My aunt’s husband is a businessman who lives in Ghazni and works in Saudi Arabia. He comes home every other year to see his family, and on his way, he stops at our house for lunch. Last year he came during my winter vacation. My mom had not been to Ghazni for a long time so she wanted to go with him to visit everyone, and I planned to go too. I’m from Ghazni. My two aunts live there. My uncle moved to Kabul last year because he wants his kids to go to school in the capital, but he still has a house back there and often takes his kids to Ghazni to visit. My dad did not support our trip, both because of the situation in Ghazni and because my mom has diabetes, so long-distance trips can be hazardous for her health, especially to a place like Ghazni, where you can’t find a doctor even with binoculars.
Ghazni is a nest of the Taliban. People are killed for no reason. School students, university students, athletes, teachers, government officials, and foreigners are in the first row of their blacklist. The Taliban walk around like they own everything. No one can do anything in opposition to their rules and regulations, or even raise their voices against these bullies. Life and death is in their hands so you have two ways: either go with their rules, or die. Women are treated like animals, kept at home to cook, milk the cows, and satisfy their husband’s sexual needs. My cousin told me of a woman who lived in their village and opened a school in her house for kids. When the Taliban found out, they kidnapped her and took her around the village on their bikes. Then they killed her, threw her in front of her house and told everyone not to pick her up, warning anyone who dared go against their order would be treated the same way.
My cousin also told me the Taliban brought two engineers to their house. She looked through a hole in the door and saw they had tied the two poor men’s eyes really tight and beaten them so cruelly that they were bloodied all over, and their clothes were ripped off. They were eating with their eyes blindfolded, and every time one missed his plate, the Taliban would laugh. Because they had been blindfolded for so long, when the Talib uncovered their eyes, they couldn’t see properly. She said one young engineer saw her little daughter and started to cry, saying: “She looks just like my daughter.” Of course, both were killed in the end. Pretty surprising, right? The Taliban get away with all this. They go to people’s houses and eat and drink, and if you ask them to leave, they will empty their rifles into your head.
Returning to my story, my mom and I finally got my dad to agree to let us go to Ghazni. My dad never says no to my mom. We were so happy. Early in the morning, my aunt’s husband, my mother and I left. Bomb blasts had damaged the road in many places and you could even see cars burned to ashes. My mother kept telling me to keep my face covered because she was scared the Taliban were going to sneak into our car by binoculars. It was so funny that I couldn’t even see her eyes the entire way.
We finally reached Ghazni, and were so happy to see my aunt and her daughters. For three or so days, we stayed at her house. We had so much fun. Then my mom decided to go see her other sister who had lost her husband in a bomb blast. It happened when my aunt and her husband were driving home from the marketplace. They ran over a bomb the Taliban had set against American forces. Fortunately my aunt lived, but she still can’t walk properly because of the severe leg injuries she suffered.
My cousin dropped us off where my aunt lives, in an area is called Niaz Qalaa, very well-known for Taliban. My aunt has no man at her house except her two little boys, ages 12 and 6, so for now she is the man of her house. We sat and talked and had fun, and spent the night at her place. In the morning I heard a big BANG which felt like it was inside my ear. There was a ZNNNGGG in my ear for a minute or two. Then it felt like everything grew very silent. My cousin jumped over me toward the roof to see what had happened. A car had run over explosives right in front of their house and all the passengers were killed. My mom started to panic. I knew exactly what was going through her mind. In fact, I was also scared especially when Talibs came in masks to announce that no vehicles could enter or leave the village for a couple of days.
