The Sorrowful Rainbow
Green, blue, yellow, purple, red—these colours are supposed to be a rainbow in the sky, but I was looking down at a pile of books, bags, scarves and shoes, all of them covered with blood. Salim, my co-worker, called out to me. and I came back from that memory of two months before when we had visited the site of a Taliban bombing of a school. Salim handed some colourful traditional shoes to me. They had belonged to a 14-year-old girl named Kawser who was killed in that attack. The shoes would now be a part of the exhibit about her life. I was a psychologist working at a museum of human rights where we collected and displayed belongings from victims of war. We also interviewed their families and added their testimony to the displays.
On the night of August 13, 2021, I got a call from the director of the museum telling me we had to pack up everything in the museum and hide it. I couldn’t sleep that night. For the last week, the situation in Afghanistan had been getting worse and worse, as cities fell to the Taliban, one after another. Now the decision to close the museum made me realize this was the end of our story. At 6:00 a.m. on August 14, my co-workers and I met at the museum. We collected all the boxes containing each victim’s possessions and notes from their families about the victims’ hopes and dreams. There was also a story about each of them displayed on the wall above each box. It was so painful to see, but we hoped it also meant that people would never forget their suffering.
That night, every post on social media was about the Taliban and their victories. I went out early in the morning and stood in a long line at the bank. Then I got a message from my friend telling me the Taliban was in Kabul. I left the bank and ran to my office to get documents from my desk. I was so panicked that I fell down twice on my way there. I hurried home afterwards. I was the last member of my family to return. My mother was so happy to see that I was alive.
During my last two months at the museum, I had been working as the manager, so I deleted everything on my computer and phone that could put my family and me at risk. My father burned three books about the victims of the Taliban as well as my grandfather’s book about the history of Shia Muslims. As I watched the fire, I saw my hopes dying in the flames.
I left home that afternoon because it was not safe for me there. I stayed with a colleague for a week, wondering if I would ever see my family again. My family was reunited when we decided everyone would go to Pakistan. We crossed the border on foot. I was so hot and sweaty as I ran to get a taxi for my family, holding the hands of two of my younger brothers. With every few steps, I looked back to make sure my family was following.
That memory suddenly came back to me on a very hot day in July 2022, as I rode my bike in beautiful Edmonton with my younger sister Zahra and some friends following on the path behind me. I was happy to be there, breathing hard and sweating in the sunshine, but my heart was also breaking for others who would never have this experience.
Nasrin Hashemi was born in Tehran, Iran and moved to Afghanistan with her family. She graduated as a psychologist from Kabul University in 2019. She and her family came to Canada in 2021. She is studying and working in Edmonton.