Running in a Burka
On the morning of Sunday, August 15, 2021, the Taliban took over Kabul. As I ran through the streets, I saw many other people like me, rushing to find taxis to get home. Others were trying to escape to their villages outside the city. I also saw that the street booths were suddenly full of burkas and hijabs, the merchants taking advantage of the life-and-death need for women to cover themselves. I knew we were back to the way things were twenty years ago when the Taliban took over Kabul and stole our freedom. After the coup, we stayed at home for a week, frightened and anxious.
Finally, my uncle called and said we could go to Pakistan with his office staff. He told me to pack one set of clothing and nothing else. I wore a long green dress and the white sneakers I had received as a graduation gift, back when I was still optimistic about my dream of higher education and a successful life. Now I was leaving everything behind. I had missed my interview for a scholarship from a university in Kazakhstan. I couldn’t see any of my friends and relatives. I couldn’t pack any of my traditional Afghani clothes and I couldn’t take any of my books from the Rahila Foundation, where I had been working as an office manager. The Rahila Foundation, named after a young victim of the war killed in an explosion in west Kabul, organized social activities for girls and boys in order to promote equality and cultural acceptance.
Later on, when I was in Pakistan, I heard that the Taliban had closed the foundation and cancelled all the activities. I hoped that people would still have access to the books in the foundation’s library. But the Taliban shut that down, too. On August 21, we walked to the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was crowded with people trying to save their lives. I saw people shoving children and women. Others were calling out to lost family members or begging for a bottle of water on that extremely hot day. I thought the Pakistani police would welcome us due to our situation, but it was the complete opposite. They were hostile toward us because we were Hazara, an ethnic minority they discriminate against in Pakistan.
We tried to cross the border three times that day but couldn’t get through so we had to sleep on a balcony that night. The next day we hired a smuggler to help us. He asked me to take off my white sneakers as the Taliban didn’t allow people to wear shoes and socks the same colour as their flag. He also asked me to wear a burka. Finally, my uncles, several siblings and I made it into Pakistan, but my parents and my six-year-old brother were held back. I was terrified I would never see them again, but they finally managed to cross six hours later.
On the morning of January 11, 2022, we got off the plane in Calgary. What a blessing for me to be with my family. I felt lucky to be safe and confident about achieving my goals in this new country. I also saw a bright future for my siblings. My sister Tahera was so excited about getting the chance to play soccer and dance again. At the same time, I was so sad for all of my friends and the Afghan girls whose dreams had been destroyed in a day by the Taliban. I wish from the bottom of my heart for the girls of my land to be free.
Taiba Atimadi was born in 2002 in the province of Daikondi, in Afghanistan, and grew up in Kabul. She came to Canada in January 2021 with her parents and uncles. She is upgrading for university and working at Free Play for kids in Edmonton. She plans to study business and fashion designing.