There were many fears and questions in my heart: What if the highways are closed for long? What if the battle between Taliban and Americans start? All around us were Taliban houses. What if they find out about us? They will not let us go; we will be killed right away because I am not only a university student, which is a big sin according to their laws, but I have also been to U.S. (Oh my God), which is a big enough reason for the Taliban to kill one without even listening, and my sister works for Radio Free Europe and all my siblings are working and studying. If they can kill an eight-year-old girl because she was wearing panjabee clothes, what would they do to me? But I never let my feelings show on my face. I was trying to counsel my mom and to make her feel better because she was ill. Her eyes were red and her mouth dry; her face turned pale and she couldn’t even talk. The terror of the first blast had not gone yet when I heard the ear-tearing sound of another bomb blast. My mom jumped up, standing erect, her heartbeat accelerating. I was shivering all over, I couldn’t even hold a cup in my hand, but I still kept telling my mom that everything would be all right.
Suddenly, a thought popped into my mind: the curfew was for cars, not humans. Why didn’t we walk to our uncle’s house? His place was safe and he could drop us off in the capital of Ghazni and we could rent a car and return to Kabul. I took two burqas and gave one to my mom and put on the other myself. I also wore my cousin’s clothes because they were large and loose. The funny part is that because I was wearing sneakers, I looked like a guy under a burqa! They were all laughing and saying I look like the engineer escaping from Taliban.
Finally we said goodbye and left for my uncle’s house a few kilometers away. We were walking in the desert-like lands wearing huge burqas. I had mixed feelings: it was scary, funny, adventurous, and new for me. The sun was shining over our heads. Straight ahead was the only direction I could see through the jaali, the small, cage-like opening of the burqa.
It was so hard to breathe that I used the jaali to breathe through instead of see through. If you saw me walking at that time, you would probably think I was drunk because I walked without seeing anything. My mom was behind me. She kept looking around constantly and telling me to cover myself properly. She didn’t want the Taliban to suspect us. On the way, we walked on the bank of a dry river bed. It was known as a deadly place where the Taliban set explosives against passing U.S. troops. I tried to take the lead because I wanted to be the one to die if we stumbled upon an explosive.
All of a sudden, through the bars of the burqa, I saw a herd of Talib coming toward us on their bikes. I felt like someone dropped a bucket of freezing water on me. My hands were cold; I felt weak in the knees. Wearing black clothes, with long hair, beards and black goggles, they looked like devils. They carried AK-47s and RPGs in their hands, and many different weapons on their shoulders. As they got closer and closer, I felt weaker and weaker. Everything seemed blurry. There is a saying in Pashto—Saa ye pozee ta khatale wa—which means her breath was at her nose. I was a second away from my death; if one wanted to kill me at that moment, all he or she needed to do was to press my nose in between their fingers and I would be dead right away.
My mom ran to me and held my hand tight in hers and said quietly in my ear, “Just keep walking and don’t hesitate and keep your burqa wrapped around you.” I pushed myself forward and tried to walk like I couldn’t see them. My mom pulled me as though dragging a dead body. At least the burqa has this advantage: the Talibs couldn’t see my eyes fixed on them. As they passed, all the dust from their bike tires went straight into my mouth and eyes. One Talib looked straight at me like he was going to pull over and shoot me in the head. His eyes were filled with anger, blood, and death.
Then I heard the sweet, kind voice of my mom: “Thank God they are gone.” I still couldn’t feel my limbs. When I looked up, they were behind us, gradually getting farther and farther away.
My mom and I continued on our journey. As we walked through the villages and narrow valleys, I noticed how people had gotten used to all this fear and dread that they deal with every day. I saw barefoot kids playing with nothing but sand and rocks, but they were still smiling and playing. They had not given up yet. Yet, all I could see in their future was darkness, disaster and war. Growing up in these deadly streets with nothing to eat or wear, they were on a path that ends up turning them into Talibs. When I saw how they looked for a drop of happiness in this ocean of sorrow and pain, I remembered kids in other countries, the little girls sitting in MacDonald’s ordering their favorite burgers, kids in schools and in parks, having fun on roller-coasters and swings. I said to myself: This is the outcome of war. It turns a human being into an animal. And I want to do something to change those children’s future.
We’ve had enough war, enough tears, and we cannot take any more. We want peace and harmony, and no one else can help us reach it. We must work hand to hand for a brighter future for Afghanistan.