The Different Daughter

I remember that I was always afraid of something. When I was born, war had started in Afghanistan, with airplanes dropping bombs and making the sky fearsome. Seeing people running to find a safe place made me feel as if there was always something out there that would hurt me.

The Soviet invasion changed everything. My family became refugees in Iran when I was six years old. Iran was different; we were different; the land did not belong to us. We heard that a lot. A refugee had to suffer.

When I had a chance to go to school, it was rigid and tough. Students wore the same clothes, the same shoes. They had the same accent and they thought the same, making it difficult for anyone who was different. The principal of the school could control everything, almost as if she could read minds. I was so afraid of her, I tried to blend into the crowd and lose my own uniqueness.

Fear drove my life for years. I made a thick cocoon around myself. When I was a young woman, I acted like a child, afraid to speak my mind. When I was 20, I still seemed like a 12 year old, skinny and unsure, afraid of dealing with life’s problems. But I had passions and dreams.

One boring, repetitive day in the library, among the oppressive stacks one book stood out to me. It was titled “The Psychology of Self Esteem.”  It even smelled different!  How dare it be different in a country that worshipped sameness, I thought. A selfish book about self-esteem in a place where everyone talked about sacrificing for others? The book opened a window in my cocoon, asking me who I was and what I was thinking, not what others thought of me. The book showed me how to think independently, to create my own values and how to be strong. What I read made me question my beliefs and society’s values. I could not believe it; I read the same paragraph several times to make sure I understood it. I was afraid someone might see me. Reading it was like having a beam of light come into my dark cocoon. It inspired me to want to dig my way out.

We returned to Afghanistan after the Taliban collapsed. Afghanistan after the Taliban seemed to offer more freedom than Iran. There was no powerful government controlling everything. However, I still felt the power of traditions, men, mullahs, and unwritten rules and I felt the fear of the explosions.

I loved going back to Afghanistan because I could work, and my family needed my support. This made me feel useful, powerful, and helped me challenge my fears and follow the advice in the “selfish book.” I refused to wear the traditional clothes; I wore dress that I thought was proper for work. It didn’t matter if men stared. I paid for my two young sisters to go to a school in Kabul. I refused to marry because I didn’t think I needed a husband for security. I wanted to secure my life with education, ideas, and abilities.

My father was amazed by this. I was stronger than my brothers and I was out in the world. He respected my decision not to marry. He was proud of having a different daughter.

When someone tried to put me down as a woman, I objected. I didn’t ask for forgiveness. I made my own decisions without my father or brother deciding for me. Happiness flowed in my blood.

Now I enjoy life. I live in Afghanistan in the middle of horrors, but fear does not drive my life anymore. I have escaped traditional beliefs and I fly in the open sky without boundaries confining who I want to be. I am responsible. I have made a different life for myself and my family. I believe that with my education I can make a difference in Afghanistan. I will create an outlet of hope in everyone’s cocoon to help them fight fear, to believe in themselves, and to make Afghanistan a better place to live, not to leave.

By Shakila


  1. Kelly Caldwell says:

    Such an inspiring story of courage! I especially like your use of pacing in the fourth paragraph — it is sharp and effective!

  2. Shakila, This is a beautiful essay. I love the metaphor of the cocoon and the way you describe the book. I am inspired by your strength and your desire to make a difference.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Your story is so inspiring and well written. Women like yourself face what seems like insurmountable obstables, and that you found it within yourself to overcome such challenges is truely inspiring to all women. Sometimes belief in oneself is the toughest thing to do. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Asma Amiri says:

    I love the parts you wrote about your father. I am happy that I found your father respect to your decision.


  5. Shakila, I love your essay! And isn’t it a wonderful feeling to feel pride from your father when you are you? I appreciate you sharing your journey, Bless.

  6. Shakila,

    “He was proud of having a different daughter”. Afghan women´s strength alongside their father´s understanding and encouragement is possibly the optimum formula for a slow but secure path to your freedom. “Afghanistan a better place to live, not to leave”. Thankyou.

  7. Fareeda says:

    What a well-written and well-thought out piece! I love both the structure and, especially more, the contents. You are a great role model to all Afghan women dear Shakila!! Truly inspiring. I admire your courage. Thank you for sharing with everyone.

  8. “I wanted to secure my life with education, ideas, and abilities” WOW – How wonderfull!!! I am so proud of you Shakila Jan. Keep up your spirit and passion. Best wishes. =)

  9. thank you so much for sharing your work! keep reading (and smelling) books. wishing you well.


  10. Thank you. As a daughter of immigrants and a very strict father, I could relate to both your feelings of being out of place in Iran and your fear of stepping away from what was expected of you and trying something else. You are courageous. All the best to you. I’m sure you will impact the lives of many more people to come.

  11. Dylan D. says:

    It’s amazing how one book can change your outlook and your life so drastically. The fact that your father supports your independence gives me hope for other Afghan women. Keep writing, and never lose your individuality.

