“Wake up, baby.”
I feel my mom sitting next to me, gently caressing my hair. I open my eyes and try to take a peek through the curtains – is it morning yet? It stills looks very dark outside.
I hide under my blankets. “Why do I have to wake up…. can I sleep a little longer, please? “
My mom looks at me, and I can see a look in her eyes I haven’t seen before. It’s a mix of being tired, concerned and even scared. I have a feeling this is not going to be a typical day.
She keeps caressing me and whispers in my ears. “We’re going on a journey.”
Suddenly I’m wide-awake. A journey? To where? Why? It was clear this was not going to be another visit to my grandma, or one of my several aunts and uncles. I then realize that there are a lot of people in our house – I hear the voices of my grandmas, cousins and several other family members…
“Mommy, where are we going?”
Slowly I drag myself out of bed and my mom helps me to get dressed. I’m not sure why she’s putting so many layers on me, it’s really not that cold outside. Before I can ask, she is already reading this question in my look.
“It’s important that we stay warm. Trust me on this. It’s okay; you can take some of it off later if you want. ”
As we walk into the living room, my grandma runs towards me and hugs me like she has never done before. She starts crying, and I see everyone around us tearing up. I don’t get it, what’s going on?
My dad walks in the room with my baby brother in his arms, and holding my sister’s hands. I see a suitcase near the door. And then I realize – we are leaving. And we are never coming back.
I start panicking and hold my grandma’s hands as tight as I can. “I don’t want to go anywhere!” “I want to stay here with you bibi jaan. Why do we have to go?”
“Please..! I promise I’ll be good. I will help clean the house and I will get good grades at school and I will never ask for anything… please, can we just stay here?”
My screaming wakes up my 2-year-old baby brother, who starts crying as well.
“Sshhhhtttt…” my dad says. “Nobody can hear us. We must leave quietly.” “Please…” he begs. “Please, all stop crying.”
My mom puts my jacket on and lifts me up. She whispers again to me: “Trust me, my little girl. We will stay together and I will take care of you.”
I feel helpless, realize I need to give up and so I let my head fall in her shoulders. I look behind me – and see my beautiful grandmas, all of my uncles and aunts, my cousins, our living room, my favorite toys in the corner… really my whole world and all I’ve ever known.
And I know, I won’t see them again in a long, long time. I close my eyes. I need to be strong.
We are going on a journey.
About the photo
This photo was taken in Kabul 2 years before we left; with my dad (30), mom (26), me (5), sister (3) and baby brother in my mom’s belly. It was shot on International Children’s Day (June 1) at Unicef, where my mom worked. My dad was a professor at the Faculty of Arts of Kabul University, an artist himself (fine arts; paintings & sculptures) and advocated for democracy through his political involvement. You can imagine what Muslim extremists who took over power during the Afghan civil war thought of them and why staying in Afghanistan was simply not an option.