that international pressure will deter them from taking everything away from us women; that universities and schools everywhere will reopen in March, as they have promised. I am not very optimistic, however. I am motivated, above all, by my nieces. Every morning when I see them, I try my best to make them smile. When I see that they are happy, it makes me happy in turn. That gives me a lot of strength. Besides, in the family we are constantly talking about and discussing the situation here. That does good. We trust and support one another. And no one or anything will be able to destroy that.
The name of the narrator is not mentioned here for security reasons. This text was written in February 2022.