I was born into a liberal family in Kabul province of Afghanistan. When I was three years old, civil war broke out, and we left all our belongings and immigrated north to Mazar-e-Sharif. Shortly afterwards, our house in Kabul burned and we lost everything. We lived in Mazar-e-Sharif peacefully for seven years and had a pretty good life. Our good days ended in 1998 when the government collapsed and the Taliban took over Mazar-e-Sharif.
Taliban fighters entered the city from west, and in the first six days they slaughtered thousands of people, mainly Hazaras. Hazaras are the third largest ethnic group in Afghanistan with distinctive Asiatic features and are mostly of Shia faith. In 1997, Taliban fighters attacked Mazar-e-Sharif but were defeated by Hazaras and their followers. About 2,000 Talibs were massacred. So in retaliation, the returning Taliban slaughtered 8,000 Hazaras. Hazara men, women, and children were shot on the streets and in their homes. Hundreds of people were packed into containers where they suffocated. Even Hazara patients were murdered in the hospitals.
The situation in Mazar-e-Sharif was intense. Taliban were entering houses for food and shelter, sometimes raping young women. They imposed an extreme interpretation of Islam, banning female education, listening to music, watching television, and celebrating traditional holidays. They forced men to wear beards, and women to wear burqas. My family could not tolerate all these restrictions, so we once again left our entire household behind, including all our belongings, and embarked to Pakistan.
We started our journey in a caravan of six buses. Early in the morning when we were leaving Mazar-e-Sharif, the streets were covered with bodies and blood. I still remember seeing the piles of dead bodies lying along the road. I asked my mother, “ Why don’t the families of these dead people take them home and bury them?” She pulled the curtain over the window so I couldn’t see outside and said, “ Honey, have some breakfast and read your book. It is not good to think or talk about this.” Later I found out that the Taliban forbade anyone to bury the corpses for six days.
Every instant of the three-day journey was incredibly dangerous. We had to travel through deserts, narrow mountain passes, and rivers because the Taliban closed the direct roadways. Three buses fell from high points of the mountains and many people were killed. We saw people dying from bus accidents and cold weather as if they were animals. At night, we could hardly sleep because of the moaning of the injured people out in the cold weather. One night I asked my dad if we could let some of them sleep in our bus with us but he said, “Our bus is already loaded, Sana, and it’s not only one or two people out there. Pray for their safety.” In the end, only our bus reached Pakistan.
In the mountains, the conditions were extremely difficult. The bus could not drive through the narrow mountain passes while it was loaded with all of us, so we often had to travel on foot. We were in constant fear of being attacked and we were always hungry. Before we left, we gathered enough food, fresh and dry fruits, to last us for the trip. However, on the way, the Taliban took nearly all our food. My mom was giving my siblings and I one candy-bar per meal.
Finally, after three horrible days, we got to Kabul and then to a new life in Peshawar, Pakistan. This is one of the horrifying experiences that I have had in my life. It taught me that I can endure almost anything.
By Sana A.