From laughter to life in hiding

I am in “hiding”. It’s a strange feeling, to have to hide in your own city, to have streets where you used to laugh and walk with friends turn against you. In one room that I hide in I can see trees, flowers, plants in the yard. I can’t go out to enjoy them. It is a friend’s room. He recently left his home and gave me the key to use. I don’t make any noise so that no one knows that someone else lives in this house. Because all the neighbors know that my friend left Kabul for work. I stay awake at night to get rid of bad thoughts, fatigue and loneliness. I started knitting, I stay up at night, knit, watch movies and sleep more every day.

Sometimes when I am able to go out, I lean my head against the car window and look outside. I can see people better and understand my feelings. I see a city of men. A city where the presence of girls and women decreases every day.  And the presence of men with long beards, as well as the number of needy people is increasing day by day. In general, I can say that I see fatigue and despair in the faces of people who are tired of war.  A city where we no longer see boys and girls with books in their hands going to educational centers or schools. A city where girls are no longer seen in school uniforms. A city where the government officials, whip in hand, are waiting for my mistake to beat me for wearing hijab or even taking a picture of my city and my house. When I look outside, I see my city that has pushed me away and has no place for me. And this is disappointing.

These days are actually the most boring days of my life. I am in absolute uncertainty. I have been forced to leave everything because of my arrest by the Taliban in our last protest.

That day, it was the day that they ruled that we (female university students) were banned from continuing our studies. I was in the first row of the demonstration and was shouting the slogans of the demonstration. Girls were shouting after me. Suddenly I noticed the noise and conflict between the protesters. At first, I thought that the protesters were fighting with each other, but later I realized that female Taliban forces in private clothes were arresting the girls, and the girls were persisting and defending themselves. Some of them got into a fight with those women and some of them ran away. Since I was in the first row and naturally I was afraid of being arrested, I wanted to run away, but in a moment I realized that my friend who came with me and wanted to return with me was not there. I turned around and was scanning the street to find her. But I could not find her. At one point, someone grabbed my hand and pulled me firmly towards something, and suddenly I was thrown into the Taliban’s car. (I had my phone camera on record at the time. I was looking for my friend, and when they pushed me into the car, I recorded it, but I couldn’t record it after that.)

After they pushed me into the car, A strange fear filled me. I was afraid of disappearing forever and what they might do to me. I persisted and did not get into the car and screamed “Help, help, help…” In those few seconds, all the things that I was afraid would happen to me, passed before my eyes (disappearing, being beaten, being sexually abused, family worries ….) And hundreds of images that made me use all my strength to save myself. Suddenly I screamed, I’m pregnant and if you take me away, my baby might be hurt. I screamed, “I’m pregnant. My baby is going to fall.”

It was a big lie and I thought it would save my life. My life was no longer in the middle. My child’s life was in the middle and humanity dictated that they treat me properly. But contrary to what I thought, they paid no attention to my plea, they kicked me and several of them forced me into their car. In that moment I threw away my phone, I did not want to get anyone else in trouble.

I want to be this joyful again, this free to just live my life. It’s my right and I will fight for it.
I want to be this joyful again, this free to just live my life. It’s my right and I will fight for it.

There were six of us with the driver. Three of those women were from Taliban forces. One of them was sitting in the front seat next to the Talib officer and the other two were sitting between us two protesting girls. From the beginning, I did not know that the two people who were sitting between us were from the Taliban forces. They said we have also been arrested. I told them to give me your phone so that I can call someone and inform them to save us. But she said I don’t have a phone. I knew she was lying. I begged her in a very low voice and said, “Take the life of the baby in my womb and give me your phone. I’m pregnant. Think about me and do me this favor.” After much begging, she gave me her phone. I immediately called the first number that came to my mind. One of my Pashtun friends!

