When I left school that day in Herat in 1995, I had no way of knowing I wouldn’t be allowed to go back for five years. The next night, a scary noise woke me—some kind of racket—and then I heard my parents talking to each other in a nervous tone. We knew the Taliban had taken control of some cities, but we did not expect the Taliban to reach our city so quickly.
Our house was next to the highway and my parents worried that if fighting started our house would be used as a stronghold. My father told my older sisters to pack some clothes. He would walk them to my aunt’s house in the middle of the city, in a safer area—out of sight.
My father told me I would stay behind because I was too young to walk that far. But I told him I wanted to go too. I took only my school bag. We left home in the early hours of the morning when it was still dark. We walked the narrow alleys of Herat city. As we got closer to my aunt’s house, it started to grow lighter. We heard a car approaching. We stopped next to the wall. It was a truck full of the Taliban. I was very scared and my tired legs were shaking. I worried that they would kidnap us or maybe put us in jail—thinking that we were thieves walking in the dark. They wore white turbans and long black costumes. They had long beards and hair. About fifteen or twenty Taliban stood in the back of the truck. They looked like they hadn’t taken a bath in a while. They looked at us curiously and we looked at them. They seemed new to the city. Then they drove away without bothering us and I breathed a sigh of relief.
People started to appear on the streets and bakers were opening their shops. Some men who were returning from the public bathrooms asked my father what he was doing walking with his family so early in the morning. They wanted to know if something was wrong with the city. My father didn’t have any answers. After four hours of walking, we arrived at my aunt’s home just as the mullahs were saying the azan, calling people to prayer. We were very tired and our feet were sore. We were worried about my mother, older brother, and two of my younger siblings who were still at home.
My aunt made us breakfast. After, my father borrowed my cousin’s bike to go check on the city. My sisters and I went to take a nap. Around noon my father came back with my brothers; their faces were pale and I could see fear in their eyes. They told us about the soldiers’ bodies hanging in front of Herat’s stadium and provincial buildings. I was very scared. I wanted to know how my mother and my friends were, but there were no phones at that time.
On the second day of their rule in Herat, the Taliban closed all the schools, universities, and everywhere women could go. When we turned on the radio, they were only talking about enforcing the Sharia laws and warning that if people didn’t obey they would be punished.
The Taliban spoke Pashto, which was a problem for the majority of people in my hometown who could only speak Dari. They ordered the men to wear turbans and let their beards grow. Women and girls were to cover themselves head to toe and not allowed to leave their homes. If they had to, a male family member was to escort them. They closed the TV stations and banned music. At first we thought the school closings would be temporary. After a year, people started to lose hope. Many people left Herat and went to the neighboring countries. We become very isolated because my father didn’t want to leave. Life was very tough during the Taliban regime. We spent every day in fear. People who didn’t accept their rules were hanged. I watched as they beat my father, brother, and brother-in-law with whips because they took us to see the Herat River. I could do nothing but shake in fear as my brother’s back was bloodied. Another time they jailed my brother for a week for the crime of listening to music. They beat my mother for leaving home without my father. I still have nightmares when I think about those dark days.
I also remember the day when the Taliban left Herat.
We again walked to our aunt’s home. This time I was a teenager and I knew what was going on. The Taliban shot many people on their way out of Herat. Our city did not have a ruler until the next day when Ismail Khan entered the city with his group from Iran and he was welcomed by the people. Even then, I felt so terrible and strange. I thought no one could protect me from anything. I felt very empty, like a body without a soul. My heart, my stomach, and my head hurt. It took me a few years to overcome that feeling and the nightmares. Today’s situation in Afghanistan is bringing back all those terrible feelings.
It breaks my heart to see that children of my country are still suffering. We should not let history repeat. When the Taliban first came to Afghanistan, people didn’t know who they were. People were even hopeful that the new group might bring peace and security. But now we know how cruel the Taliban are and we don’t want them back. We want the world to hear us. We are tired of war and we want peace, stability, jobs, food, and education. We do not want to go back to those dark years. The international community and the Afghan government must stay with the Afghan people. We must not let the civilians pay the price of war.
Photo by Balazs Gardi