Editor’s note: This story was produced in partnership with Rukhshana Media and is part of The Fuller Project’s ongoing series, “Ending America’s Forever War: What is next for Afghan women?”, documenting what the end of America’s longest war on foreign soil means for the women who have lived through it. Follow The Fuller Project’s continuing coverage here.
As told to Zahra Nader by Elhan Husseini*, a 26-year-old NGO worker
I am a 26-year-old woman. I have been working for a German organization in one of the northern provinces of Afghanistan for more than three years. When the Taliban took over the city where I lived, my family, some friends and I decided to move to Kabul for our safety until we could seek refuge abroad with the help of the organization we worked with. Below, I have written a description of this humiliating journey so that you can understand how much we have suffered and how much humiliation we went through so we wouldn’t have to live under the Taliban.
It was exactly 2:30 pm when we reached Kabul to go to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Knowing it could have taken us a few days to get into the airport and wait for the flight, we took with us some bread, dates, and a few water bottles.
To enter the airport, we first went to Camp Baron. Many people were going through the camp. These were people who in the course of one day had packed their entire lives and memories into a box, just to survive. I witnessed old men and women who couldn’t walk. They rented carts to carry them along.
I trembled with fear, and my heart was beating so fast with the Taliban’s every move.
Everyone seemed worried and in a rush, and everyone was pushing to get inside the camp. The Taliban were there, and they whipped anyone who passed by them. They even fired their Kalashnikovs near people’s feet, to scare them.
I trembled with fear, and my heart was beating so fast with the Taliban’s every move. My hands and feet were shaking, and my heart felt so heavy for our fate. I would say to myself “What is our sin? Why should we be miserably displaced like this in our own country?”
After failed attempts to get inside the airport through Camp Baron, my friends and I decided to try Camp Gumruk. It was half an hour’s walk from where we were. But the journey seemed very long and tiring as I was frantically hurrying. When we reached the camp, my legs hurt.
At Camp Gumruk, there was so much dust around us. It was so intense that we could not even keep our eyes open. I felt deeply humiliated, something I had never before experienced.
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The number of people coming to Camp Gumruk were even more than Camp Baron. We even met people who had been waiting three to four nights to enter the camp. You could read fatigue, sleeplessness, and feeling of humiliation in their eyes.
Again, after many attempts, we didn’t manage to enter the camp and talk to the foreigners. So we decided to try our luck at another camp. This time, we went to Camp Qasaba, carrying our exhausted selves on a journey along the dark, dusty, and stressful path that was full of torture.
Unfortunately, Qasaba Camp was worse than the previous ones. The people stood in front of the barbed wire, designed to keep people from entering the airport while their documents and eligibility were checked. Most of the visitors in this camp were men. Since we did not feel safe being around so many men, we returned to Camp Gumruk, where there were more women.
At Camp Gumruk, I managed to talk to a foreigner who guided us to Abbey Gate. Once again, with all the stress, hope, and despair, we took ourselves to Abbey Gate. I asked a few people which country they were going to. One responded that they had no documents, so they’d go anywhere they would be taken to. Another said, “I have never worked with foreigners, I am a construction worker, and I have come here with the hope that I could leave Afghanistan.”
When we reached Abbey gate, I saw many people who had come there hoping to escape the Taliban. The crowd was so large it felt as if I wasn’t getting enough oxygen.
‘There I understood that our life is worth nothing’
It was 11 pm when we entered Abbey gate. We waited there for four hours. We heard the gate would open at 5 am. We had to pass through a three-meter deep area full of filthy water, before reaching the foreigners and showing our documents. We only had two options: either pass through the crowd of thousands, and get trampled under people’s feet and suffocate, or throw ourselves inside the dirty sewage.
Even if we had chosen the first option, eventually, in the end, we would have to pass through the sewage. When we threw ourselves into the rut, the smell of dirt and muck was intolerable. It was cold, and our lips were trembling.
There was barbed wire inside the sewage. We had to tread carefully to not hurt our feet. On the one hand I was afraid that the barbed wire would hurt my feet, but on the other hand, I was worried something would bite me. But more than anything the feeling of sheer helplessness and misery pained me the most.
We were standing in the dirty sewage, where we had to wait for the foreigners to check our documents. Many people had thrown themselves into the sewage. There I understood that our life is worth nothing. I had never thought we could become so worthless. We were not even worth that of a dog.
‘I wish we had died rather than live through that day’
With my own eyes, I saw a woman who had worked with NATO show all her documents and shout “NATO! NATO!” from the filthy water, but nobody listened to her. She went closer to the foreign soldiers, so they could hear her.
When the foreign soldiers noticed her, they spoke to her in a very ugly tone. That was when I saw our dignity get crushed as we were humiliated.
A foreign soldier tried to push her back towards the sewage, but she resisted. Another soldier came, and this time the two of them wanted to force her to the rut. When the woman cried, they let go of her, but this time, one of the soldiers took her documents from her bag and threatened to throw them away if she didn’t return to the sewage.
Watching what happened with that woman, I cried, “No, please!” from inside the rut.
I wish we had died rather than live through that day. Why are we so miserable? How long should we live like this?
Is this really what we deserve from life, humanity, and human rights?
After that painful experience, I decided to leave Afghanistan only if there was a dignified way to do it. I cannot tolerate this level of humiliation.
I will try to get out of Afghanistan as soon as possible because with every moment and each painful experience, my hope in life decreases.
I wish I had never experienced such a day. I wish I had never been born Afghan. Is this really what we deserve from life, humanity, and human rights?
I have written this experience to show the world that we, the people of Afghanistan, are already oppressed. Please do not crush us more. We need empathy, humility, and kindness. In Afghanistan, our children have not experienced childhood for the last half century. Our girls have not enjoyed their youth, our fathers have died in wars, and our mothers have been widowed at home.
*Due to security concerns and fear of retribution from the Taliban, the writer has supplied this pseudonym.