By Siyahmuy Afzali
During the last 17 months, my wandering soul has not found peace. My city — my Kabul — has become a purgatory from which I cannot escape or live.
I am Siyahmuy, a girl born amid war, violence, explosions, suicide, and pain. My mother remembers my earliest days: “The city was under rocket attack by the mujahedeen. You were a three-day-old baby. I put cotton in your ears so that the loud noise would not damage your ears.”
After seven years, the mujahedeen left, and the Taliban, like a black demon, raised their flag. More than 20 years later, the same terror, the same fear, and the same black demon again invaded our lives.
It was August 15, 2021, and we were riding in a taxi. I was on my way to my uncle’s house with my mother. There was heavy traffic. The driver was struggling to move through the crowded road when my phone rang. It was one of my friends. Her voice was thick with distress as she asked, “Have you heard that the Taliban are almost entering the city? Where are you?” I replied with a trembling voice, “Out.”
“What the hell! Who would step out on such a day? she asked.
My mother begged the driver to return us home: “I will pay as much as you wish.” She was fearful and panicked. She kept whispering to herself, “Why didn’t you wear a long gown today? What should I do if something happens to you?”
I could see fear and anxiety on her face as she told me to pull my pant legs down. My mother wasn’t to blame. I meant everything to her. My father had passed away a month before. All her hope rested on me, her only child.
It took two hours to get home. My mother immediately closed all the curtains. Then she said, “Don’t leave the house. I don’t want anyone to know we’re alone.”
My mother’s fear and anxiety during that day will never leave me.
The Taliban invaded my Kabul like moths and grasshoppers. It’s been almost 17 months since the black demon destroyed everything.
The women of my homeland have been denied the right to choose, whether its education, travel, marriage, clothing or all other liberties that we once took for granted I am one of those women. I have completed my studies in language and literature. My goal was to earn a master’s degree in journalism with the dream of working in the media. Instead, I was imprisoned in the house.
I am prohibited from venturing out and having fun. I have no idea how long this situation will last. Additionally, I have to wear black from head to toe and cover my face whenever I go out to buy our necessities. This is really tough for me. At the same time, I have to deal with strange looks from rude city residents. I am distressed and pained by all of these interactions. Earlier this week, I got a call from the English institute where I studied last year asking me to pick up my documents at nine o’clock in the morning. At 8 a.m., I left the house wearing the same mandatory black clothes as before. While walking, I encountered a group of boys, probably in the ninth or tenth grade, who were teasing me. Without saying a word, and with my head down, I continued walking. I arrived at the taxi station. The front seat of a taxi was empty and I sat down. The driver said, “Sister, are you paying double for that seat?”
“Why, Brother?” I asked. “Another woman can sit next to me.”
“No, Sister,” he replied. “According to the Taliban, two women are not allowed to sit in the front seat.”
“That’s right. I’ll pay for two,” I said reluctantly.
On the way, while looking at the streets and the markets, I couldn’t stop thinking about school girls, female teachers, female employees, and all other women and girls. Those women were a part of Kabul 17 months ago, but now the city can’t even bear to see a single woman on its streets. Is it possible that the Taliban’s arrival brought so many changes to the city and its citizens? Does the Taliban’s presence in this city make even the sight of a woman burdensome for men?
My mind was occupied by those thoughts when I arrived at the institute. It was filled with girls, all of them wearing black from head to toe. A poster on the wall says, “Observe the Islamic hijab.” Another poster shows the side-by-side images of two bodies covered by cloth: one is a woman in a burqa and the other is a woman in a black hijab; only their eyes are visible. I wonder how a woman can study and learn under a burqa.
It’s a shocking change from the days when I was studying here and the female students wore fashionable and colourful clothes and were enthusiastic about learning.
Outside the institute, I recognized one of my friends. We talked about our daily routines for a few minutes. “Don’t you feel the atmosphere of the city is extremely strange?” I asked, noting that “compared to a few months ago, men’s behaviour has changed a lot.”
She immediately responded, “It’s just the tip of the iceberg. If we don’t die, we will see more strange things happen next.” Not all the changes can be attributed to the Taliban. She described how her neighbour now yells at his wife every day, shouting, “The Taliban aren’t doing things the right way. They must beat you. They should break the legs of one or two so that the rest of you will not dare to leave the house. Shameless women!”
My heart was full of sorrow as I returned home. I used to feel better when I was out. Now, I feel more depressed as anger squeezes my throat.
I have seen Kabul transform itself a masculine city. The majority of men appear happy to see fewer women around.
However, I always ask myself, “Why is this the case? How long will it last? When will we get our due?” Every time I put on my black clothes, it’s as if I’m enveloped by the black demons of the Taliban.
Siyahmuy Afzali lives in Kabul.