Karima is 41 and a widow. She works as a cleaner at a Kabul university to support her family. 

Kabul– I went to school years ago. But when the Russian soldiers came to Afghanistan my father stopped us from going to school. We respected him and accepted his wishes, but if I had continued my education, today I would not have a problem finding a job.  I would like to have been educated. But now my mind is not sharp enough to learn. If I need to read a text I ask for help from different people.

I have four children—three sons and a daughter. My daughter went to school until grade eleven and then she got married. My elder son went to grade nine. When his father died, he became the supporter of the family. My two younger sons are students. One is 14 years old and every day he says he doesn’t want to go to school, he wants to work.  I say to him, “I accept my problems so that you can continue your education and become an educated person.”

Most days when I wake up the first thing I wish for is to finish paying my son’s wedding loan that I got from the bank so he could marry. At six o’clock I leave to go to work at the university. I walk to work so I leave early in the morning. When I arrive, I start by cleaning the tables, the teachers’ offices, and the classrooms because they must be clean when the students arrive. At three o’clock I leave and go home to do my housework. I live far away.

At work I meet different people; some are good and some are bad.  On a rainy day I will ask them not to enter the room with muddy shoes. Some agree and wipe their shoes and treat me with respect like a mother. Some treat me with scorn and they say it is your job to clean it.

Every day I encourage my children to study and be independent. It makes me sad when my son asks me for my help and I cannot help. When I go home I try to do something nice for my children so I can see a smile on their faces.

By Karima, as told to Zuhal