I Didn’t Buy These Shoes to Run For My Life
It’s 1:00 p.m. on August 5, 2021, a sunny day with a breeze. I am wearing a pink dress and matching pink running shoes. I have finished work for the day, and I’m on my way to meet my friends in person after four months of online classes. I get into a taxi and tell the driver I’m going to the university. I wear headphones so I can listen to music instead of all the bad news on the radio about the Taliban and how close they are getting to Kabul. This is nothing new. It has been this way for two decades now, but the Taliban cannot defeat the government. At least, I hope they can’t! My family would immediately be targeted, because my mom is a journalist who has reported the Taliban`s crimes for years, and my dad works as a human rights defender. They have been threatened many times, but we are fine as long as the government supports us.
I’m lost in my thoughts, but then I realize the taxi driver is trying to make conversation with me. “So you work with foreigners, huh?” he says. (Anyone from a Western country is considered a “foreigner”.)
“No! I’m just a student,” I reply. But I do work with foreigners. The research organization I work for is funded by Sweden and Germany. How could the driver possibly know about that? Am I going to be the next victim of these killings of so-called enemies of the Taliban that have been taking place recently in Kabul? I am probably overreacting. But then I see the driver searching his bag with one hand while he steers with the other. He takes out a gun and tries to hide it between his legs. I freeze. My heart is beating so fast it feels like it’s going to explode. I try to pull myself together, but I know I am either going to be kidnapped or shot. I scream at him to pull over, and threaten to break his window with my water bottle. He keeps going. I see policemen a few metres ahead, but my driver speeds up and passes them. I think my life is over, but suddenly he stops and tells me to get out. I stand on a street corner to catch my breath.
What just happened? Why didn’t he kill me? Did he mistake me for someone else? Did he only mean to scare me or is it a miracle that I’m still alive? Ten days later Kabul falls! The government didn’t even fight for us. They handed over the whole country and thirty million people to the Taliban. We felt totally betrayed. That same week we packed our lives into backpacks for the long journey ahead.
We have an expression: “Be careful what shoes you choose for your journey.” This expression actually refers to choosing friends, but for me, my pink shoes were the good friends I chose. They were my companions when I travelled across the country to the border, and in Pakistan while we were hiding from the police because we did not have visas. I wore them on our trip to Canada, and I was also wearing them the first time I was alone in a taxi in Canada. The memory of the other taxi ride was still fresh, so I had my phone unlocked and ready to call an emergency number—just in case.
We are safe now and I cannot wait to make memories and grow up in our new home, but my heart aches for the women and girls left behind in Afghanistan.
Muska Bahar moved to Canada with her family in 2022 after the Taliban took over Afghanistan. She was a student in Kabul when she and her family left the country. She is now trying to overcome new challenges and establish a normal life in Canada.