A Dusty Refugee
The return of the Taliban in August 2021 jeopardized the lives of innocent Afghans. One way to be protected was by immigration through the US government’s evacuation program from Kabul’s airport. Maryam and her family tried that route but were thwarted by a crisis. Were they evacuated? Are they all together? And where are they now?
It was August 8, 2021, when I received my first salary as a teacher for children at the primary levels of English. My previous shoes were old, so I decided to buy new ones. I went to a shopping mall. After a long search, I chose a pair of sneakers because I had to walk a lot early in the morning to get to my job. I still remember the first day of wearing my new shoes and how I was walking carefully to prevent them from becoming dusty. When I reached the class, one of my students said: “Wow! What beautiful shoes!”
One week had passed with these sneakers, and I was really happy because I had made a good choice. They were comfortable, too. Actually, in Afghanistan, most people enjoyed such small forms of happiness. For example, when it was Eid, they were happy. When it was snowing, they were happy and giving thanks to God. When it was Mother’s Day, they were happy. And when there was no bomb explosion for some days, they were happy.
But on August 15, when Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, collapsed, I thought I would never be able to walk to my teaching job and meet my little happy students—or even wear my new shoes again. I cleaned and boxed them up. But only four days later during the evacuation from Kabul, again there I was: a girl wearing her white sneakers but in a different way! Yes, only ten days before August 19, I was trying to get to my job, but then on August 19, my family members and I were trying to enter the airport to leave the country, because we were afraid of being under control of the Taliban.
During my efforts, my feet were trampled in the crowd in front of the airport gates. After standing for hours, I was shocked to see the condition of my sneakers. They were no longer white. For the next eleven days, we continued our efforts to enter the airport. On our last day outside the airport, my one-year-old brother got terribly sick and we decided to leave. When we returned home, we saw on the news that there had been a horrible bomb explosion just a few hours after we had left the airport, so my little hero, my sweet brother, saved us all.
Days and weeks passed, one after another, until I was informed that I had the chance to leave Afghanistan and immigrate to a country like Canada. I had to choose between leaving home and family and staying under Taliban control. My family said even if I stayed, nothing would be changed. I would not be able to study freely, to walk freely, to speak about my beliefs or even to wear my favourite outfit.
So, soon it was only me, again wearing my white sneakers as I travelled from Kabul to the Torkham border of Pakistan. I really believed it was the last time that I would wear them. I was going to discard them, but I didn’t. Maybe it was destined that my journey would be made in them. Or maybe the reason I didn’t throw them out is that I had bought them with my own money from my first job.
This is me, a girl who has lost her hometown and family and was obliged to immigrate alone. But I’m still happy and hopeful about my future life because I know my small happiness. I mean these are my adventure sneakers. They will take me to Canada where a new life is waiting. I have worn them first in the classroom, then outside the airport, then at Torkham border and now in Pakistan! I want to keep them forever. Many years from now I will say to my children, “Look at these sneakers! Your mother travelled a long way from Kabul to Canada in them.”
Maryam was born in a refugee camp in Iran in 2001. When European and Turkish borders opened for immigration in 2015, she and her family sought refuge and help for her young sister with Down Syndrome. Her sister drowned and the family was deported to Afghanistan. In Kabul, she attended Marefat High School. When the Taliban regained power, she experienced exile again but without her family. She has been in Pakistan for nine months waiting to immigrate to Canada.
Portrait: Iris Hauser with Maryam
The Face of Courage
Graphite and charcoal pencil on paper