I am far away from you now.
Around me are new faces, different faces, faces unlike my own; faces from many countries.
This room is full, hot and filled with the odour of hundreds of strangers. The woman in front is growing distressed. She scratches at her elbow, exposing a fair arm. Her hair is greasy and she keeps looking back at me. Why does she keep looking back at me? I don’t like it.
The man sitting next to me has noisy, rattling breathing. He rests his arm on the armrest of the chair between us. It’s too close.
This is “orientation”, they say, to settle in Canada. I can hear them talking, just about … but their voices are blurred and unclear. They are telling us about the weather and how it will differ from Afghanistan. And the roads, shops, food, the culture – and their beliefs, I think.
I am sweating now. My heart is pounding, punching against my chest.
A high-pitched ringing floods into my head and I jump from my chair and flee to the restroom.
Even this restroom is different.
The faces that are like my own, that would settle me, the faces familiar to me – of my family and my friends – are left behind in the country that you took from us.
I am an Afghan woman. I was a journalist. I was successful. I supported my family and I had friends supporting me.
Now, I am hundreds of miles away from everything I knew.
I have been in this new country for months and it’s beautiful here. I can see the mountains from the window and I can feel the peace.
But I am wearing the same clothes I left my home in. Sometimes, if I push my nose deep into the fabric, I can still smell home.
The smell taunts me and I cannot move on.
Afghans have suffered for 40 years. My mother and father suffered for 40 years. And they have fled their homeland and returned before.
I am 24 years old and only now do I see that I have suffered for 24 years. Because it all amounted to this loss I feel now.
After 20 years, you have claimed Afghanistan again, but you have sent thousands to run from their homes and to run from you, including me. You have set us to go backwards.
Our achievements will amount to nothing in Afghanistan now.
I was the last to choose to leave. I was hoping I would not have to. But you have done this.
I was on one of those lists last year – the Taliban “kill list” they called it. My mother thought you would come for me. I had to leave, she said. Don’t worry about me or your siblings, she said. I will be ok, she said.
But I have lost my confidence, I am not using the skills that I worked so hard for. I am supposed to plan with the information they are giving me at this orientation. But I cannot concentrate. I cannot listen. I am supposed to build a new life. But I just sit here, frozen.
Afghans are skilled, talented, intelligent, brave, hard-working and kind. Afghans have pride and deserve the opportunity to be able to offer protection to their families. Some, like me, have journeyed out to new countries, leaving their homes to start a new life, because we felt there was no other way. But I wonder if others are like me and don’t know how to start a new life right now.
Dear Taliban, I am far away from you now. But I still cannot share my name or show my face because of those I leave behind.
My best friend, visa in hand, was with me at Kabul airport in August last year. She was also a journalist and we had filled out and sent our applications together. We had made plans together.
But we did not leave Afghanistan together.
She was left behind.
Why was I the one who got out?
After many hours and many attempts, she got into the canal at the airport. Just like me. For a brief moment, she was so close. Just like me.
But she didn’t make it into the airport. She didn’t make it behind the guarded gate, which loomed above us for 14 hours. She didn’t make it to safety.
I did and I made the flight to Kuwait, alone. I am so lucky. I know that every day. And I am grateful to the people from across the world, who, driven by compassion, were supporting Afghans with applications for visas and supporting us when we arrived in new countries.
But the defeat, the guilt, failure and heartbreak of her getting so close but not succeeding will not leave me.
Over the years, we did everything together. Her home was mine and mine, hers. And now both of us are without our homes. And she is not safe.
Away from the devastating chaos at the airport, you began setting up in the capital. And I watched to see how you would decide to govern this time. Would it be like it was during my mother’s time?
We were all watching you. To see what your plan was. What is the plan for our jobs, our economy? And what about women? And Afghan journalists?
Afghans have been let down by so many, and so many times. We were let down by America and also by you. Because now we all truly see you. You don’t have plans for us and you don’t allow us to make plans.
Now, in the provinces, the voices of my friends and colleagues are already being lost. Afghan journalists are most at risk in continuing their work. And the brightest and bravest left behind need protection.
Foreign journalists have found the majority of access. But, they must listen to Afghans first, because Afghans are speaking. Let us share their voices and their words safely and respectfully.
My friend is still reporting, but in secret, on private Telegram channels. I worry for her, but I know she won’t stop. She is a journalist and her passion is to tell the story of Afghans.
That day at the airport, as she drove back to her home, she messaged me: “Tomorrow is another day, and I will try again.”
She is positive that she will find a way to join me. And I pull all my energy to be strong for her, too. I send emails every day to try to help her find a way out.
But I don’t tell her that every day I struggle, too. I don’t tell her that sometimes I have to hide in the bathroom.
I have been in this bathroom for five minutes now.
And that one question still continues to circle in my mind: why was I the one who got out?
As told to Lynzy Billing.