My name is Laila. When I was six years old, my mother died and my aunts raised me and my brother and sister. There were schools nearby, but my uncles and their wives didn’t let me study. They always asked us to do chores instead; farmer’s jobs like planting and harvesting. I was too young to know any other way to live.

My sister and I were very proud when we got married and learned how to perform Namaz because we didn’t have a mother and these events were very precious to us. But I did not have a good life before marriage nor did I have a good life after. My husband was a religious leader and sometimes he went to Pulkhomri, Mazar, and Takhar, but he was old and didn’t have any land or money.

After I had three children, my only brother was killed. They said it was Ekhwan, they never told us that they were Mujahideen. It was very difficult when my brother was martyred.

His three children and his wife came to stay with our family. We worked on our farm in Kapisa. Mujahideen soldiers would often come and take three quarters of our harvest. They would give me only one quarter and say, “You are a woman. You need some food for your family.”

During this time, my husband didn’t have a job and stayed at home. People would sometimes accuse us of sending reports to Kabul. We said that we didn’t do such things, but they didn’t listen.

Moving to Kabul

Finally, one morning at 3 a.m., we packed our things and left. We walked a very long distance and settled, like so many people, in Kabul. Upon seeing us, my niece said, “It’s okay that you left your lands and village. The good news is that you and your children and husband are safe. That is all we want.”

So I lived in Kabul and raised ten children—four sons and six daughters—as well as two nieces.

One of my daughters has never gone to school. Two daughters went to school until fourth grade, but did not continue under the Russians.

When my next daughter was born, there were Taliban. My last daughter, Shakila, couldn’t speak until she was seven years old. She is fine now. Well, she loses her hair, but overall she is fine.

Three of my sons went to school. Two have graduated. The third is in ninth grade and says that he wants to leave school. I tell him, “You have to study. I ask nothing else from you. It’s okay that we live in poverty, but you have to go to school.”

My fourth son did not go to school. He had the same problem as my daughter. He couldn’t talk until he was seven, and even when he was eleven or twelve, he knew only a few words. He didn’t go to school and now he picks trash from the streets and sweeps the roads.

His fellow workers told his boss, “This guy is crazy. Don’t take him as your employee.” When I heard this I went to the office and said to his boss, “He is a fine boy. He is not mentally ill. He is a very hard worker, but has faced tough times in his life. He works hard to help his sisters and his mother. His brothers who are married and have jobs are too busy with their own lives and spend more than they earn.”

So this is how I have spent my life until now. I might be fifty or fifty-five years old.

I would say I’m happy, but I have faced so many difficulties. My body aches; I have diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

Still, I am very, very thankful to God that I have my sons with me. If someone says to me, “Your husband is too old for you,” I always say that it’s okay. I like my husband and our marriage was not by force.

I say this because I don’t want anyone to hurt me. If my husband wasn’t so old, we would not have lived in such poverty and our children would have taken school more seriously. If I had been allowed to be educated, I might have become a teacher. I would have had a better life.

By Laila, as told to Mariam Y.