When he picked up the phone, I started yelling and saying, “Where are you taking me? What crime have you been arrested for? You’re forcing yourself on a lady? Let’s get down and…” One of the Talib’s got angry and threatening. Over and over he would say “you’ll see we will take you to study!”

When we reached the police station, we were ordered to get down. When I got out of the car, the Talib officer kicked me from behind and yelled, “hurry up, you whore!”

I didn’t say anything. Because I knew that if I spoke, he would hit me. They took us to a room and there I realized that the two girls who were sitting between us were not girls who were protesting, but female Talib officers. The guard said something in Pashto to the Talib officer that I did not understand what they meant. After a few minutes, we were taken to another room where the Taliban officers were. We took off our shoes and sat on one of the sofas. There were three other reporters, one of whom I knew. But I pretended not to know them. I sat near the person I knew and whispered: “I dropped my phone on the road. Please inform Sajjad that I was arrested.”

The Taliban officer exposed and humiliated us as much as he could. He said “You work for money. You are a spy. you are a whore He said we conquered your country. We have returned freedom to you. You should thank us.”

We asked “Which freedom are you talking about? Freedom means I can study. Freedom means that when I protest, I will not be oppressed,

I took this photo after the explosion at the Kaj Training Center. This boy was behind the door of the emergency room with his sister's backpack .The next day we went to the street and protested.
I took this photo after the explosion at the Kaj Training Center. This boy was behind the door of the emergency room with his sister’s backpack . The next day we went to the street and protested.

and my voice will be heard. I don’t know what freedom means to you, but this is freedom for me. Why don’t you want to deal with the truths of the world and social customs?”

He got angry and threw the rosary in his hand at the face of the girl who was sitting next to me and pointed to the glass of tea in front of him and said “Don’t talk or I will break this glass on your head. He said take them to jail. They took us to another room and two female officers came with us.”

I begged them again and said that I am pregnant, and I need to call my husband and tell him about my health. After many pleas, the female officer gave me her phone and I called my friend again and said we are in the third district. As soon as I said this, she took the phone from me and didn’t let me talk any more. But I delivered my message and I felt a little relieved.

I found out later how much that saved us. After I called my friend, he called someone else who knew the Taliban. After calling a high-ranking member of the Taliban and asking for our immediate release, they said in response that they are among those who are in the first line of the demonstration and will not be released. They said they are just waiting for senior members of the Taliban to come so that they could “judge” us. My friend gave them some money as a bribe and told them to release them before their elders come back and pass judgment on these girls.

After about an hour, the Talibs came again and asked to transfer us to the previous room. This time they spoke in a kinder tone. They made us sign a pledge not to protest again.

I took the opportunity to say “When you arrested me, I lost my phone and I’m sure your people took it. He called and asked if you have a phone in your hand or not.”

Their answer was no and I said to myself that my phone must have been lost. I was happy about that. But they told me: “We are not thieves. Come again on Saturday! We will return your phone to you.”

I told myself if they find my phone, they will come after me and kill me before I can find my phone on Saturday. I accepted and went out. When I got out of the police station, I called my friend and told him about my release. He said that your phone is in the hands of the Taliban and they have answered your calls.

I wanted to go back but the person who was with me stopped me. She said don’t worry about your phone and save your life. But I knew that if I didn’t care about my phone, in addition to my own life, the lives of others would also be in danger. I said I had to get my phone back before they checked it. I came back and told the guards that my phone is in the hands of your people. Please give it back.

In order to push them, I said: “You are not a thief, are you? You must return my phone to me.”

I called my phone in front of their eyes and one of the Talib officers picked up the phone. I said in a very polite tone, “Sir, would it be possible for you to return my phone to me?”

He said come to the address I will give and get your phone. During my time at the police station, I learned the name of their boss and told the officer “Agha Saheb says to bring the phone right here in the third security area.”

