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.
New Jersey, U.S.
By: Naina Bajekal
Masouma Tajik dreams of buying her own place. One year ago, having graduated from the American University of Afghanistan, she was working as a data analyst in Kabul. She would return each evening to the rented apartment she had decorated with fairy lights and candles, cook a meal and watch a movie. Her favorite was Django Unchained. She felt at home.
Tajik has since spent months in limbo. “I lived in places that no human being should live,” she says. Last August, after days spent in the airport—where she was whipped by the Taliban—she was finally able to board a plane for Kyiv. There, she did freelance coding jobs and began to make friends, while applying to study in the U.K., U.S. and Germany.
In mid-February, worried about an impending Russian invasion, Tajik packed her backpack once more and fled to the Western city of Lviv. After she read about Russian soldiers raping women and spent her last bit of money buying birth control pills, carrying a knife with her as she tried to make her way to safety. That journey took her to Warsaw, to a refugee camp in the Netherlands, and ultimately to the U.S.—where she arrived on May 28. She was accepted with a full scholarship onto a two-year masters program in Data Science at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
As the breadwinner for her family—her parents, who are Hazara, don’t have degrees or speak English, but have supported her fight to be educated—Tajik sends money back to Afghanistan every month. She has spent the past couple of months trying to adjust to yet another new home—this time a shared dorm—and process the trauma of her experiences, going to therapy, meditating, jogging. She is aware that not many people got the chance to get out of Afghanistan, let alone to have the education she has. And though she doesn’t know what will happen after two years, she knows she won’t let all of this come to nothing.
What do you miss most about Afghanistan?
I miss the daily life that I had there, I miss the act of going to work, going to the office every day. I miss the ice cream shop in Kabul. That glimpse of normalcy that I had in Kabul, I miss that. And I miss my friends.
What has surprised you about where you live now?
It’s too soon to judge, but if I talk generally about the West—about Europe and the U.S.—what surprised me a lot is that making friends is really difficult. Afghans are really chatty, really warm-hearted; even before becoming friends, they offer tea and then they start conversations. Here, I think that from a certain age or from a certain time, you cannot actually make good, permanent friends. Life is really busy and rushed here.
What do you do to relax?
I meditate. I eat, I cook. Cooking is a meditation for me. Most of the time, I don’t cook to eat. I cook just for the sake of cooking, for the process. That was how I was calming myself in Kyiv.
When you think of Afghanistan’s future, what comes to mind?
A lot of work. It’ll be very difficult. The main problem in Afghanistan is the ethnic problems, and it’s very complicated. I don’t think my generation will see a united Afghanistan.
Describe your favorite possession that you have with you. Why is it so special to you?
I left nearly everything in Kabul, I just had a backpack with my laptop and a novel by Elif Shafak, The Forty Rules of Love. That was almost like a Qu’ran for me in Ukraine but I gifted it to a Ukrainian friend.
And then I left Kyiv in a hurry too on Feb. 13 for Lviv. So my favorite possession is the handmade Ukrainian jewelry, the earrings and necklace that I bought myself on my birthday in Lviv. They were made by Ukrainian babushkas. It was on Feb. 23 and I was celebrating my birthday alone. I didn’t know anyone but I was having a good time because Lviv is a very beautiful city. And then the next morning I woke up to the sounds of sirens.
choose one word to describe yourself.
Unstoppable. What word comes to mind when you think about the Taliban? Wild creatures. I don’t think of them as human. Calling them human is no justice to humans. Where do you see yourself one year from now? I’ll be here and I’ll be working, and specifically I’ll be saving to buy a place. I didn’t have a place to stay for a very long time, so having my own place is something that I’m really aiming for. Afghans are not pathetic. We should not be held back by visa problems or our lives on pause because we’re in refugee camps and cannot study or work. The regulations, these unnecessary, complicated processes, are holding us back. It shouldn’t be like this. What we need is not pity and empathy. What we need is opportunities so we can make our own way