In August 2021 I started a journalism internship at one of the television channels in the city of Herat. We had barely started work when the city, and then the country, fell into the hands of the Taliban. The Government of Afghanistan collapsed and the beauty of the city and the appearance of its people changed in an instant: a girl was rarely seen on the street, the men no longer dressed to go to the office and almost everyone began to grow a beard It seemed to me that even the minarets in Herat were crooked and misshapen.
Shortly after the Taliban took power in Kabul, my classmate and I were heading to the TV station on our motorbike. We had already done the journey many times, but that day was totally different. The road seemed longer than usual and it was as if there was an invisible heaviness in the city, a reflection undoubtedly of what was happening inside its inhabitants. Before the Taliban took over Herat, my partner and I used to talk while walking this route, but we didn’t exchange a word that day. As soon as we passed the minarets of the city towards the Tank-e-Malawi junction, my heart began to race. “The Taliban have nothing to say to you, you are a student, you have done nothing wrong”, I kept repeating to myself.
I saw some fundamentalists with weapons in their hands standing on the side of the street. They had long dark hair and their clothes seemed to be stained with dust and grime. They were watching the traffic. One of them raised his hand to stop our motorcycle. He was terrified. As soon as I got off the motorcycle, the Taliban searched me and asked for my identity card. Pictures of the bloodied and bruised bodies of local newspaper reporters, who had been detained by the Taliban in Kabul and beaten to near death, came to my mind.
Is journalism a crime for the Taliban? It is a question for which I have no answer yet. At that time, with the Taliban searching us, I feared that my partner and I would be detained and beaten just for being journalism students. To calm myself, I repeated to myself that I was not a criminal: “You are a student and that’s it. Calm down, you are not such an important person to worry.” Finally, the fundamentalist told us to leave. After driving for a few minutes in silence, we finally reached the office door.
On the wall, next to the doorbell, was a piece of paper with the words “Islamic Emirate” and the Taliban flag. Underneath it was written: “This TV office has been searched by the forces of the Islamic Emirate, and no soldier has the right to search it again without permission.” We rang the bell and the guard looked at us through the little peephole in the door. “Are you back?” he said as he opened the door.
The multi-story building, usually full of people, seemed empty. We went into the office and realized that the televisions were turned off. There were many colleagues in the office, but they were all busy on their phones. As soon as the news chief saw us, he turned to the others laughing and said: “Look at these two! They’re back!” Then he turned to us and asked: “Didn’t you go to Kabul to catch a plane and leave the country?”
Somehow, hope still lives in us. We have lost everything and yet we continue to dream.
We didn’t answer him. We didn’t know what to say. We both went to our usual seats and sat down at the computer. Nearby, the desks of our two companions were empty. Later I contacted them. They told me that they had been told not to come. “The news director said that the Taliban came to the office yesterday and ordered that women cannot work in television until further notice,” he explained.
The chain director’s table was also empty. He had fled with another of our colleagues to Kabul hoping to catch an evacuation flight. Except for these few words that were addressed to us when we arrived, nobody in the office paid us the slightest attention that day. They were all focused on writing and emailing foreign organizations in the hope of being evacuated. I will never forget the heavy atmosphere that prevailed. It was hard to believe.
The friendly atmosphere and the jokes of a few days ago had disappeared. They changed as quickly as the clothes of the people on the street. It was hard to bear that 180 degree change in most people. We left the office without signing the end-of-day sheet, as we did before, and returned home, again in silence. The streets were full of scared and angry people. The tension was felt everywhere. On that day, when the Taliban seized power, they not only shredded the political system and security forces, but also the fabric of Afghanistan. Relationships fractured. Friends became strangers, everything fell apart.
I don’t know how we have endured these two dark years. Somehow, hope still lives in us. We have lost everything and yet we continue to dream. Paraphrasing the famous Persian poet Hafez, you have to be patient with this sorrow so that night finally turns into dawn.
The original version of this text was published in English, under a pseudonym, in the Afghan media outlet Rukhshana.
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