  12. Elizabeth D. says:

    Good for you for working past your differences and overcoming inequality. You are more than deserving of an happiness and indepence as a confident woman. Congratulations on your education and for starting a family. I wish you the best and hope you continue writing and sharing your beautiful story.

  13. Erica D says:

    I too am proud of your empowerment. The ability to stand up for yourself and rely on yourself is something that all women should strive for. Your story is an inspiration to all.

  14. Elaine Webb says:

    I am so glad to hear that there are women in Afghanistan coming out of their cocoons. You inspired me and you will inspire many other women by your courage and determination. Also, saying that you do not need a husband for your security is so true. I am very happy you discovered that book and have become strong and independent!

  15. Emily D. says:

    Thank you for sharing your story! I admire your courage in being different from the norm. This is something more women should strive to do. It’s amazing what one small thing, such as a book, can do to change a life. Your story tells the truth that being different is not a bad thing. It is good and empowering to be different. Your story is truly inspiring!

  16. Your story is your own; yet, your writing moves us with you and allows us all to share your experience. On the page it has a life beyond. Your words have power, what eloquence in “what a better place to live, not to leave.”

  17. Nicole D says:


    You captivated me with your writing! What a beautifully written piece this is. You intricately weave your moments of vulnerability with your moments of self-realization. It’s amazing to think that one book could change your life in a such a positive way. Congratulations for being able to create your own happiness and not letting other people’s expectations or boundaries stop you. I’m certain you have inspired women around you and may you continue to inspire with your current and future endeavors. Please continue writing!

  18. Katherine says:

    This is a truly beautiful and inspiring story that needs to be told. I admire you for not only having the courage to write this, but also for having the courage told by this story. It’s a very well written paper that leaves the reader wondering what kind of a coocoon we ourselves are in, an if just learning and hearing different viewpoints can be that little window of light for us. Theflow and structure of the paper helps it seem real, as if you could be directly telling me this. Please continue writing and telling your story; we all need help understanding sometimes.

  19. Katherine says:

    It’s always nice to read an inspirational story about and Afghan woman with a happy ending. Although it is reality, I feel like I’m always reading something depressing when it comes to pretty much anything going on in Afghanistan especially involving women. So it really is a great thing to see that there are men out there that appreciate their daughters being who they are, being different. This seems like the only time that I can think of where i smiled after a story of an Afghan woman, a story that I could actually relate to my life.

  20. Dear Shakila: Your words are deeply inspiring. But your choices even more so. You have proven to be a deeply brave woman to go against the grain as you have. Wishing you strength and even more happiness in the days ahead.

    I look forward to sharing this piece with friends so that they can be inspired, too!

    By the way, do you remember the author of “The Psychology of Self-Esteem”? I bet he or she would be elated to hear about the impact his or her book had on your life!

    All best,

  21. P.S. I am very glad that your father is proud of you. You deserve it!

  22. I am so touched to be able to read your story. You inspire and show me a better way.
    God bless you with health, safety, continued strength, inspiration and joy.
    Follow your heart.

  23. Lydia D says:

    This is a wonderful and inspiring story! It is very well-written and enjoyable to read. I especially like the metaphor of the butterfly that you carry throughout the story. Thank you for writing this. You’re an inspiration to women everywhere!

  24. Sarah Key says:


    I love your image of the cocoon, and I am impressed by your courage. I wonder where you found it, living amidst such fear. Your daring to be different and your ability to vocalize that is amazing. Thank you for this essay.

  25. Good for you, Shakila, and keep writing. It is important for us all to hear about women in Afghanistan who are happy to tread a different path and have family support to do it. But you don’t say what your mother thinks about it, and I would be interested to know – because sometimes women can be even more conservative than men, usually out of fear.
    Lisa Hill, Melbourne Australia

  26. Shakila says:

    Thank you all for wonderful comments. They are really encouraging and inspiring. Thanks again!

  27. Not only are you already making a difference in Afghanistan, but also a difference in the world. Your optimism and insight is what we need more of!

  28. The courage you show when creating your writing pieces is such an inspiration. The opinions you have, and the words you speak are so strong and have an impact on the reader. “I refused to marry because I didn’t think I needed a husband for security. I wanted to secure my life with education, ideas and abilities.” That piece really spoke to me because it truly shows independence and strength for women. Your family values are inspiring because you were willing to move back to Afghanistan to help support your loved ones. This piece spoke to me in many ways, and gave me a sense of pride to be a woman. I applaude you for being able to create your own happiness with your loved ones, and never letting anyone get in the way of that. I wish you the best!


  1. […] The Different Daughter An impressive post by Shakila, for the Afghan Women's Writing Project. She compares  the country in which she was born to the one where she lives nowadays – it's still Afghanistan, but  fear does not drive her life anymore, she says. (tags: afghan women writing project afghanistan war soviet invasion death) […]

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