The weather was warm, the trees green, the birds singing, the breeze breezing and the flowing stream was making a fantastic sound. I sat in the room where I used to study. But on this summer day, I was drowned in thoughts as I tried to decide about going to the United States. As the days passed that summer, my heart beat faster and faster with both excitement and fear, but I didn’t know how to share my feelings.
My family was very conservative and religious, especially my father, and I knew he did not want me to go to the U.S. Most people in my city are uneducated and very traditional. Everyone totally disagreed with my going to the United States because they believed it was a really bad place, especially for a Muslim girl. My relatives, classmates, and friends asked questions like, “Why does this scholarship office want to select girls only between the ages of 14 and 17? Will they let you return to your family? Will they try to hurt you? Will they let you pray while you are there? Will they treat you as a human?” I was scared to death when I heard these questions, but I tried to act brave and positive instead.
One day my uncle, my father’s brother, came to our house. “I have heard that you are going to U.S. Is that right?”
“Yes,” I replied calmly.
“Don’t you dare do that,” said my uncle.
“But I have tried very hard to get this scholarship,” I said. “I am the only girl who got this scholarship from our whole city for my junior year. I am really proud of myself. It will be a fantastic experience.”
“What? Proud? This is a shame for us,” replied my uncle. “You better not argue with me. Just remember this: if you go to the U.S., you will not be my niece.”
My heart was broken. “Okay, I will not go,” I said hopelessly.
The next day, another uncle, my mother’s brother, came to our house and talked to my older brother, who was 24 years old and the only one supporting me strongly because he was a very wise boy and not only a brother but a good friend to me. My brother knew there were many differences between being educated and uneducated, and he wanted me to study hard and become a wise girl.
“Do you want to send your sister to the U.S. so she will bring back money for you? If so, I will give you as much money as she can bring back,” said my uncle.
“No, uncle, I want her to go to the U.S. not to bring back money, but to continue her education.”
“What the hell is she going to do with education? She is a girl and she is our dignity and it is a big shame for us to send her to the U.S. We cannot tolerate it if people say anything about us. So you better avoid sending her to the U.S. Otherwise we will not have any relation with your family,” said my uncle.
“Okay, we will think about it,” said my brother.
For the first time in my life, I didn’t know what to do. I talked with my mom who strongly supported me because she wanted me to be educated and wise. My mom told me she had faced many difficulties and miseries in her life because she was uneducated. I told my mother to talk to my father and make him understand, but not to bother talking to my uncles because they would never support that decision.
I could not sleep at night. I could not study or work. I was thinking that if I went to United States, what would happen? What if my uncles broke relations with my family, and most importantly, what if my dad got really angry and never spoke to me?
Finally my mom, my brother, and I decided that I should go to the U.S. no matter what happened, because it was a golden opportunity for me since we did not have qualified teachers, books, or other facilities in my school. There was only one teacher in my school who had graduated from high school and the rest studied until 6th or 7th grade.
I had only one more week to be with my family. I was so upset that my dad was not talking to me, and at the same time, I was afraid of having him talk to me. The day I left my home for Kabul, my dad did not know, because I was afraid he would try to stop me. So we did not even say goodbye. I really love my father, but I wanted to continue my education as well. I knew one day he would understand why I made this decision.
It was a kind of dark and a silent afternoon when I arrived at Kabul International Airport to leave for the U.S. We were 40 students, 20 boys and 20 girls from all over Afghanistan. I did not know any of them because all of them were from other cities. Most of my group (the girls) were so happy at the airport. Some girls were crying, talking on phones, and saying goodbye to their families. I had just turned 15 years old and it was my first time leaving my family, but I was neither crying nor happy. I could not talk, cry, or laugh. I couldn’t imagine the place I was going or what would happen in the future.
“Have a good journey,” said my brother. He wanted to shake my hand and kiss my forehead. I just grabbed my suitcase like a stupid girl because I felt so distracted. But in a second, I paid full attention to him and I felt ashamed, left my suitcase and shook and kissed his hand. I said thank you and goodbye to him.
Taking these first steps alone on my journey, I felt lonely, but also pleased. I turned back once to see my brother. He looked so sad. I did not turn back again as I walked into the airport waiting room.