Reader’s story: ‘My daughters and I are safe in Sweden, but I still think of Afghanistan’

Watching from afar as the Taliban retook Afghanistan brought back terrible memories, writes one of The Local's readers.

Reader's story: 'My daughters and I are safe in Sweden, but I still think of Afghanistan'
A social worker address Afghan women gathered at a hall in Kabul on August 2nd. Photo: Sajjad Hussain/AFP

One day some 20 years ago I woke up with a gut-wrenching pain in my stomach. A big knot would build up in my belly and whirl up towards my throat and before it resolved another one would follow.

I silently moaned in pain. Every time a scream would build up, I would suppress it adding to the already congested throat of mine. My eyes were fixed on the door waiting for my husband to come home, so he could take me to the hospital. I was 19 years old! I was scared! I was pregnant!

My name is Shekiba Khan and in the Taliban’s Afghanistan I had ceased to exist.

The Taliban during their five-year-long occupation of my city, Kabul, had a long list of rules dictating how people lived their lives.

Playing music, listening to music and possessing music was banned and harshly punishable by law.

Speaking your mind was considering a rebellious act and was punishable by death. The education system was tailored to glorify their own brand of radicalism, promoting the killing of non-believers, and indoctrination of children from the age of six was a harsh reality. In textbooks, illustrations of bananas and pears were replaced by guns and grenades.

Every Friday people were forced to gather in the city’s football stadium to watch the chopping of hands or public executions. These rules and a thousand other barbaric in nature were only for men, women simply were not allowed to exist.

As a woman I was not allowed to go out without a male companion, even if it was to give birth to a baby. In between my painful contractions I would look at my belly and pity the destiny the daughter I was giving birth to was going to have in this hell.

My husband came. I gave birth and we named her Bahar, which in Persian means “the spring”, in the hope that her birth would bring a new sun into our dark lives.

I brought Bahar to Sweden where she would not have to endure what I had had.

In Sweden I am often asked to describe how my life and my daughters’ lives have changed. It is an unfair question. It is not as if we are comparing apples and oranges.

In Sweden, Bahar once doomed to a miserable life simply because she was a girl, has flourished into an intelligent firebrand feminist. She is in her second year of medical faculty with ambitions of becoming a Thorax Surgeon.

I have acquired myself an education from scratch all the way to becoming a pre-school teacher. Marjan my youngest daughter, born in Sweden and now at the age of 13, is writing a book on the impacts of our changing environment, whereas the only wish back under the Taliban’s Afghanistan I had was to be as free as the stray cats and dogs of our alley who I often sneaked a peek at from the corner of our window and envied their freedom.

Life in Sweden is safe and comfortable. I am a contributing member of society with full rights. In fact, for the first time in my life I voted to choose the government of Sweden in the last election. It was a sensational feeling to see how my vote could form the future of a nation. I felt human.

I don’t know how my children feel, but I am not happy nevertheless. I am not happy because the scares of my past are still very visible in every fibre of my being.

I always have flashbacks and nightmares of ending up again in the hell I escaped from. Every freedom act I commit here feels as if it is the last act I am performing. My nightmare turned real last week. After 20 years the Taliban came back to my city, and I had the same pain in my stomach. A big knot built up in my belly and whirled up towards my throat and before it resolved another one followed. This time only more intense and only more painful.

There is a knot in my stomach for all the other girls who still envy cats and dogs and bird who are free but as of Sunday they are not any more.

Shekiba is a mother-of-three living in Stockholm, Sweden, and she is a preschool teacher. 

Member comments

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your story, what a wonderful and brave mother and woman you are. I am so sad and for these girls and women in Afghanistan.

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‘No laundry after 10pm’: What foreign residents in Zurich should and shouldn’t do

Switzerland's largest city has a myriad of written and unwritten regulations about what is and isn’t allowed. We asked our readers to share their own experiences.

'No laundry after 10pm': What foreign residents in Zurich should and shouldn't do

About 32 percent of Zurich’s population are foreigners, with Germans making up the largest group, followed by Italians, and Portuguese.

