On That Night Birds Were Not Flying
A terrified young woman is at school when the Taliban invades Kabul. It is only one year after the terrorist group bombed a school, killing 150 people of her Hazara ethnicity. She wants to protect her family. However, she realizes that her past as a speaker for women’s rights makes her a target.
If you want to live in Afghanistan and you are Hazara, you must be intelligent. You have to excel. You must be the best to enter Kabul University. But when our people go to prepare for the entrance exam, they kill us. For example, on August 24, 2020, there was an explosion in the Kawsar-e-Danish Education Center. More than 150 Hazara people were killed, and my brother was one of 200 who were injured. One year later, on August 15, 2021, the Taliban took control of Kabul. It was incredible and dangerous! I was in shock, speechless. I was terrified about my life, my family, education…In just one second, everything was destroyed.
I am Farzana Sarwari, twenty-one years old. I was at school when I heard the news. By 10:00 p.m., I arrived home, and soon my young sister and brothers did, too. My father was out of country working so that we could have food and money to go to a private school. My mother was terrified for her children and my old grandmother.
That was not just a simple night like many others. It was a nightmare. A big reality nightmare with the Taliban. People were running away. Women were shouting and crying in the streets. On that night. birds were not flying. Dogs were not barking. As darkness fell, the silence of the devil took Kabul.
Days passed. Banks were closed. People were hungry. There was no food to eat. No money to buy food. Many people were killed at borders as they tried to get to Pakistan and Iran. Poor people with empty pockets stayed in Afghanistan. They had nowhere to go.
They just waited for their death. Government soldiers and police officers hid themselves. The police cars on the road were in the hands of the Taliban.
During my education, I was involved in civil activities, including the Marefat magazine. I was also a producer at Marefat radio and an announcer at many ceremonies. In 2015, the Taliban kidnapped passengers on the Kabul-Kandahar highway and beheaded seven Hazara. I made a speech calling for justice for them. Three hundred thousand people heard my message. Voice of America spoke about me on a TV show. I also made a speech on International Women’s Day. Due to these activities, I was endangering my family. I had to leave.
I left home with convenient black shoes with flat heels. My grandma had given them to me to keep my feet safe from cold weather, mud and soil. The shoes took me to Pakistan. I left with a broken heart. I took care of my family, but I couldn’t save them. I could not save my parents. I left them behind. It was very painful, but I had no choice. They are in Kabul under the government of the Taliban—the same people who injured my beloved brother.
My brother can’t go to university because of the Taliban. He will not participate in that system. A month ago my father returned to Afghanistan because my grandma is very sick. We thought she might pass away because she could not eat or move. I am not separate from what is going on in Afghanistan. I want to see my family, and I want them to be proud of ‘such a girl they have…’
This is my story: the story of a refugee who is not clear where she will go with those black shoes. But I have a dream. I dream of a better world where human beings are valued. An educated, humane world where all human virtues are valued. I am struggling to build that world.
Farzana Sarwari was born in 2000 and graduated from Marefat High School in 2018. She was studying dramatic literature and law when Kabul fell in 2021. Her education came to an abrupt halt. She was at risk because she had spoken out about girls’ education and women’s rights. She is now in Pakistan where she dreams of one day rejoining her family.
Portrait: Rowen Dinsmore with Farzana Sarwari
“Her Unrelenting Radiance”
Oil on canvas
Size: 15” x 20”