The White Sneakers
Getting dressed for her escape, a young woman selects her favourite shoes. When she gets to the border, however, she realizes she made a terrible mistake.
August 15, 2021, is a black day for all Afghans, especially for girls. That day, twenty years of achievement for women became nothing. As a nineteen-year-old girl, I no longer had a place in Taliban society. But I was lucky. I was a student at the Marefat School. I was one of the ones selected by the school to leave Afghanistan.
Three days before the trip, I went shopping with my mother. I was allowed to bring two sets of clothes and one pair of shoes. I bought my sneakers. They are white and gold Ben Goji shoes. The combination of the two colours is stunning. When I saw them in the shoe store, I bought them without any delay.
On October 11, I left Kabul for the Torkham border with the rest of the school group. I was wearing a long black hijab with my sneakers. We travelled in five Mercedes with our male escorts: our fathers and brothers, according to Taliban laws.
The distance from Kabul to Torkham was extremely challenging for all the members of the group. Every few kilometres, we had to pass Taliban checkpoints. All these men had dangerous faces and dangerous guns. Their violence scared us. We were worried that they would find out about our school group and that we were Hazara. We feared for our safety.
We arrived at Torkham at 10:00 p.m. and stayed overnight in a filthy hotel. Our escape was a secret, but when we got to the hotel, I was surprised to see two of my classmates.
Early the next morning, we were all ready to cross the border. This was the moment when the girls said goodbye to their fathers and brothers who had brought them to Torkham. Me too. I hugged my father. My father had always encouraged me and said to try hard to reach my goals: “Life is like gold, don’t waste it.” He is my hero and the most important person in my life. I can still feel the warmth of that hug. He told me to be strong and to endure my hardships.
We moved closer to the border. Now I had another worry: my sneakers were white. White is symbolic of the Taliban government because their flag is white. Luckily, my hijab was very long. If they couldn’t see my shoes, they wouldn’t care. We all stood there in long queues just praying that we could pass through without any incidents. I thought to myself that when I passed through that gate, all my problems would be solved and I would be free of the Taliban.
After we stood for four hours, it was our turn. The guard checked my information with my group and we were allowed to cross the border. No one noticed my white sneakers. I had a strange feeling that I was passing through the gate of happiness. We were finally in Pakistan. We all boarded the bus to go to the hostel.
The next morning, I washed my clothes and my sneakers. In Pakistan, I bought two new pairs of shoes to wear in my freedom. I wore my white sneakers again just twice when I went on picnics with my friends. But I want to keep these shoes because they were like a loyal friend in the most difficult situation. I want to get to Canada in these shoes. I hope they will help me achieve a bright future.
Maryam Hussaini was born in 2002. She graduated from Marefat High School in 2021, the year the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan. Unable to continue her education, she was forced to leave the country. She wants to become a lawyer and a voice for all women.
Portrait: Gabriela Garcia-Luna with Maryam Hussaini
Maryam and Blossoms
Photo digital collage portrait with flowers photographed by Maryam Hussaini.
“I met Maryam for the first time at the beautiful Boffins gardens in Saskatoon. As we talked about our project and her portrait, I suggested she take some photos of flowers for me to include in the work.
Maryam mentioned she didn’t know how to take photos so I asked her if she would be interested in learning a bit of photography using a professional camera. In that moment, Maryam’s eyes open wide and showing evidence of her desire to learn. I arranged to have our next session a few days later at PAVED Arts from which we received sponsorships with equipment and space for our project.
Maryam and I met in the following weeks, and she learned the principles of photography and produced beautiful images of flowers to include in her portrait. Within the time we worked together, we learned from each other. We shared stories! The work we presented is about Maryam, about the Afghan women and the many other women in the world throughout history that have blossomed and will continue blossoming in spite of the oppression put upon them.
It has been a great honour working in The Waterlilies Portrait Project to amplify the voice of women, raising awareness of their human rights and freedom.”