You Never Know Where Your Shoes Will Take You
As they sit down to a special meal together, an extended family hears terrible news. They must flee Afghanistan. As they seek a way out, running from border point to border point, a young woman maintains her hope that she and her family will sit down to eat together again in peace.
It was a sunny day. My grandma was with us, so we decided to make a delicious meal for lunch: aykhanum. To make aykhanum, we bake some vegetables and meat with spices, then put all the ingredients into dough and roll them. After that step, we steam it for thirty minutes.
So, we started preparing lunch in the morning. We were busy cooking when my father came home. He realized that we knew nothing about what was happening outside the house. He seemed angry and devastated when he shared the news of Kabul’s collapse to the Taliban. Although the Taliban had been taking control of other provinces before they invaded Kabul, we didn’t expect Kabul would fall to them so quickly.
That day the aykhanum was delicious, but we didn’t enjoy it. The air was full of despair and fog. After one month, we realized we had no choice but to flee to Pakistan. My life’s longest journey began. It took thirteen days.
We were twenty people in my family, including my two uncles and my aunt with their families. For our trip, I chose my shiny, polished, black boots. They were leather with laces and tiny heels. We boarded a bus and expected to cross to Pakistan from the Torkham border, but during the bus ride, we found out that we were being taken to Helmand to cross the Bahram Cha border. It took one day to get there. By the time we did, the Taliban had put up heavy security and closed the border.
The first night we spent in a “safe house” in Helmand. It was terrifying. There was no guarantee of safety in the middle of nowhere. Bullet holes in the walls reminded us of the war. For the next twelve days, we travelled from border point to border point and province to province without success. The adults grew hopeless and the children grew restless, noisier, and more annoying. My shiny, black shoes became covered with dust and dirt.
On day thirteen, we prepared to cross the border from Spin Boldak. There were checkpoints every few feet; all the women had to wear a chadari (a big, blue scarf that covers the entire body, even the face). We could barely see ahead of us.
The whole journey was terrible, but the day at the Boldak border was the worst. This is the busiest border Afghanistan has with Pakistan. There was an endless queue with four or five ways into one big gate. We had to show our counterfeit documents and tell lies, hoping the officers would let us pass.
We were at the border the entire day. We were rejected more than five times. My shoes were made of leather, and on that very hot day, they were getting loose and my feet were burning. By the end of the day, only half of us had been allowed to cross. I was part of the group who hadn’t. We tried again the next day. Eventually, we, too, crossed the border, and entered Pakistan.
From there we started another long trip from Chaman to Islamabad. It took thirteen hours. The first three hours were through mountains. Then we saw a river and grasslands. These sights were calming. At last, we were in Islamabad.
Although this journey was very tough, my big family got through it together. It helped me feel closer to my uncles and aunt. It united us. Now, while eating dinner together, we talk about those days.
We laugh and feel sorry for ourselves as well. The food we eat here is not very special, but it has the taste of freedom and hope. And my shoes are still with me. Whenever I look at them, they remind me how far I have come.
Marwa Nasrati was born in Kabul on September 11, 2001. After graduating from high school in 2019, she was admitted to Kabul Medical University in the stomatology department. However, due to the Taliban takeover, she was not allowed to continue her studies. Now the most important step for her is to improve her English.
Portrait: Allyson Glenn with Marwa Nasrati
Acrylic and Oil on Canvas
30 x 33″