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.
— Lotfullah Najafizada (@LNajafizada) August 15, 2021
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.