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Memories of a Childhood Interrupted in Afghanistan

I was born in an apartment building in Kabul, where we had inconsistent power and running water. My mother tells me that I used to love water and would scream, “Water is here. Power is here” every time we would get running water. I would run to the tap and make myself wet. Hours of playing with water had bought me the nickname “MAheecha,” the little fish. My grandmother called me “Maarcha,” the little snake, because I did not crawl like normal babies. I rolled across the floor. I don’t remember any of this and I have built an image of my baby self based on the stories I heard from my mother, grandmother and father, but this was my childhood.

My mother often jokes that I brought war to Afghanistan. Forty days after my birth, the rockets and bombs begin hitting Kabul. Strange men who were not even from Kabul fired at each other from the hills located on two sides of Kabul for four years. They survived. Millions of women, men and children died. The bearded men attacked the city and we suffered. Immediately, women were forced to wear huge scarves and walk with fear. Women were kidnapped from the streets on the way to university. Every few months, a slaughter house where women’s cut-off breasts were stacked on top of each other would be found.

War hit my sisters and me before we could comprehend it. When I was little, I thought war is a big monster with spiky blue skin and a big left nostril that he nourishes with the smell of blood. War hit women, including my mother, the hardest even though they had no part in it. My mother had met War when she was a blooming rose and enjoyed over-the-wall talks with her friends. My entire life, I have watched the colors of this rose fade while struggling and resisting. I have heard about how she had leave university and the dream of becoming a midwife when War first hit her life. I have seen her leaver her home, her books, her friends, her life, her everything-familiar in search of a peaceful house for her children. I have seen her be forced to change from her skirt into a burqa by those who attacked her city and robbed any sense of security. I have seen the grief in my mother’s silence as others would talk politics, gossip about the evils of the war and drink lots of tea to stay warm. I have seen some of the petals of this rose drop on the wood heater and burn as the winter wind blew harshly through the holes of our old wooden door.

The thorny fingers of war touched me in 1991 when I was forty days old. I have lived with war and watched the bricks of our home fall. As the attacks increased we ran out of our apartment, down the stairs and out of the block. We ran far from home as my father’s personal library was burning in fire. We ran far from home as my sister Pari’s new little red shoe fell into a hole and she began crying for it. We ran so far that we become refugees in our own country. We ran far, leaving everything behind as the shoeless tribes of war attacked our houses and took it apart seem by seem, wood by wood, brick by brick.

We moved to Mazar-e-Sharif, located in northern Afghanistan. War had not yet reached that far. My father taught literature and held poetry nights. He also ran a newspaper and taught us to read Gulistan and Maanawani, classic poetry.  My mother worked in the little garden close to our house. We had a kind old neighbor who had two daughters and a garden with walnut and apple trees. The girls, my two older sisters, the neighbor girls, and I would spend most of our days lost under the trees making toys out of the mud. We used pieces of wood and left-over cloth from our mothers’ sewing experiments to make dolls that always looked happy.

But peace always disappears faster than war and it takes with it muddy toys before they are dried up by the sun and the handmade dolls before we held their wedding parties. Peace was interrupted once again and then again and again, several times over the course of my life and we moved from city to city, from country to country searching for peace, though we had forgotten what it felt like.

Even now, rarely does a week go-by without news of suicide blasts or airstrikes and now it is even more complicated as I review in my head the few options we seem to have and contemplate how else one is able to be free without a fight against oppression. And I understand that that fight can be non-violent, but I think it is a much tougher choice to make remain peaceful if your family is the one blown-up to pieces by a suicide attacker or a drone, or if your freedoms are being dealt at the High Peace Council’s negotiation table. How do you draw the line between compromising with something evil, negotiating all that you believe to be your rights and remaining peaceful? How do you remain peaceful when others kill, torture, rape, hang, beat, and compromise the rights of your sisters? How do you make peace with a group of thugs who kill a woman and then yell out “Allah o Akbar” in joy? How do you make peace with someone who does not accept you and the other daughters of this country as equal humans with dignity and the right to access to justice? And if you do not want peace with them, what is your other option if the justice system, negotiations and the war all seem non-functional and inefficient.

Peace might sound like a glorious thing if you are not the one with a gun pointing at you, or if you are sitting comfortably in Canada dreaming of tulips and sunflowers, but here in Afghanistan, where peace can a death sentence to the freedoms of all women, how can you accept a peace deal and if not, how do you live in war? And how do you know that there will be peace if there is no justice? How do you give up on the dream of making the lawless and chaotic world a place where justice is more powerful than guns and women are valued more than a group of ruthless thugs with guns without threatening peace? How do you choose which child to sacrifice, your rights or peace, when the entire world seems to have given up on justice? Things are much more complicated now and I do not have any of the answers, but I often find myself searching for the 40 days of childhood I had before war touched my home.


  • rhiannon

    This has been cross-posted on a blog co-authored by a group of Peaceworkers. I have linked to UN Dispatch twice and made clear that the post is not my own.

    You can find the post here: http://poboxpeace.wordpress.com/

    Thank you, Noorjahan, for your powerful writing, and for telling your story.

  • Fatima Haidari

    Great piece Noorjahan!
    I do not know what to do with all these conflicts either. My niece is also a child and I definitely do not want her to experience the same thing that you and many of us experienced during the war.

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