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One year under the Taliban…

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KABUL — She was only five years old when the Taliban first took control of Afghanistan, and her parents did not hesitate: with the militants determined to impose a puritanical form of Islam, the family made her suitcases and fled.اضافة اعلان

But when the Taliban returned to power in late summer 2021, Nilaab, now a 30-year-old mother of two, balked.

The new government was quick to assure that this time would be different, that the Taliban of the 2020s were not the Taliban of the 1990s, and that there would be no brutal campaign of repression against Afghan women.

A street vendor at a bus terminal in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 9, 2022.

Maybe they were telling the truth, thought Nilaab. She hoped so. She had returned to her native country as a teenager after a decade of exile, and she was not looking forward to repeating the experience.

But then activists ended girls’ education after sixth grade. Nilaab’s 13-year-old daughter, Arveey, cried every morning as she watched her younger sister, Raheel, 11, get ready for school. So Nilaab also took Raheel out of school until she could “find a solution”.

One afternoon in early August, surrounded by her family members, Nilaab stood in front of the mirror and slipped into an abaya. In a few hours, she and her daughters, three suitcases and two dolls in tow, would board a plane and leave Afghanistan – this time, she said, for good.


A unit of Taliban fighters, who now wear maroon uniforms, search cars in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 10, 2022.

In the next room, Nilaab’s mother fell to the floor and sobbed. Nilaab ran to console her. They would meet again one day, she promised.

I have spent the last eight years living in Afghanistan. Born in Iran and raised in Canada, I learned to consider this country as my home.

On August 15, 2021, the day Kabul fell, I left my house at 4 a.m. and headed to the airport to photograph Afghans desperately trying to leave before the Taliban held the country firmly under their hold. But by early evening, Taliban fighters had taken over the presidential palace, and heartbroken and wrestling with immense guilt, I boarded a military plane and left.

Six weeks later I came back, and for a year I’ve been working to document life under the Taliban. (For their safety and that of their families, most would speak only if I agreed not to fully identify them.)

On the surface of the city, life goes on.

Street markets are buzzing, but perhaps not as much as before due to the collapsing economy. Cafes that have managed to keep their doors open have regulars coming in for a cup of tea. But it’s often a quiet cup of tea – the Taliban pressured cafes to stop playing music, as well as radio and TV stations, even in wedding halls.


Photos of poets, politicians, artists and musicians at a cafe in Kabul, Afghanistan, where the Vice and Virtue Police demanded the removal of photos of women, despite the owner hiding one, August 9, 2022.

Radio stations replaced the songs with readings from the Quran. The cafes have opted for silence. In wedding halls, it is more complicated.

On a recent Thursday evening, I accompanied Maroof, 32, as he collected a decorated rental car from Flower Street in Kabul and drove to the beauty salon a few blocks away to pick up his bride-to-be.

Inside the lounge, a hidden side of Afghanistan was revealed: women young and old were dressed in extravagant, colorful clothing and wore elaborate make-up.

When we went to the wedding hall, the atmosphere was different.

In the part reserved for men, the guests sit nonchalantly around tables with white tablecloths. A videographer awkwardly filmed older men exchanging a few words, while the younger ones looked at their phones. The silence was leaden.


Women buy fabric at a market in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 12, 2022.

Curiously, the life of the party was in the women’s section. There, the disco light pulsated in different colors, a (female) DJ ​​played popular songs, and the women danced. Many wedding halls ignored the ban on music in the women’s sections of their establishments, believing that the vice and virtue police cannot burst in without warning.

In the days following the Taliban takeover, a wedding venue, the Stars Palace, which sits just across from Kabul International Airport, took on a new role. A palace-like white building with golden lights, it was used as a meeting point for groups of Afghans who were being evacuated by foreign troops, providing safe haven before they rushed desperately towards a gate. ‘airport.

A year later, a woman who was forced to seek refuge nearby, Masooda, recalled the chaos.


Stars Palace, a wedding venue across from Kabul International Airport that briefly served as a haven for Afghans trying to flee after the Taliban took over, August 11, 2022.

An Afghan-Canadian citizen, Masooda had returned to Afghanistan a few years earlier with her children, who are Canadian citizens. “I wanted them to reconnect with their roots,” she said. But when the Taliban fighters reached the gates of Kabul, Masooda told them to pack up: “We have to go. It’s no longer safe for us.

