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The woman in the room
A lady in a blue burkha rests against a vehicle. She’s not the subject of this post.
Chatting with a British friend outside a building, the door opened, a woman, stood alone, gestured us to come in quickly. Inside, it was a mess she set to clearing saying this wasn’t normal. She was embarrassed. Whenever she had guests previously she would serve fruit juice, biscuits but she had nothing right now. I am hiding, she told us. I heard your British voices and that’s the first time I’ve opened the door to anyone, she said. What was it? An opportunity to escape, for help, to tell someone her story. She spoke perfect English as many Afghans do. Sit down, won’t you, as she cleared the sheets away. She’d been sleeping, eating, living all in one room. We sat. A knock at the door. Our eyes shot at it. It’s okay she said it’s a food delivery, they’ll leave it outside. She had not left the house in over a month. We had heard the news reports and now here was an Afghan lady we could ask the situation from. It was complicated. Her friends were in the streets, testing the boundaries with the Taliban. Some protesting, others trying to go back to work. The Taliban was telling them things needed sorting out before they’d be allowed back. But this lady here, let’s call her Afsoon (Googled Afghan girls names), was not buying it. She said she knew she’d be killed.
Do you like pomegranate juice, she asked? We’d never had it, but when in Mazar. It was sharp. She laughed at our faces. She laughed a lot the hour or so we were with her. You have to get me out, she told us. She had seen the evacuation flights on the television. She said she knew the British could save her. Could they, could we? No. She had no paperwork which was the first hurdle. And here in this room was the harsh reality behind the headlines. Yes lots of people were taken out of the country. But most would not be taken out. There are 39 million people living here. Where did the world draw the line? At paperwork? Well that was easy to fake, there were offices where you could have a statement written up saying you had worked with the British or US military. Even if you had worked for them, you had to get onto a list. And you had to get through the crowd of thousands of people at the airport, risking death by being crushed, dehydration or by an ISIS suicide bomb. And Afsoon was far from Kabul.
Where was the line and why if she felt scared for her life would she not be rescued, she asked us. We didn’t have any answers. Was her life worth less? No, that’s a cheap thing to say. It was worth something but the hard truth was even being a target did not mean rescue was coming. Okay, she hadn’t worked directly for the western forces but she had believed in the west, lived as they wanted her to, dressed that way, watched their television shows, learned their slang, eaten their food, drank their drink, posted selfies on social media, was it enough? No. She was scared. She described her life before the Taliban took the country as one of freedom. Outside I’d seen women walking the streets. But for her, she couldn’t. What had she done? Why did she think they’d come after her? There were reports of women being attacked, told to stay at home. That was her truth. And she wanted out. She would find a way she said. How?
Well there were people who could help she said. I think she meant smugglers. We needed to go. Stay, won’t you, She said she hadn’t spoken so freely with anyone for a long time. But we had to go. Will you be alright we asked? A useless question. She was a prisoner, physically in the room, her freedom had been taken from her is what she believed, she could physically walk out of the room but she believed that’s where her death would be. Mentally too, locked away. She could not forget the life of only weeks ago, out with friends, dressing how she wanted, going where she wanted, if only those weren’t her memories. Was it cruel the west had abandoned the country after letting it believe for so long this was its new normal? That they could study, grow, be free. Another hard reality, the west didn’t want to be at war anymore. She said she was confused, that being born here was wrong, she didn’t belong here. She was in her twenties and had only known this free life and now she’d been told it would no longer be real. How could that be?
Hey we have to go now, sorry we said. Okay, she said, laughing again. One day I will go to London she said, I belong there. She had seen people getting on the evacuation flights wearing traditional clothes, why take them she protested, they belong with the Taliban. I speak English well, they should’ve taken me.
We’ll catch up with her in a future post.
On the ground,
From the last post
“Back to the boys on the gate, because that’s what they are, boys. The media and the military can oversimplify things—the Taliban is an enemy. Simple. But they’re more than that. I disagree with their worldview but can do that and acknowledge they’re human beings, boys, men, Afghans, Pashtuns, with a language, belief, culture, a sense of humour, blood and bones and lungs and air. And now they’re here stood in a desert stopping strangers because they’ve been told to but are also influenced by the same forces that come through the internet from companies trying to make money from your search history to a picture of your breakfast to a fake smile stood next to people you don’t know, an unimportant moment sold as something of value. Your enemy here has learned to extend his arm with his mobile held to capture you both in landscape and smile because, well he’s seen others do it.”
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This post was free. Please consider a paid plan to support my work and you’ll receive three of these a week. That’s the plan. There are times when I can’t get electricity and hot water which busy me up for a short while. But I get back to the writing soon as I can. After Afghanistan I’m hoping to be in Pakistan. If the lives of people in these place interest you, I’ll keep sending pictures and words.