Before the Taliban regime, I had attended the university and it was the best time of my life. But after the Taliban came into control, I was forced to stay home for five years. I will never forget this long, dark period in my life. Up until then I had known no sorrow or difficulty, but the regime changed everything for women and deprived us of all of our rights, even to live as human beings.

Since I was a child, it was my dream to be a writer.  I wanted to study literature at the university.  Now, I just stayed at home, depressed, with no hobbies. There didn’t seem to be anything to write about.  I didn’t see any of my friends anymore. I was not allowed to go out and I had no way to get any news from my classmates.

After four or five months of being lonely and depressed, I developed a terrible headache.  My mother and older sister took me by taxi to the doctor. On the way, a Talib stopped the taxi and asked the driver why he was taking us without a male escort.  He hit the taxi driver and shouted at us to get out of the taxi. We were shocked and didn’t know what to do.  It took us an hour and a half to walk back home. I was very upset and couldn’t forget what happened for weeks. I told my family that I was never going to leave the house again.

One day, one of our neighbors came to our house to take water from our well since they did not have drinkable water in their home. When she saw how depressed I was she asked my mother what was wrong.

My mother told her the story about the taxi driver and that being at home was killing me.  The neighbor told my mother about a tailoring course for women and suggested that I should go to it. My mother asked her if there was a risk for girls from the Taliban and the neighbor said no because the instructor has permission from the Taliban to teach. The neighbor explained that she has two young daughters attending every day and they were learning how to sew clothes.

In the beginning I did not want to go. I told my mother that this would not give me happiness because I was so afraid to go out. My mother told me that this course would give me more opportunities than just learning to sew and I would find something that made me happy.  She said that there was no risk and I should not be scared. My mother finally insisted that I go for a few days and if I did not like it I could quit. She said she would take me, or if I wanted, she would ask my father to take me and pick me up.

Finally I decided to try. On the first day I didn’t talk to anyone except to respond to questions. The next day, I didn’t want to go but my mother forced me. My mother went with me for a week; finally I was no longer afraid and would go with the other girls.

One day during a break I saw two women exchanging books. One of them gave money to the other one. I was curious about what was happening so I asked them what they were doing. The woman called Fakhria told me that she had found a library near her house and asked the owner of the library to rent her books. The owner of the library told her that no one should inform the Taliban about this because the punishment would be severe. Fakhria rented the books and read them at home.  She also rented them to her close friends and gave the money to the owner. In this way the owner of the library found a way to earn extra money and Fakhria found a way to build a network for deprived women in her neighborhood to have access to books. I asked Fakhria if I could borrow the book for few days when she finished reading it. Fakhria said, “Yes, but I must be careful.” Fakhria told me that she could bring another book tomorrow if I wanted and I said yes, please.

Now I was excited to go to school. The next day during the break, Fakhria give me a heavy book called “Fall of an Angel.” I took the book and impatiently waited to be free to read. When I got home I went to my room and started reading the book. I became so interested in reading the book that within a few hours I had read half of the book. I cried a lot because the Angel in the book suffers many sorrows.

When it became dark my mother came to my room and asked why I was crying. I told her the story of the Angel and then all about Fakhria. My mother told me to keep reading.  This surprised me and encouraged me. I ate dinner in a hurry and went back to my room to finish the book, reading until well after midnight.

My mother saw how delighted I was to go to class and she noticed that I would come home with two or three books. I read a dozen books during those weeks and they brought me the light after the darkness and gave me hope. Whenever I finished a chapter of a book I was reading I would go to the sitting room and tell the story to my family. They were happy to hear the story and we had long discussions about the books.  The books gave me passion again and I no longer felt like sitting in the corner of my room thinking about the Taliban. My brother told his friend about some of stories I had read and his friend told my brother that he also has lots of book that he would loan to me.

After three months my father asked me to write the most important sayings of the books I had read in my diary. I remembered that my father had a diary and wrote important sayings in it. I bought a beautiful notebook and a colored pen for myself. I started writing in my diary and I still have it. By reading books and writing in my diary, I noticed that I was not sad anymore.

My mother asked me one day if I liked my tailoring course and I told her that I love to go because besides learning tailoring I am learning so much from the books. I told her the story of Fakhria, the woman who brought me the books. She lost her father and mother when she very young. Fakhira never married so she lives with her brother and sister-in-law. Before the Taliban came she was a teacher. Like me, Fakhria had become very depressed, but when she found the hidden library she was happy. She built a network of women who borrowed books from the library.

Fakhria became my closest friend during a time when nothing made me happy. She was the one who changed my life and brought me happiness. Soon she found another course that trained women to make flower baskets and jewelry from beads. Thanks to the neighbor who told my mother about the tailoring class, and my mother who forced me to attend, I met Fakhria, who opened the door of hope for me by loaning me books.

By Fariba