Note: to mark the one year anniversary of the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, the stories of eight Afghan women produced in different countries, will be published in Farsi and English by Rukhshana Media. These stories were first published by the Time Magazine in collaboration with Rukhshana Media and Pulitzer Center.
By : Corinne Redfern
For many years, Hazara artist and photographer Zahra Khodadadi, 31, fixed her lens on families in Afghanistan, exploring the ties that bind people together. Now, as fear grips her country under the Taliban and from her new home in France, she continues to use art to document the violence that is ripping so many loved ones apart.
Leaving Afghanistan was never Zahra’s plan. Last summer, as the Taliban’s power surged across the country’s provinces, Khodadadi and her husband—an artist and an activist—felt the danger approaching Kabul. With help from a former colleague in France, the couple secured emergency visas and arrived in Paris on Aug. 12. Three days later, Khodadadi awoke to terrified Facebook messages confirming that the Taliban had captured Kabul. Scared for her family, she worked round the clock to find her parents and four younger siblings a route out of the country. In December, they made it to Canada. But Khodadadi doesn’t know when she’ll see them again: she’s had her request for asylum approved, but she’s still awaiting her residency papers. Until she receives them, she isn’t allowed to leave.
Today, Khodadadi and her husband live in an art gallery in Nice, part of a project to support artists from all over the globe. On the walls of her studio, she pins photographs of burned-out cars next to news reports describing those who lost their lives. Even from thousands of miles away, she cannot close her eyes to her people’s suffering, she says. She owes it to all Hazara women and persecuted people in Afghanistan to make sure the rest of the world also sees their pain.
What do you miss most about Afghanistan?
My parents are originally from Bamiyan. It is a very beautiful national park, just three hours’ drive from Kabul. It is so quiet. When you go there, you feel it is kind of healing. You have no fear. I miss that feeling.
What has surprised you about your new home?
Two days after we arrived in Paris, we took the train to Marseilles. And in the train station, someone stole my backpack, with my laptop, my money, my national ID card, my bank card…everything. I never anticipated that this could happen in Europe. Even now, when I walk around with my phone or my backpack, I feel afraid.
What do you do to relax?
I walk a lot. The beach is only 30 minutes away. I can’t swim, but I play in the water.
When you think of Afghanistan’s future, what comes to mind?
I have no hope for Afghanistan. There is no hope. Nothing.
What food from home do you eat most often?
I cook bolani—it’s a kind of dough, filled with potatoes and vegetables. The difficulty is that it needs lots of time and lots of people to prepare it. I made it here once with my Ukrainian friend—it was so amazing! I rolled out the dough and she did the filling. It was like a little production line.
Describe your favorite possession that you have with you. Why is it so special to you?
I brought my experiences and my roots with me.
Choose one word to describe yourself
Honestly, I can’t describe myself—I’m still growing and learning! I have always tried to be very independent. I never let others make my decisions for me.
What word comes to mind when you think about the Taliban?
Where do you see yourself one year from now?
After all of these experiences, I believe that nothing is certain. I cannot plan anything in my life 100%. I try to do my best, but even short-term plans are very hard. All I know is that I would like to be somewhere peaceful.