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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Readers reveal: Top tips for things to do in Sweden this summer

Sweden's summers are so gorgeous that you'd be a fool to spend much time abroad. From mountain hikes around Kebnekaise and Åredalen to the beaches of Österlen and Gotland, from upmarket brunches to loppis flea markets, here are our readers' top tips on what to do.

Readers reveal: Top tips for things to do in Sweden this summer

What to do 

Perhaps the best advice a reader gave when we asked on our Facebook page for top tips for things to do in Sweden this summer came from Jay, a Brit living in Skåne. 

“Do the things that Swedes do in summer! They’re the experts!” he suggests. 

What Swedes do is as generally as little as possible, or at least as little as possible that is pre-planned.

Astrid, a Swede based in the UK, sums up the general vibe. 

“Chill, relax & family time. Swimming on the fresh water lakes & rivers. Smooching round shops, loppis with lunch and coffee stops as you go. Or simply going to lake, make a fire, barbecue some chicken, and enjoy.” 

Mirella, a Dutchwoman married to a Swede, recommends visiting the outdoor Loppis events that spring up around the country. 

A loppis on Dalens football ground in the. Slottskogen park in Göteborg. Photo: Faramarz Gosheh/

Amanda from the UK says she made “memories that will live forever” by embracing Swedish raggare culture and visiting some of the classic car meets in Varberg and Falkenberg, where she say “hundreds of stunning vehicles, car obsessives, rockabillies, alternative cultures, people happy to show off their astonishing vehicles and share their stories”.

It was, she writes “one of the highlights of my life”. 

If you already live out in nature, you don’t even need to leave the house.  Alex, who lives outside Stockholm, says she plans to “literally live in the backyard and tend to the garden as we grow a lot of fruits and vegetables”, all washed down with frequent glasses of rosé wine. 

What to do in and near Stockholm 

Many Stockholmers disappear to their summer houses in the summer months, but there’s lots to do if you stay put. 

Dou recommends simply visiting Kungsträdgarten, the tree-lined park in central Stockholm which has a succession of events on its stages throughout the summer. 

Johanna instead suggests a visit to the Skansen park, with its historic houses from different parts of Sweden, its Zoo and its hugely popular open-air concerts. 

Annie loves doing the Haga parkrun every Saturday in the summer, which she says is a “really beautiful run, with loads of banter!”. 

Grace recommends a leisurely brunch at the “legendary” Grand Hotel Stockholm. 

For a more active day, Kathy enjoys kayaking on the waterways around Stockholm, while Heather Barrett suggests floating over the city in a hot air balloon. 

One of the most fantastic things about Stockholm, though, is the countryside, islands and charming towns outside it. 

Helene enjoys getting the ferry all the way to Sandhamn, the last major island in the Stockholm archipelago, while Ariel is content with stopping at Vaxholm, the medieval fortress and town that is the gateway to the islands.

The ferry boats to the archipelago are so accessible in Stockholm that Heather, with slight exaggeration, recommends that people “take the ferry to the islands hundreds of times” over the course of the summer.

Going in other direction, several people recommend taking a day trip to Mariefred and the historic Gripsholm Castle, others going south to the Riddersholm nature reserve on the coast near Norrköping. 

A taxi boat in Växholm. Photo: Anna Hållams, Visit Sweden

What to see and do in southern Sweden

A lot of people tipped the beaches and nature reserves in southern Sweden, with Venetia recommending Åhus beach on the east coast of Skåne for having the “softest sand”,  and Lara instead promoting the windy dunes of the Falsterbo peninsular. 

Mona said that visitors would “love” Österlen, the southeastern corner of Skåne cut off by the road between Ystad and Brösarp, and also recommended the coast a little further north in Blekinge, which she said was called the “garden of Sweden”. 

Mylinda instead recommended the beach at Råå on the west coast of Skåne near Helsingborg,  while Monika suggested going further north into Halland and staying at the sumptuous beachside Varberg Kusthotell. 

For Kira, the cities of Southern Sweden also had a lot to offer, recommending trips to the Sofiero Castle and Garden in Helsingborg, and the free Salsa and Bachata dancing on the beach in Malmö. 

To get around to all the places in the south, Cristina tipped getting the Sommarbiljett Skåne, the 829 kronor ticket getting you unlimited train and bus travel in Skåne from June 15th to August 15th. You can also get a Sommarbiljett Skåne och Blekinge for 1219 kronor. 

A field in Falsterbo, Skåna. Photo: Lucas Günther/

What to see in central Sweden

The forested, hilly and lake-filled county of Dalarna has a well-deserved reputation for folk culture and landscape and Sara recommends a visit to Lake Siljan, Sweden’s sixth largest lake, because “it’s so beautiful and so essentially Swedish”. 

Shelly wants to see the Säljbergsgrottan cave in the village of Järna, visit the Dalarna Museum in Falun, and see the Silvberg abandoned silver mines with their lakes filled with turquoise water.

Others suggest going a little further south, with Gunnel tipping Mariestad, the “pearl of lake Vänern”, with its “gorgeous” old town, prison museum, gourmet restaurants and lovely surrounding walking trails. 

Gary instead recommends the Läcko Slott castle on Vänern, and some of the other attractions of Skaraborg county, such as the burial place of the founder of Stockholm in Varnhem, viking burial grounds, and forest trails. 

Kim says the beautiful little town of Vadstena on Lake Vattern, with its historic buildings, will always be a favourite after she spent time studying there.  

A man dives off a boat into Lake Siljan in Dalarna. Photo: Johan Willner/Imagebank Sweden

For a longer holiday, Paulien recommends travelling on the Inlandsbanan, the rail track that goes from Kristinehamn in the centre of Sweden on Lake Vänern all the way up to Gällivare in Lapland.

For 2,395 kronor you can get a 14-day ticket, allowing you to hop on and off the train, although you have to pay extra to take a bicycle. You can also buy package tours with hotels and hotel entry included from 8,595 kronor to 14,995 kronor, depending on the number of nights. 

What to do in the summer in northern Sweden

Going further north, Ellen recommends the Nederhögen outdoor centre in Jämtland, and trips to the Fettjeåfallet and Sångbackfallet waterfalls in Klövsjö. Michaela instead mentions the walking trails in the Åredalen mountain area near Åre. 

For others, the best hikes are even further north with Mary Preyanka mentioning the trails around Hemavan or Nikkaloukta, the starting point of the hike up Kebnekaise, Sweden’s highest peak. 

Hiking near the mountain of Kebnekaise. Photo: Fredrik Broman/