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 Shadab*, a 22-year-old teacher in central Afghanistan
I’ve been experiencing strange feelings since recent events. I feel my entire being hurts, as if my hands and feet have been tied together. My ability to move has been taken away from me. My heart feels as heavy as lead. Fear has taken over my village, my house, and the air I breathe. It feels as though my spirit is dead within me. It’s as if I have reached the end of the world, where everything is closed shut, and there’s no hope for a better future.
I am the girl who cried and begged to go to school and university. As the first girl in my village to go to university, the journey was not easy. My village is where people’s understanding of girls’ education was limited to a few religious books for worship and prayer. A village where people viewed girls’ education as a gate with a locked door.
I always stood up to men who saw a woman’s only place as being at home. I withstood their looks so that I could get an education. I endured a thousand ugly things that educated girls must, but I ignored them all. However, my education is not yet complete, but my good days have already ended. How I wish you could understand the pain I feel in my bones when the women and girls in my neighborhood ask me in a mocking tone, “So what happened? You’re staying at home now?”
Some of these girls have never had an opportunity to study, so they don’t understand me. They were never allowed to walk on the rough path I treaded. So now, not only do they read the sorrow on my face, but they also repeatedly set me on fire by saying, “a woman’s place is in the home.”
Some of the villagers are happy that since the Taliban have returned, women can no longer go out and work. They even believe the Taliban’s victory was made possible because there are women who don’t wear the Islamic hijab. As a person who always went to university and to work in full hijab, hearing those words is painful.
‘These days, I cry for all that is gone’
After they seized the northern provinces, the Taliban made an announcement in our mosque that women could work and study only if they are properly veiled and have a mahram (male relative escort). But they have only allowed female school teachers back to work — not the women working in other sectors. Our university is shut, and I have not left for more than three weeks now.
Only God knows what I am going through these days. I go crazy thinking that things will stay the same, that my parents will force me to marry, and that my only duty will be a housewife and a mother. I keep asking myself, Did I study for 16 years to become this? Did I study and work just to become someone’s wife, someone’s mother? These days my identity and my aspirations are vanishing before my very eyes.
Over the last days and weeks, I keep thinking about my dreams, of how hard I worked and how much I suffered to get to where I am today. I went to school with a hungry stomach and wearing torn sandals. I did that to change my society and prove that women can work just like men if given the chance. But, before I could change my society as I had imagined, the Taliban took over, emptying my province, city and village of women. Now there are only male faces outside.
I wish someone could wake me up and say the last few weeks have just been a bad nightmare. I wish someone would take me far away, where I can scream all my sorrows and mourn my dead dreams.
These days I feel like even my own family cannot understand me. They don’t understand how much pain I’ve endured to reach this point, to work outside the home, to go to university. They don’t know how overwhelming it is to come to terms with the fact that all my suffering, all my struggle, have been destroyed overnight. These days, I cry for all that is gone, in vain, with the wind: all my dreams that flew far away, slipping like the string of a kite out of my hands.
Do you understand me?
*Due to security concerns and fear of retribution from the Taliban, the writer has supplied this pseudonym.