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
In the days following the fall of Kabul, Batool Haidari found herself forced to make an agonizing decision. Haidari, a 35-year-old psychologist and sex therapist working with women and the LGBTQ community, had safely escaped to Iran where her children were already hiding, but her PhD research remained in Kandahar, which had been under Taliban control since Aug. 12. Haidari’s thesis, investigating pedophilia among Afghan men, was her proudest achievement—the product of years of study. She decided to travel temporarily back to the country that she had fled one week before to collect it. Scared that her family could be permanently separated, Haidari brought her three children with her, unsure of what might await them upon their return.
Up close, the Taliban proved more violent than Haidari had imagined. She soon grasped their plans to strip away women’s rights, including the freedom to study or work. Furious, she began organizing protests in the streets of Kabul in September, encouraging her peers to stand proud in colorful, traditional clothes. By October, she was receiving threats on Facebook and the Taliban had tried to kidnap her teenage son, Salleh. The family decided to flee for the second time, crossing the border into Pakistan. There, they waited for three weeks before an Italian journalist who heard of Haidari’s work helped them to fly to Italy and claim asylum.
From Rome, Haidari works tirelessly to find routes out of Afghanistan for those most at risk, including women activists and trans people, while providing therapy over the phone to those experiencing depression and domestic abuse. During rare moments of quiet, she opens her folders of research. For as long as the Taliban oppresses her people, her work feels more important than rest.
What do you miss most about Afghanistan?
In Kabul, there is a very crowded area, where the streets are always full of people selling fruit and vegetables. I miss the sound of them shouting their prices into the air, a hundred times over. They are the sound of my home.
What has surprised you about your new home?
I was born into a very religious family, in a very religious society. But I never imagined that Italy would be so religious, too. I see religious symbols in hospitals and in shops and in schools. And there are churches everywhere!
What do you do to relax?
For as long as there are women activists trapped in Afghanistan, I cannot relax. At the moment, I spend all my time listening to their problems. When they are free, I know I will also need to see a psychologist. We will have to empty our minds by talking, dancing, listening to music, laughing… by doing all this, you can find yourself again.
When you think of Afghanistan’s future, what comes to mind?
When the Taliban took over, Afghanistan died. We felt as if we were inside a hole, which nobody could escape. Now, this hole has become a big pit, and we are descending deeper into it. Whatever the Taliban are doing right now is just the beginning. What worries me is how long this will last, and if Afghanistan will ever begin a new chapter.
What food from home do you eat most often?
I like making Iranian food [as well as Afghan food], but it’s complicated because it needs special ingredients that are hard to find here. My children are happy to experiment with Italian food, but when we’re at home, they want the meals they grew up with, like Qorma-e-Sabzi and Kabuli Pilao. The first time I made Qorma-e-Sabzi in Italy, I cried.
Describe your favorite possession that you have with you. Why is it so special to you?
The most important things I brought are my daughters (Malika, 7, and Elham, 13). They are not just my daughters—they are the new generation of Afghanistan. They are powerful girls. They carry all of my hopes for the future.
Choose one word to describe yourself
I am a warrior. We are all warriors. Not because we are at war, but because we are fighting to survive. Even now, after leaving Afghanistan under such difficult conditions, we are still fighting to live our lives.
What word comes to mind when you think about the Taliban?
Where do you see yourself one year from now?
The most important thing for me is to finish my thesis, and present something that’s really, really valuable.
Female artist uses art to document violence thousands of miles away in her home country