About 10 months later, Masooda left her children with her husband in Canada and returned to Afghanistan with her Canadian passport. With her knowledge of Afghan culture and international humanitarian organizations, she wants to help the country get back on its feet, and she is one of the few women to have dared to challenge the Taliban government.

A small group of protesters, calling themselves the Powerful Women’s Movement of Afghanistan, are also taking a stand. Two days before the anniversary of the Taliban’s takeover, about two dozen of them marched through central Kabul. “Bread, work and freedom,” they chanted.

The protest was short-lived. Within minutes, Taliban fighters opened fire in the air above the protesters, sending them fleeing.

The Taliban have been much more welcoming to other protesters.


Taliban fighters on foot, on motorbikes and in trucks celebrate the first anniversary of the militant group’s takeover of Afghanistan, in Kabul on August 15, 2022, which the government declared the new Independence Day of the country and a national holiday.

After the government declared August 15 the country’s new Independence Day, hundreds of Taliban fighters on foot, or on motorbikes and trucks, descended on the capital to celebrate. Some marched past the former US Embassy chanting “Long live Islam” and “Death to America”.

Even those covering the celebration were bound by the new rules.

Spotting a truck with a male Afghan journalist filming the rally from the top of the trunk, I jumped on it. As we drove at high speed, I saw a young woman sitting in the back seat of the truck, dressed head to toe in black, her face covered with a surgical mask.

Her name, I learned, was Breshna Naderi. She was 19 and had joined Kabul News TV just four months before the fall of the government. Despite growing hardships for female journalists, she stayed.

“Even if it means I have to sit in the back of the car while my male colleague films the rally, I won’t give up,” she said.


Kabul News TV reporter Breshna Naderi stands in the back seat of a truck as a colleague films the Taliban’s celebration of the first anniversary of their takeover of Afghanistan, in Kabul on August 15, 2022.

Kabul University’s female journalism department is one of the few university departments still dominated by female students. One Friday morning, 21-year-old Basira, 21-year-old Karima, and 23-year-old Zahra, all third-year students, met in the family section of a fast food joint to prepare for their final exam.

They share more than a passion for journalism. A traumatic bond also unites the three women. Basira had survived two suicide attacks in recent years, and Karima and Zahra had each survived three.

I have covered the aftermath of many suicide bombings. The worst happened last year at the Syed Al-Shahda girls’ school, which killed at least 90 people and injured 240 others. The school was in a dense community of Hazaras, a Shia minority, and the next day the bodies were brought up a steep hill at the foot of a mountain range.

“You can almost name every hill for a different attack on the Hazaras,” said a 73-year-old tea seller who goes by the name Karbalai.

A Hazara woman, Soudabeh, became an activist as a teenager, but her work in her home province of Daikundi, where she educated rural communities about menstrual cycles – a taboo subject in Afghan society, did not sit well with Taliban, and she was forced into hiding with her husband and two young children. For a year, the family has barely left the house. Now they are looking for a way to leave Afghanistan completely.

The country they are trying to leave has changed profoundly since the one the militants took just a year ago.


Saeed Mujtaba, who worked in the communication department of the presidential palace and now drives a taxi to support his family, in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 7, 2022.

Kabul had never felt so alone as for me on the evening of the anniversary of the takeover by the Taliban.

Between deadlines, calls, and homework, I sat on our roof and watched the city for its ghosts. I could barely remember what life was like before the Taliban came back to power. It was as if they had never left.

The hardest part of covering the Taliban rally earlier today was smiling at the men who had occupied my favorite corners of town, my favorite cafes and parks, and now wouldn’t even allow me in because I’m a woman.

Since the fall of Kabul, my house has been raided, ransacked and squatted by militants, and twice they pressured me to leave the country. Each time I cried. And I still wasn’t ready to leave.

After my home was raided, a friend sent me an old essay by Italian writer Natalia Ginzburg. “Once the experience of evil has been endured, it is never forgotten,” Ginzburg wrote.

This month my partner and I ditched our apartment and started slow dancing out of the busy streets of Kabul with their unmistakable ice cream cart melody.

We too left Afghanistan, but at least it was on our own terms.

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