Zuhal Sahel Sediqi
This story is about pain, sorrow, and things falling apart. It traces Zuhal’s journey from Kabul to Canada, when she had only one hour to decide to leave or to die. It reflects the struggles of growing up with the Taliban in power and how it has impacted her life and the life of her family. Zuhal shares this story because she wants to be a voice for the thousands of immigrants who suffered through similar experiences.
It’s hard when you lose everything in one day and are given only a couple of hours to decide whether to live or die. Leaving everyone and everything you’ve known—parents, siblings, family, friends, a career, a sweet home, and your beloved country.
As usual, I was excited to go to the office because I liked my job. I was working with an international organization for the development of law in Afghanistan. Despite the risks, I chose to work as a human rights defender, women’s rights activist, family case advisor, and training facilitator for gender-based violence cases.
It was August 15, 2021. The Taliban had returned to power after twenty years. They seized control of Kabul. Suddenly, everything changed. On my way to the office, I witnessed people in shock, afraid, and running everywhere. Thousands were lining up at the banks, trying to get their money out to leave the country. I saw military personnel crying. They were forced to surrender to the enemy, after spending almost twenty years seeking victory.
Gunfire and explosions continued throughout the night. We saw planes flying over the capital, evacuating VIPs, diplomats, and foreigners. For many days, we didn’t go outside. We were afraid not only because it wasn’t safe, but also because we knew what the Taliban would do with people who worked with the government, NGOs, and women’s rights groups. There had been thousands of targeted killings by the Taliban.
We had no chance of survival. We called many people and sent many emails. Finally, it worked—a response from the Canadian government asking us to leave our home immediately and go to the airport. It was a tough decision. We heard there was a large crowd and Taliban checkpoints all over the airport. Gunfire could be heard all over the city.
We decided to go. I grabbed a school bag, two warm jackets for my two daughters, a blanket, a bottle of water, and some biscuits. I knew we would have a difficult time ahead, so I tried not to give up when everyone was sad and hopeless.
I wore my green sneakers They were comfortable, the right choice. I could feel my feet supported by the ground beneath me.
Everyone refused to take us to the airport, except for my regular taxi driver. We started our journey with prayers and fear. I worried about protecting my children. I wasn’t sure if we had made the right decision.
We spent six hours in chaos. Everyone was rushing to reach the final gates of the airport. There were unexpected rounds of gunfire, unbearable to my kids who had never heard gunfire before.
Frightened and crying, my elder daughter begged us to go home. When we decided to go back, there was no way back. The crowd was pushing forward to the gates, and we were stuck. I held the hand of my four-year-old daughter. I tried to convince her that this was a game we were playing, and I assured her that we’d win.
The Taliban were beating people with their guns and lashes. It was a struggle in every sense of the word. Eventually, we arrived at the last gate. It was 3:00 a.m. when we made it across the last checkpoint and entered the airport. American soldiers guided us to the Canadian Special Forces. I still remember their friendly faces. They took us to a designated area: the Canadian refugee camp. We spent almost two days and two nights waiting. Eventually, we made it on the Canadian military flight to Kuwait. After one week, we arrived in Canada.
The day after we left my homeland, I heard the news of a suicide attack at the airport. A total of 183 people had been killed, including civilians and military soldiers. May God, bless them all, and may they rest in peace!
I still remember the breeze when we first landed in Toronto. We spent our nights without any fear, but I was in shock for several months, and even now. Today we are happily getting settled in Toronto. We are trying our best to heal, but my sisters, brother, and parents are still stuck in Afghanistan. I wish I could see them again. I would love to hug my father once more and look into my mother’s beautiful green eyes and smile at them.
Here I am starting a new journey while my people are struggling. Girls and women are once again deprived of their education and civil rights. How can I forget about my Afghan sisters who want an education but aren’t allowed to have one? They are all in a prison right now. That prison’s name is Afghanistan.
I know they won’t surrender, and we will rise again! I speak out on behalf of my sisters who are imprisoned despite having committed no crime. I am their voice because I have the right to speak and the opportunity to draw your attention to their plight.
These days, I don’t want to look at my pair of green shoes. I’m afraid of them and what they witnessed. I’ve exchanged them for a new pair of shoes—to start afresh, new white shoes for a new future.
Zuhal Sahel Sediqi is a human rights defender who has been working for ten years to fight injustice and violence against women. She is a mother of two and a volunteer with the Afghan Women’s Organization and other humanitarian organizations in Canada. In her home country of Afghanistan, she was a legal advisor with an international development law organization. She is determined to start a new life in Canada so she can continue to provide support to women and girls in need.