mother and daughter[Author’s note: This is a story a mother told me. As she spoke, tears were raining from her eyes and I, too, could not control my tears. Many Afghans have similar stories.]

Once, there were six of us in my family: me, my husband, our two sons and our two daughters. We had a simple life but full of love. My husband worked at the Ministry of Energy and Water. I taught elementary school. My oldest son was in his second year at the university, studying civil engineering. My younger son was in primary school. My oldest daughter was in elementary school and my youngest daughter was too young for school.

Early one morning as I was coming home from the bakery, I saw men knocking at our door. I approached and asked: “Do you need someone?”

They said: “Yes, we need Sharif Khan,” who is my husband.

I went inside the house and called to my husband: “Some men need you.” I stood behind the front door as my husband talked to them. They asked him where our oldest son was. My husband told them he was at the university taking his exams. Without saying anything, these men took my husband.

It was Communist period, when officials ordered the arrests of well-known and powerful people so those people couldn’t take authority from them. I couldn’t do anything to find my husband or my son because conditions in our country were difficult. I was also afraid they might arrest others in my family, so I told my children, “Your father and your brother are outside the city.” I kept telling them that until they grew up.

Many years passed and we waited for my husband and son to return home, but they didn’t and we did not hear from them. I remained with my three children and continued my life, but I never stopped hoping they would return home. I went to my job and my two children went to school. I left my youngest daughter with a neighbor during the day.

I lived my life like this until war came to Kabul. Day by day, the situation in Kabul got worse. During the war, my younger son got hurt and I could not rescue him. I lost him. Then there was just me and my two daughters left. I couldn’t continue at my job, and my oldest daughter could not go to school because all the schools were closed. All the teachers and students remained at home. Our life was going bad. We didn’t have anything to eat.

All of our neighbors migrated from Kabul to Pakistan and Iran. I did not know what I should do. Just one family remained on our street. Finally, they were going to Pakistan too, so I went to their home and said I wanted to go with them. “I can’t remain alone in this street with my daughters.” They agreed. We left Kabul in the dark of night. It took us two days and two nights to reach Pakistan. I remember how hungry we were as we crossed the mountains.

When we arrived in Pakistan, I did not know what to do. I couldn’t find a job right away. But I rented a house and finally found a job. After that, our lives became a little better. I registered my daughters in school. I wanted them to prepare themselves for the future. We lived simply.

After many years, we returned to our homeland. Everywhere was desolate. But we didn’t lose hope. We just prayed to Allah that my daughters would pass the university examination. One was accepted into the Faculty of Science and the other was accepted in the Faculty of English Literature. I thank Allah that now my daughters can serve the people of Afghanistan.

But every day, I still wait for my husband and my oldest son. Every day, my eyes are still on the door, hoping that they will return. Twenty-three years have passed like this, and I still don’t know what happened to them, if they are dead or alive. I pray to Allah to give me patience.

By Sabira