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Nadima’s family fled Afghanistan when she was a baby. As an adult, she returned. Now despite fears and uncertainty, the 38 year old woman is refusing to leave again. In this article, she reflects on the changes she has witnessed in her country since the Taliban took over on August 15. She wonders what the future holds for women in Afghanistan and questions why most men are not standing with them to speak up for their rights.
All my cousins who I had not seen in 10 years were visiting Kabul over the last three days, from Mazar, from Herat. We all had a good time together.
The house was full of girls, we danced, we all decided to play dress up, they all wore my turbans, we all wore traditional clothes. We sang together, we cooked, we shared stories, we talked about everything that is happening.
One of my cousins thought back to how hard she worked to be a teacher; now she cannot imagine sitting at home and not teaching. She fought for her education, she protested against her family, while the only person who supported her going to India to get her Masters degree was her husband. Even her brother, my cousin, was not for it.
So she cannot imagine staying at home. She is afraid that what happened to her mother, who got hit in the knees by the Taliban in 1999, 2000, might become her story as well. She does not want to be beaten like her mother was for insisting on running her girls school in Heart after Taliban closed it.
My cousin tells me she is very strong and independent and that she will always advocate for education. But she does not feel that she wants to do it from here, so she is going to Turkey.
“These people don’t know our value, our worth, what we have to offer as women so I’ll go to a country where I’m welcomed and appreciated,” she told me. “All the hard work I put into myself to get here, so I can teach another little girl, now I will do that for a country that will accept me and will want their women to be educated,” she said.
It made me very sad, you know, because she is valuable to this country, to the young girls here.
She understands the culture, the language, the education system, because she has been through this. She is a mathematics genius and was going to do her PhD. But now somebody else will enjoy the fruit of her hard work, the Turkish students. Now in another country, another group of people are going to be learning from her when she should be teaching children in Afghanistan.
We have lost so many women like her in this country. I am very, very sad.
I will be OK but everybody has left and I’m sitting all alone in the house and I am thinking: what am I going to do?
Because of the decision I made to stay, I cannot even tell anyone how I feel. When there were guns being fired in the air the other day, I called one of my cousins, who also lives in Kabul and cannot leave. I asked her: “Are you OK?” Celebratory gunfire seems to be the new norm, we heard it the day the US troops withdrawal was completed, then again when Mullah Baradar, the deputy leader in the new Afghan government, arrived in Kabul a few days ago.
“I will be ok but what the hell are you doing here?” she asked.
“I can’t leave,” I said.
“No, you have no excuse to call me, no reason to call me. You chose to be here – now live with it,” she replied.
So I am not even allowed to express how I feel.
Those who are choosing to stay here, to raise their voices or try to be part of this and at least observe and understand for themselves, are not even given the chance.
People have started to become apathetic because they are just trying to survive. They are worried about the economy, their education, their health.
What saddens me is that yes, there is a shift happening, there is a government change, there is the history with the Taliban of the past, people have trauma.
But what does this have to do with those women who are continuing their education? What does this have to do with those orphanages that need funding, for the children who are the victims of the last 20 years of war? What about those women who are in hospital about to give birth at any minute? What about the nurses, the doctors, who are going to take care of them?
How can someone, anyone in the world, decide to just leave everything behind and not think about the children, the young women and the young boys, and the men themselves?
I feel like a divorce has happened between Afghanistan and the rest of the world.
Afghanistan is like a feminine energy – the woman – and now she is left with a bunch of children who were made dependent on this father. And Afghanistan, being the feminine energy, was made a housewife. She was told: “You don’t need to do anything, we’ll do everything for you”. But it was all a lie and she has been left with a bunch of children; their education, their health, their social life, everything has been taken away from them.
And after what has happened in the past month, who is going to take care of this? Who is going to send therapists for this? Who is going to create healing energy? Who is even trying now to say we are going to be ok? Who has stepped forward and tried to reassure the people and said: “We don’t know what the future holds but we’re here, we’re not just going to leave everybody hanging.”
There are blockbuster movies made in Hollywood that are so good at creating these heroes who are always saving the world. But look at what is happening in reality. Where are the heroes? Because this is real, the zombies are taking over. It is real and these children are actually really suffering.
The other day, I saw women protesting on the street from the window of my house. They were screaming and protesting for their rights and the rest of us were sitting inside.
I looked at my cousins and said: “Look, there are more women in this city, how come there is only 50 of them [protesting]?”
“This is all a show,” my cousin replied. “The real people are sitting and watching this. These poor women will probably get beaten, hurt and will have trauma and no one will give them therapy.
“We did this share of fighting 15 years ago, 20 years ago. My mother did it, our grandma did it.
“We now know there is nothing [that] can be done for this country because the men, men don’t protect us. They won’t protest for us, they won’t respect us. No man has come out and protested for their sisters, their mothers, their daughters, their wives, their nieces, their granddaughters.”
She said the men just want power, money and control while we are being used. So if men are not going to do that for us, what can we do?
And then there are the other men who become suicide bombers based on the idea that when they die, they will have heaven and a bonus of 70, 72 virgins.
But that is insane to me. I do not understand how they are willing to die for this idea that they will be rewarded with 72 virgins in heaven, while on this earth they will not even try to fight for one woman, they will not die for one – not their own mother, their own sister, their own grandma, their own daughter, their own niece.
It amazes me that they are willing to die for these imaginary women that they might get in this heaven but they are not willing to die for women in this country, in this world, on this earth.
There are women begging on the streets with little kids in their laps. These kids are all bitten and they have scars, their mouths are dry from dehydration, their nails are all damaged because of vitamin deficiency and they all look malnourished.
These men have zero empathy for these women and their babies but they will go and marry a 15 or 16, 17-year-old virgin.
They kill the women who sell their bodies to provide food for their families, but they will not kill the men who give the women money for prostitution. The man who is staring at a woman on the street, he will not get punished, but the woman who is walking, not bothering anyone, is told to cover up.
Women are constantly compromised here, while the one causing the problem walks around freely.
Today, I am alone, all my cousins have left, and it is so quiet. The house was full of kids. I used to have my friends over for tea in the evening, but now I am alone. But thank God I am not lonely.
I am going to still stay and continue to raise awareness and try to smile and create jokes and try to make everybody laugh, because the least I can do is try – something I wish to see from the rest of the world too.
I know that this thunder will pass and I am confident light will shine through.
*Nadima, known to her followers as her alter ego Patinggala Kakai, is a Pashtun social media influencer focused on spreading the message of unconditional love and advocating for basic human rights for all.
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‘Men don’t protect us, they won’t respect us’: Afghan diaries | Conflict