When I was five years old, I started attending elementary school at Rabai Balkhi School in Bamyan, and it has been my desire since childhood to graduate from an excellent university and become an ambassador. However, this has not been easy to achieve because of the obstacles that entered my life as a young girl in Afghanistan.
At almost the end of my second year of elementary school, war came and turned people’s normal lives to miserable ones. The schools were closed and people shut down their businesses and left their houses to go to the mountain and hide in caves. I’ll never forget that dark day when three rockets were fired close to our school. Students were screaming and crying and hid in the corners of the classrooms. It usually took me three hours to walk home with my older sister, but on that day, we ran the whole way home. That turned out to be my last day of school, since I had to go with my family to hide in a cave. I was six years old and did not really understand what was happening, but was too terrified to leave the cave.
I often asked my mom when I could return to school, but she told me all the schools were closed and some had burned down. She added that I would not be able to go to school again. The day she said this, I was so sad. I often imagined those days when I was with my teachers and friends. Even though my mom said it wouldn’t happen, I prayed that I could go back to school. I counted the hours, days, and months. But as the situation grew worse, I forgot about school and life as it had been. I had to adjust to this miserable existence as my normal life.
I remember the Taliban were searching houses ten times a day with different groups to find a book, cassette, picture, TV, or video game. If they found any of these, they shot the whole family. After we returned home, my mom burned books that my older sister and brother had collected over many years. She burned most of the books in our mud-brick oven, then threw the rest away in sacks very far from the house so the Taliban would not know they were ours. My heart was broken and I was at a loss. Before this, at least I had my little notebooks, my books, my pencil, and my little drawing notebook with me. After that day, we did not have a single book or notebook in our house to write in or to read. I became so disappointed. I did not see a bright future for myself, my siblings, or my friends.
Thousands of innocent people were killed in Bamyan during the Taliban regime just because they were Hazara (an ethnic group). I remember the Taliban threatened to kill my father and uncle in front of us because they were Hazara, so we all screamed and cried. Fortunately, the Taliban did not kill them—just took them to jail. When my dad was released, we had to move even further into the mountains. This became the most horrible period of my life. We spent days walking around without food. If we could reach a stream, we would drink water, but if there were no streams then we starved and went thirsty too. We walked the whole way—almost 200 kilometers—from Bamyan to get to Kabul.
When we arrived in Kabul, we found a two-room mud-brick house. To pay for the house and to find food, all my siblings and I started to work. I wove carpets for four years and forgot everything about studying or getting an education. We were stuck at home, and never allowed to go outside. When the Taliban were removed from power in Afghanistan after almost five years, most of the schools eventually reopened. My siblings returned to school, but I did not, because I was so afraid of everyone, still thinking that Taliban were close.
Even though my Mom wanted me to go back to school, I had given up ever achieving my goals. I kept asking her, “Why should I go to school?” and, “What is school?” I refused to go back for almost two months, until my mom forced me to go.
“There is no Talib in Afghanistan anymore and nobody to hurt students or burn the schools,” she said. “I want you to be an educated, bright, strong, and wise girl in the future. So it is never too late for you to start your school again.” My mom could always convince me, so I finally returned to school, though I did not a have a single memory about my old classes or the education I lost in the second grade. I could not even write my own name and did not know the Persian letters.
I started in the fourth grade, and was happy that my mom encouraged me to go back to school. I worked very hard in my classes and could read and write again after one year. My favorite subjects were math and history; whenever I had history class, it was like somebody telling me a story and I could remember all the parts of every story. This time I was much more serious about my plans for finishing my education. But I could not ever fully believe that the Taliban were gone and I could go to school again. I knew that life is never the same. But I also began to believe that challenges and barriers make a person strong and brave. You never know if what happens in your life is for your good or bad.
I finished elementary school in Kabul and then my family moved back to Bamyan. I studied until the eleventh grade in Bamyan, when I got a full year of scholarship to study in America during my senior year. I graduated from Pleasantville High School in Iowa in May 2008. I also attended many beneficial conferences in the community of Iowa and sometimes outside of Iowa. This single year made me stronger and more serious about my education, because I saw how much people care about having a high level of education and knowledge, and I saw that girls go to colleges and universities. But it was just the first step to achieve my goals.
When I returned from the States I entered the American University of Afghanistan. I was so glad to finish my university there, but unfortunately there was no scholarship for me after three semesters because it is a private university and everyone must pay a significant amount of money in order to study there. My family could not support me so I had to leave the university. The day I left American University, I cried a lot and was so depressed because I did not know what to do next in order to continue my education. Even though I was so disappointed, I decided not to give up.
I came to Kabul and began working as a finance manager and got a job from an American who is helping me. In addition to my job, I attend online math and ESL classes and some other TOEFL prep classes. After all the obstacles in my life, I believe in myself. During the Taliban regime, I did not think I would return to school, but now I believe I will find the opportunity to continue my education, as it happened in my life once before. I totally believe that there will be colorful days after black nights.
photo of destruction of the Buddhas of Bamyan: CNN