In a hotel room in Albania, Afghan women wait for a new life and watch their homeland crumble

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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.

There, the situation is grim. The United Nations Development Program projects that by the middle of this year, Afghanistan could face “universal poverty”, with 97% of Afghans living below the international poverty line of $1.90 per day set by the World Bank. That’s an increase of up to 25% from the poverty rate before the US withdrawal, according to the UNDP.
Last week, the UN issued its biggest ever appeal for aid to a single country: $5 billion in hopes of shoring up collapsing basic services, which has left 22 million people in the need inside the country and 5.7 million people needing help beyond its borders. Afghanistan has become the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world. But no amount of money will bring peace to our troubled souls.

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.

After fleeing Herat, my family and I spent a month alternating in fear between the office of a European non-profit organization in Kabul and a friend’s apartment. The Taliban know who I am. For the past decade, I have advocated for survivors of domestic violence and led informal but determined coalitions of women — psychologists, doctors, activists, lawyers, educators — to confront this country’s endless war on women.

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.

She is almost 3 years old but as small as a baby.  This is the face of the hunger crisis in Afghanistan

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.

Women’s rights were supposed to be the success story of the 2001 US invasion, but the legacy of war has been killing our women for years. It is estimated that two-thirds of Afghan girls do not go to school, 87% of Afghan women are illiterate and more than 70% face forced marriage.
Yet, over the past two decades, the United States has spent hundreds of millions of dollars promoting women’s rights in Afghanistan, and an entire generation of us began our careers with genuine hope for equal rights. sexes. Now these all sound like empty slogans. What will become of all the awesome women I know who are lawyers, doctors, teachers, politicians? The Taliban claim it won’t hurt them, but the reality is likely to be quite different, and already the women of Afghanistan are being forced inside again.
Just last week, photos posted on social media of clothing store workers in Herat cutting off the heads of female mannequins. The Taliban authorities called them “un-Islamic”. Earlier this month they banned women without male escorts from entering cafes in the city. CNN has not been able to independently verify this information, although it matches what I have heard from Afghans living there. Last month the Taliban also banned women from traveling more than 45 miles without a close male relative.

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.


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