From Islamabad on 9-11 to Herat on 9-21

Editor’s note: Friday, September 23 was the funeral of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was killed two days earlier in his Kabul home by an attacker who claimed to carry a peace message from the Taliban but instead had a bomb concealed in his turban. Rabbani headed Afghanistan’s High Peace Council and was spearheading peace efforts with the Taliban. The attack took place on the eve of International Peace Day. This piece reflects on events that began ten years ago September 11, leading up to the funeral.

September 11, 2001

A few days after September 11, we moved our life
From Pakistan to Malaysia; we started new lives there
We moved into a new home in a new city, Kuala Lumpur
My dad began a carpet business
My older sister and I entered the university
My younger sister and brother started school.
Except for a couple of relatives and my dad’s business partners,
We were alone.

My sister and I made good international friends in our university
We got busy with studies and did not notice
We were losing
The smile on my mom’s face.
She stayed at home during the days and nights
Waiting for her children and husband.

My dad was busy at work
We children were busy with studies and living in a dorm
Only on weekends did we return home.

Week by week, I began to realize we were losing something in our family
This was not the life we were wishing for.
We were going out—shopping, picnics, everywhere
But we were not getting back what we wanted:
The smiles on my parents’ faces.

My dad’s business did not produce much benefit
We tried to get scholarships at our university
Since we were not able to pay for our fees.
Day by day we were facing difficulties there

In our country, there were bombings
As a result of 9-11.

After some months, we heard the Taliban had left the country
And now there was peace in Afghanistan
We saw our great President Hamid Karzai’s inauguration day on TV
We saw smiles and hopes on everyone’s faces.

Those smiles and hopes also appeared on my parents’ faces
They decided it was time to go back to our country.
We children all agreed.
Exams were going on at our university and schools,
But we did not take them.
The day I packed my things from my university dorm room,
I was not feeling sad, because I was returning to my country
To my family and my own people
To live in peace, to study at an Afghan university.

It was the second time we were packing our household items
The difference was that we were happy this time,
With millions of hopes.

***

We returned to Herat, Afghanistan, through Iran.
It was an amazing night
We had no electricity, no water,
No home.
But we had our people waiting to welcome us.
We stayed some nights in our relatives’ homes
Until we could rent a home for ourselves.

My dad had no job.
To support our family
My sister and I tried to get jobs with international organizations
My younger sister and brother started schools.
Life went on like this
Until after a year my older sister got married and left us
For the U.S. with her husband—a very good, open-minded, and educated man.
They are happy with two beautiful kids.

After my sister married, I was the only one
Working and feeding my family. I felt good.
Although my education was left incomplete,
I like to work because of my parents.
I believe God is kind
And I study through online education.

***

September 21, 2011

On Wednesday, September 21, 2011, everywhere around the world
Peace Day was celebrated
In my country our former President Rabbani
Was killed in a suicide attack with other civilians.

On Wednesday and Thursday we got off work
Due to fears that a similar incident would occur
In our workplaces or our cities.
This is how we celebrated Peace Day:
In fear of another attack.

It’s been ten years since 9-11,
But there is no peace yet in my country.
There are still terrorist attacks all over,
Innocent people being killed every day.
I still do not feel safe at home or at work.
How can I still hope for a better future?
How can I believe my country will one day celebrate peace?

Now I wish I had not returned from Malaysia ten years ago,
Or that at least I had settled somewhere far away to have peace.
Like me, millions of my people wish this and ask:
Will we also one day celebrate Peace Day like other countries?
Will we live one night with a feeling of safety
In our minds and our country?

When we returned home ten years ago
We had 100 hopes.
Now, I am hopeless.

By Yalda

Photo: Jalil Rezayee/EPA


Comments

  1. Kelly Caldwell says:

    Yalda —

    You use specific details so effectively here. Your two lines, “This is how we celebrated Peace Day/In fear of another attack,” are worth 10 scholarly essays about life in modern Afghanistan. Well done!

  2. Yalda,

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am so very sorry. I do not know how to comfort you. Across the miles, my heart reaches out to you.

    Nancy

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