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Afghan Voices: Phoenix
A former professor and activist's experience living in hiding in Kabul
Afghan Voices is a new publication from The Afghan Digest that features Afghans telling their own stories in their own words. We hope to provide a space where Afghans’ moving stories and powerful voices can be featured because we know that Afghans are the best advocates for themselves. As we navigate the ongoing disaster in Afghanistan and determine how to prevent further tragedy, we hope this column will help provide perspective on the situation and inspire action.
Exile is usually defined as being barred from one’s native country. However, in Afghanistan my family and I are in exile within the borders of our homeland, barred from the real country we know and love.
Why? Because we have spent the last 20 years building up in an inclusive and just Afghanistan that has slipped away before our eyes.
Before the dark day that Kabul fell, I was pursuing a Master of Laws and working as a journalist, an assistant professor at several universities, and director of a social and cultural organization.
Now, I'm hiding in the outskirts of Kabul with a fake national ID card in my pocket to conceal my real identity from the Taliban. Wearing the clothes of a farmer and hiding behind my new mustache and beard, even I am misled as to who I really am.
Kabul, too, is unrecognizable. Filled with Talibs and their harsh mottos, it’s hard to believe this was ever the capital of a democratic country where I was reading philosophy books in libraries, hanging out with my friends in cafés, and teaching university classes where both male and female students came together to learn critical thinking.
A few years ago, I founded and directed an organization that implemented educational programs on democracy, gender equality, human rights, and other socio-cultural topics across 4 Afghan provinces. We also conducted research into and documented the crimes against humanity committed during the Taliban’s oppressive regime in the 1990s.
Now these values are more taboo than ever, and my organization’s work to expose atrocities has put us all at risk of being a victim of one.
Because of my political views and work to manifest them, I received a threat letter from the Taliban one month before their takeover. They called me a kafir (non-believer/non-Muslim) and sentenced me to death for my beliefs. I live in hiding with that threat looming overhead every day.
I have done my best, studied and worked hard, tried to be a good person, sacrificed everything, and dedicated my life to becoming a change maker in my community and making a difference in my country, no matter how small.
I never wanted to be a hero or champion; I was always just committed to fighting for a better, brighter future. Now, I just feel like a failed person who lost everything in a gamble.
My heart aches every time I see my little sisters who once dreamed about what their future might bring. Now, their biggest dreams are regaining what should be basic rights: wearing what they want, thinking the way they wish, going to school and university, studying whatever they desire, becoming self-sufficient, being free.
Our routine is too simple nowadays with little to distract us from our fears. During the day, my brothers and I discuss how to buy groceries without looking suspicious. During the night, we take turns staying awake and carefully watching our front door to keep our family safe.
We are not just afraid for our lives; we fear that our sisters could become victims of this unfair war in an entirely different way, kidnapped by the Taliban and forcibly married off to militants as teen brides. We are not sure what we can do. The only thing I do know is I can't let the Taliban ruin my family’s lives as revenge for my work and beliefs.
This much terror and devastation has caused deep trauma, sorrow, and suffering that is enough for us for the rest of our lives, forevermore.
By: Phoenix (pen name)