There is a sizeable English-speaking community in the city and canton as well.

Wherever they come from, each newcomer has had to learn the proverbial “ropes” of living in Zurich: what they should and should not do.

In October, we asked Zurich-based readers two questions: the ‘must-do’s’, and the activities that, based on their own experiences, foreigners should abstain from doing in order not to irritate the locals.

READ MORE: Tell us: Are there things that foreign residents in Zurich absolutely should (or shouldn’t) do?

The respondents have been living in Zurich for periods ranging from 18 months to 12 years, so they are well versed in the ways of the city.

This what they told us.

‘Be neat’

First, we asked for advice on things that foreign residents should get used to doing in Zurich.

“Accept the strict rules of garbage recycling,” Giesela Homa wrote, bringing home the point about the importance of proper trash disposal not only in Zurich, but throughout Switzerland as well.

READ MORE: Trash talk: What are the rules for garbage disposal in Switzerland?

Ramesh, an experienced resident with eight years in Zurich under his belt, reiterated what many foreigners already know but sometimes don’t put into practice: “You have to adapt to the Zurich way of life.”

“In most other countries, it is okay to be loud on Sundays,” he said. “But in Zurich, and Switzerland in general, Sundays are strictly for home. No vacuum cleaners or being loud.”

Another reader offered a practical tip like “look for deals to save money”, which is imperative in the world’s most expensive city.

That same person also recommends getting a half-fare travelcard for public transportation, which is also a good way to cut the cost of living.

Another no-nonsense advice is to “shop at Aldi, not Migros”.

Juraj suggested swimming in the lake (we assume he means in the summer), while Jennifer’s advice is to visit an area  called Frau Gerolds Garten.  Located on Geroldstrasse, it combines a market, art venues, and an urban garden.

One reader’s  advice is to “be neat”, which is sure to go down well in a country obsessed with cleanliness.

READ MORE: OPINION: Can foreign residents ever emulate the Swiss obsession for cleanliness?

Another brought up a point that should be self-understood but needs repeating nevertheless. “Take initiative to make friends,” the reader said.

Those are all valuable tips, but our favourite (though we are admittedly biased) is this one: “Sign up for The Local to get the updated news from around Switzerland.” (We might add that this tip holds true wherever in the country you may live).

‘Don’t break the rules’

Next, we asked what things foreigners in Zurich should never do.

Here too we received some valuable input, some which is in line with the much-talked-about rules of being a considerate neighbour.

“Never make noise after 10 o’clock the evening,” Giesela said. This includes, as other readers pointed out, “not flushing your toilet after 10 pm, or doing laundry at night or on Sunday”.

READ MORE: Swiss daily dilemmas: Can I flush my toilet at night?

“You should respect people’s privacy.  And be quiet in public transportation,” a respondent who identified themselves as Z, said.

Ramesh has also stressed the importance of respecting other people’s privacy. “Avoid enquiring about personal topics unless allowed to do so,” he said.

One reader advised against venturing to Sihlquai at night. It is an infamous neighbourhood that used to be a prostitution hub and considered unsafe, though it has been cleaned up in recent years.

Jennifer brought up an issue that is a sore point in many interactions between the Swiss and foreigners: “Don’t expect everyone to speak to you in English,” she said. “Do your part to integrate by learning conversational German.”

READ MORE: Why you shouldn’t expect the Swiss to speak English to you

To that end, as one respondent pointed out that you should greet people with ‘Grüezi’, not  ‘Grüessech’ which is likely a nuance only people living in Zurich can understand.

A reader named Albin, who has lived in Zurich for 12 years, summed up the entire subject succinctly but accurately: “Don’t break the rules” – a piece of advice that any foreigner would do well to comply with, whether living in Zurich or elsewhere in Switzerland.

READ MORE: Five Swiss laws that foreign residents are bound to break

What else would you add to this list? Leave a comment in the comments section below.