For Narges Ghafary, who escaped her native Afghanistan just before the Taliban seized control, the downfall of her republic has been heartbreaking. But it’s also made her reflect on the beauty of her country, and strengthened her resolve to do whatever she can to improve things for the women, girls and children left behind.
As a child, fleeing to Iran to escape the war in Afghanistan was life-changing.
Iranians looked down on refugees—so much so that I hid my identity. But my mother, a proudly fierce Afghan, refused to. She would tell everyone that we were Afghans and that her daughter was a talented girl.
“She will become the person of whom we are most proud!” she would say.
I would blush. But hearing such positivity and vision at the age of nine gave me both the confidence and determination to realize my mother’s dreams.
I was silent and on the verge of tears the day we left Iran to start a new life in our own country, Afghanistan. I didn’t even have time to say goodbye to my friends. “Taliban left. We will have a normal, peaceful life in our own country,” my father repeated proudly. In my mind, I imagined what Afghanistan might look like, all these years later.
It was during a truck ride along bumpy roads, from Islam Qala to Herat, that I made a decision: I would study as much as I could, and become a useful person in Afghanistan. Many years of study later, I joined an international NGO as a Communications Officer, traveling in the western region of Afghanistan to meet people and hear their stories.
I traveled to remote and insecure provinces with my camera, pen, and pad to meet women and children. I listened as they told me how they suffered from harmful social practices.
I was privileged to travel to many of Afghanistan’s provinces during my time with that NGO. For most people but especially for women, travel to most of Afghanistan’s provinces isn’t convenient.
There are many reasons for that: first, the security in most of the provinces is less than ideal, and it’s not safe for a woman to travel alone. Second, in many of the provinces, there are no hotels or accommodation for visitors (unless you have a relative that you can stay with). And third, many of the roads to the provinces are under the Taliban control, which makes them risky to pass through. Despite all of this, I was able to frequently travel to five provinces during my time with the organization. I was lucky to be able to see so much of my beautiful country.
I will never forget the majestic peaks and the red flowers that blanket the hillsides of Badghis province. The province is surrounded by fluffy hills that change color with the seasons. In spring, the hills are dressed in garments of green, covered in sprouting wheat. As the grain nears readiness for harvesting in summer, the sheaves and the mountains turn yellow and brown. And, in winter, white snow reminds farmers to prepare for spring once again.
The heavy snowfall in Ghor province, deep in the Hindu Kush mountains—where snow cuts off scores of villages—always brought to my mind the North Pole that I had read about in our geography classes at primary school. You could even ski during winter on the Herairoad river, and the winters are so harsh that the Taliban usually had to limit their attacks against the government and foreign troops.
Or how I can forget the wounded Buddhas of Bamiyan, the peace, safety, and the untouched nature of Daikondi province, where no TV, Radio, mobile device, and internet works. All you hear is the sound of sheep’s baba, their bells ringing, and the song of birds. I’m sure the skies are bluer, and the clouds fluffier, in this part of the world.
But as well as taking in the scenery, I also spent time with the people of these regions.
I traveled to remote and insecure provinces with my camera, pen, and pad to meet women and children. I listened as they told me how they suffered from harmful social practices—child marriage, men’s sexual preference for boys, a belief in superstitions over science. As distressing as they were to hear, these stories ignited my passion for driving change.
Eventually, I got an offer from one of the universities in the US to pursue my master’s studies in communication and development. I wanted to build upon my existing knowledge and skills to serve my people better, so I could eventually get back to my country and work as a decision-maker in one of the ministries.
Things changed quickly over recent months, and I had to reschedule my tickets to an earlier date because the security situation in my province was getting worse by the day. I was worried: “What if the Taliban captured Herat, and I would be stuck here and can’t leave the country?” Those thoughts were with me during the days and nights.
The day I packed my baggage and got into the airplane, I felt I was escaping. I felt guilty. “No, Narges! you are not escaping; you are only going early just because of the security situation,” I repeated to myself.
“Perhaps life [for men] will not change much with the Taliban in power, but the lives of women and girls will become desperate.”
A few days after my arrival to the US, my country was captured by the Taliban, and the world just watched. It happened so quickly that I can’t believe it yet. My country is no longer a republic, and it is heartbreaking.
These days I am asking myself, “Will I see the fluffy hills of Badghis? Will my face be touched again by the chilly breeze of Ghor? Will I hear the sounds of birds in Daikondi? Will I revisit the wounded Buddhas in Bamiyan? Will I have a country to get back after graduation? Or will I meet my family again?”
I am not sure.
It seems many Afghan men are optimistic about the Taliban overtaking the country. Perhaps their life will not change much with the Taliban in power, but the lives of women and girls will become desperate. These are the men who sold my land and my people to the Taliban for money and power, and I cannot even consider forgiving them for what they have done to me and my fellow Afghan women. And while they are the ones who betrayed us, they are also the ones who would do anything to go to Canada and America if they could.
As always, Afghan women and girls will be the victims.
The Taliban already mentioned that women and girls could go to school and have social activities under the frame of Islam, but they will be the ones who will decide upon that frame, and no-one knows how it will look. Is it similar to the one 20 years ago? Or has it been upgraded based on the modern era? I never trust the Taliban. Their ideology will never change, nor will their interpretation of Islam. They are just trying to buy the trust of the Afghan people and the world, and once they have it, they will again show their true colors.
I am in the US now, separated from my family and not sure if or when I will be able to see them again them. But my mother’s words will be with me forever. I will do my best to be the person my mother wants, and I will do my best to use my talents to help the women and girls who have been left behind. Nothing would make her prouder.
Narges Ghafary and Ben Mcnamara donated their full fees for this article to Médecins Sans Frontières. If you’d like to help the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, you can make your own donation right here.
Narges Ghafary is an Afghan woman, former refugee, relief and development specialist, and communications expert. Narges has spent the last decade working with organizations in rural Afghan communities.