The Longest Journey of My Life

The Longest Journey of My Life
Sana Nasrati


A family of twenty, including a baby, sets out on a complicated journey with many setbacks. But a young woman and her uncle, followed by the others, finally walk to freedom.


Forty days had passed since the unexpected arrival of the Taliban. Those days were hard for all Afghans, especially those who worked with foreign organizations. Working women were most in danger. My mom worked for a women’s economic empowerment project, so my family lived in constant fear. It was 5:00 in the morning when my sister woke me up. “We are going to Pakistan!” I was shocked and happy. I knew that we were trying to leave, but I didn’t know that this day was the day.

My mom was packing. “Hurry and gather a few clothes,” she said. “Wear your new shoes that you bought for Eid.” These were my shiny, black shoes with buckles and a beautiful mesh vamp.

First we went to my uncle’s house. Together we waited hours for the bus. It came only at midnight because the drivers thought the Taliban checkpoints would be easier to pass at night. Without knowing what was waiting for us, we climbed on board. There were twenty of us.

My youngest cousin was only forty days old.

After a few hours, the bus stopped suddenly. Two Taliban men came on board. It was the first time that I had seen any of them up close. They were so frightening with their guns and their fanatical facial expressions.

Sixteen frustrating hours later, we finally got to Helmand Province, but it was getting dark, so we spent the night in an old, weird “safe house”. In the morning we woke up to the bad news that there was fighting near the border. We spent six days waiting. Then we decided to try to cross at the border town of Spin Boldak instead.

After a night in Kandahar, and only four hours’ sleep, we started a new trip during which we had to pass three Taliban checkpoints.

Since there were twenty of us, we couldn’t cross the border all at once, so we separated into five groups. I was with my oldest uncle. It was so hot that day. My feet were burning in those leather shoes. I was also wearing a chadari that covered all my face and body. I could barely see. We had only counterfeit documents, so we had to hope that they would let us through.

After undergoing questioning from some soldiers, my uncle and I finally reached the gate on the Pakistan side. When he looked at our documents, the soldier smiled and said, “Wait over there.”

I said to myself, “Oh, we’re finally in Pakistan. This is the end of our frustrating journey.”

Then suddenly, a man who was standing there told my uncle, “You got rejected, too.”

I was shocked, but my uncle said, “Don’t worry, we will try again.”

We went all the way back to the Afghan side only to find it closed. Someone said that it would open again the next day. “What should we do?” I asked my uncle.

He got an idea. “Do you see that the gate is a little bit open? If we run, the Taliban won’t notice.”

So we ran toward the gate. I looked at my uncle and saw the fear in his eyes. But he was smiling when we reached the Pakistani gate again. I glanced at my shoes and saw that they were dusty and dirty, not my beautiful, shiny, black shoes anymore.

Unfortunately, our second attempt also failed, but the next day we made it. This was the longest journey of my life. And now when I walk in those shoes, they remind me that those days are over. I am in Pakistan with all my family, and we are safe.

Sana Nasrati was born in 2003 in Kabul. She is 18 years old and graduated from high school in 2021. She was admitted to Kabul Medical University in the Faculty of Anaesthesia but has not been able to continue her education because of Taliban’s ruling against women’s education.


Portrait: Cristine Andrew Stuckel with Sana Nasrati



Acrylic, ink, gesso, carbon transfer, and gold leaf on birch panel with video projection

Size: 24” x 30”

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