As soon as he heard this sentence, he said to stay there. I will come soon. After about fifteen minutes he came and said you have to open your phone so I can check if you took a video and delete it. I opened the phone and since the files in my gallery were hidden, they couldn’t find the videos at first glance. I immediately took the phone from his hand and said that I didn’t take a video and I have to go. I left there and got into the car.

I told my sister. She gave me an address to go to and said someone wants to see you. I went to that address, and we met each other from a distance. Without talking, we got into a car and went to the house of one of my relatives. After delivering the news of my health and freedom, I turned off my phone and did not talk to anyone. I was able to talk to my mother on another phone. When I talked to my mother, she said “I will kill you! You killed me today”.

At night, when it got dark, I went to my house, waiting for my mother to welcome me with at least a few hearty slaps. But she welcomed me with open arms. How many times did she ask if I was fine? Doesn’t any part of my body hurt? Have they not harmed me? And most importantly, I haven’t seen any harassment? She asked this question several times.

I knew I should not stay at home. I moved from place to place. I knew that the people I stayed with were afraid, but they never told me to leave. Then my friend let me know that he was leaving and I could stay in his room.

I don’t know if it was just me who felt like a prisoner, or maybe it’s the same for everyone. Staying awake at night and sleeping during the day, crying, getting angry, missing, and finally taking refuge from all this by knitting, are some of the things I do these days. I hope no one is forced to do something against their will.

I rarely go home. Only in the dark so that no one notices my coming home. Because in the neighborhood where we live, there are many people who inform the Taliban in exchange for money. I am more than worried about myself, I worry about my family lest they get into trouble because of me. I can’t bear to see the Taliban whip and harass my father or my brothers because of me. I swear if that happens I will die. That’s why I don’t come home often. And no one knows about my exact location. It’s so hard to get through these days and sometimes I think maybe I’m not strong enough to take it anymore.

I am a special person in the family. I mean, I was alone most of the time and I was not interested in participating in family gatherings. I did not have a very close relationship with my parents and the rest of my family. Most of the time I was in my room and busy with my daily work. And I rarely spend time with them.

Now when I am home, I spent most of the day with them. They see how worried and anxious I am. My parents are not highly educated and are traditional people. But they are worried about my future and health. Most of the time they tell me “Try not to lose hope and keep going. The Taliban and this black cloud will not last forever and they will leave here and the situation will improve.”

They still give me hope. Sometimes they say that we hope that you will be given the opportunity to study so that you can study your lessons. Now that I have hidden myself because of the protests and I have to not leave the house, they are more anxious and afraid than me.

During the days and nights when I am not at home, my mother calls several times a day to make sure that I am fine and that I am not in any danger. I know that she is suffering more than me these days and I am very sad about it and there is nothing I can do about it. Because we have to fight these days. However, we know that this fight has a heavy price, and I am ready to pay it in exchange for my freedom.

What happened that day passed and I was lucky to be free now. I believe in God and I think that all these events that made me free and they didn’t understand who I am and didn’t keep me, was the grace of God. When one of my friends called me, she said “Girl! All the food you gave to the worker children, and made them happy, saved you today.”

My other friend said, “Your mother’s prayers saved you.”

I know that all this is because of God’s kindness that I got so much luck and I am grateful for it. I hope this will not happen again.

If I talk about the protests, despite all the dangers in our way, nothing diminishes my motivation to participate in the protests. I am ready to participate in the protests even now that I hide myself from everyone’s view, so that the Taliban do not come to me again. But it must be said that it is very difficult to protest in the current situation. Now, what I have seen from my personal experience is that the Taliban places their female officers in their personal clothes between the protesters and arrests the protesters.

I hope that somehow, we can raise our voices so that the world can remove the cotton balls it has stuffed in its ears and the blindfold it has put on its eyes and see us. No matter the situation, I will continue my fight and defend my homeland and the rights of all women and girls. Because this is my homeland, and it is really my mother. For the Taliban, this is just a place to occupy, but for me, this is my identity.

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