Throughout the day, I check in on other Afghan women who share a roof with me at our hotel in the Albanian resort town of Shengjin. They joke that I’m Albania’s new therapist. We play cards and visit Albanian pastry shops where the desserts taste bittersweet, reflecting our exile.
We try to fill our days with activities to make the time pass more quickly. Last month, I attended a course on trauma care, hosted by the international humanitarian organization Samaritan’s Purse, where we talked about – or at least tried to talk about – all that we left behind.
In the courtyard of the hotel is a strange replica of the Statue of Liberty. My two sons are still trying to climb it. I try not to take its guise of cheap plasticity as some sort of omen that freedom in our next home – if there is another – is just a bloated facade like the version we’re given. sold in Afghanistan.
Every time I wash our clothes in the sink of our hotel room, I think of the last day of our old lives. In August, I was washing my kids’ clothes when a friend texted me to pack my family’s bags immediately. My beloved hometown, Herat, a relatively liberal city in western Afghanistan, was very likely to fall to the Taliban within the next 24 hours. And he did.
The forces had been advancing for months, but I didn’t know how quickly the situation was deteriorating. Yet I had feared for some time that the Taliban were trying to come back. And as a human rights lawyer, I knew the Taliban wouldn’t approve of my career.
In June, after conducting a domestic violence awareness course with the US government, I applied for a special immigrant visa for America. I never heard from the embassy and I’m afraid my application was lost in the administrative mess. But I thought I had the luxury of time. That was until I accepted the reality: the Taliban would surely take over my city and most likely Kabul soon after. And when they arrived, all my dreams of living in a democratic and egalitarian society would vanish.
My husband and I quickly packed a few bags, mostly clothes for our two children and my daughter-in-law, and took the last commercial flight to Kabul. In the rush to leave, I left behind significant items, including my university degree. I was fully educated in Afghanistan and am the first woman in my family to have completed high school, let alone a university degree.
In Kabul, we tried to get to the airport about fifteen times. Contacts from all over the world tried to get us on flights, but to no avail. In Qatar? In Mexico? United States? I don’t care where, I just wanted to hang out.
Finally, in August, we flew to Albania, one of the poorest countries in Europe. We have been here for five months, hosted by the Albanian government in a resort with nearly 1,000 other Afghans. I have not been able to reapply for a special immigrant visa, and we are waiting to hear when our new life will begin in America or Canada. We could be here for another year. Maybe two. Or maybe a week. Who controls the time? I don’t look at calendars anymore.
It wasn’t always like this. I knew I wanted to be a lawyer to help women live better lives with the dignity they deserve – to keep them from being forced into marriages they didn’t want for themselves and staying in situations abusive out of fear or lack of other options.
My mother was forced to marry my father when she was only 12 years old. To go to school, my mother and I made up lies to get my father to let me out of the house. We told him that I was going to the mosque or Koranic studies. When the Taliban were in power, I was a young teenager, and it became very difficult, but there was always a way for me to learn.
We ended up convincing my dad to let me go to college, but my sister was not so lucky. She was forcibly married at the age of 14.
While I have childhood memories of the Taliban beating women in the streets for not wearing their burkas properly, my later teenage years were filled with promise. There were countless international funding for programs focused on women’s equality and conferences filled with “important people” from foreign countries who told us that we could be anything we wanted to be.
Four years ago, on International Women’s Day, I gave birth to my second son. I vowed never to raise my children in a country where women are second-class citizens.
Unfortunately, the future of our country is decided. And that does not include us. So I’ll wait for another plane to take us even further from a country that I love but doesn’t love me. I will wait to build us a new life. Afghan women are strong, but we shouldn’t need to be so strong.