Groups have gathered on the green schoolyard, sitting either on the grass or by the water fountain. Some are in pairs, while others lean against the corners of the school’s corridors or walls. Girls with white headscarves and black dresses converse, laugh, and sometimes shed tears. Nevertheless, one comforts the other in this way: “We’ll come back to school on the day of the grade announcement.” Throughout the year, they lived with the anxiety of facing a closed school gate the next day. Despite this, they endeavored to make the most of the year by attending school and giving their best to their studies. Today, however, that ominous day has arrived when they must listen and wait for “further notice”. Who would have thought that one day the school, the first gateway of knowledge for the girls of our land, would be closed? Who would have thought that one day they would be told that because they have become “young” and are girls, they do not have the right to go to school and receive an education? A school that some families were reluctant to send their daughters to. A father who, twenty years ago, did not send his elder daughter to school and married her off prematurely, now takes his younger daughter to school himself. But it seems as if an ominous specter has suddenly taken over the homeland. The dark ideology of the Taliban, with individuals who know nothing but wielding guns and are foreign to any other work, has seized the throat of our land, which was slowly progressing on its path.
A thousand days have passed since the girls were deprived of going to school. It’s not a small number of days. Undoubtedly, with each passing day, thousands of lives are lost. Thousands of futures burned and turned to ashes in the darkness of the Taliban’s ignorance. Today, thousands of other girls have also had the school gate closed before them. Thousands of hope for today and the future. On this tumultuous and ominous day, I have come to the school. From a distance, I observe the girls. I closely monitor each of their behaviors, and when I see them clasping each other’s hands tightly, offering comfort until the next day of grade announcement, my throat tightens. We have cried a lot, and we will cry a lot more, to the extent that everyone might think our eyes are pouring out seas. Now we know, with our flesh and bones, that just two words, two words are enough to freeze time and connect all of our lives at a single point, the center of grief, perhaps the shared grief of all of us. Just two words: “Further Notice”. A word that feels like a buttstock descending upon our weary minds.
A while back, I had come to this school. They said that after the completion of the “midterm exam,” a group of Taliban had come to the school. Later, it became clear that they were from the “Directorate of Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.” Everyone was afraid; even the children were terrified of their arrival, whispering to each other’s ears or asking their teachers anxiously, “Are they preventing us from coming to school?” The imagination of such a scene is so distressing, that even children have the fear of being driven away from the school’s door. One of these students’ teachers, Ms. Rasikh, who teaches the third grade, used to say, “My student (referring to a girl sitting farther away from us) is very diligent and studious. On the day when the officials from the Directorate of Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice came to our school before we could understand the reason for their arrival, she was crying in my arms and saying, ‘Teacher, what should we do if they say not to come to school?'”
Once, I taught for a short period at this school. I asked the students to write a letter about their lives five years from then and bring it to me. Not yet five years later, the schools are closed to them. The girl who had written, “I want to become the first position holder of our school when I am in 9 grade,” is not allowed to go to school. Nawida, who had written, “I aspire to don a white coat, attain a Ph.D., and pursue a career as a painter,” is imprisoned within the confines of her home. Negina who wanted to become an engineer and beautify our small town, is not allowed to go to university. And dozens of other girls whose aspirations turned to ashes. Now that a considerable amount of time has passed since then, I don’t even dare to ask one of these girls what plans they have for the next five years. I can’t even inquire about their dreams and aspirations. I fear their response. Perhaps they have no answer. Maybe they consider their aspirations unattainable and their dreams null and void.
Husnia is my companion. Today is her last day at school, and she even thinks the likelihood of coming on the day of the grade announcement is close to zero for her. As she bids farewell to her classmates, she comes toward me with red eyes and tear-stained cheeks. She shoulders her school bag and says, “I wish I had been absent for two months, and then failed the midterm exam, been disqualified, and could come back to school next year.” I embrace her and offer hope for a day when even I am uncertain about her return in this situation. However, she cries and says, “I can’t believe we won’t come to school anymore. How am I supposed to spend the winter for three months in hopelessness? I can’t believe it. How am I supposed to live?” I have no answer for her, and I join her in crying. Husnia doesn’t even have hope to come on the day of the grade announcement, a day when she might see her friends and classmates for the last time. Husnia’s father had reluctantly agreed to enroll her in school. When he agreed to continue, the girls in the sixth grade and above were no longer allowed to go to school, and Husnia’s last exam day was equivalent to the last day of school.
Today, many girls bid farewell to each other. They said goodbye to their teachers, the school, and the white scarves that symbolize hope and bright days. Nothing comes out of their empty hands. Even they know that clenching their fists will only strike a blow to their heads. Silently, they shed tears—tears that go unseen. Today, they have nothing but shoulders to lean on, shoulders where they can share each other’s sorrow. Today, with tears, abundant grief, and anger, they head towards their homes—the walled homes constructed by the dominance of patriarchy and religious authority over women. No longer is the home a place for rest and respite for women. For our girls, from a thousand days ago until today, the walled home is like a cage, each wall resembling a chain, and it has a gate meant for locking.
At this moment as I write this piece, I ponder why we are not sharing the common sorrow. Why are we – people, diverse groups, and spectrums erroneously labeled as “the people” – not gathering together at least in our shared joy, not sitting together in collective mourning, not taking a collective lament? Why is today, after maybe a thousand days since our last shared joy—be it the throwing of our graduation caps or the final day of school with the anticipation of returning—feeling like a thousand years? Hasn’t our anger made us strong enough to speak up and unite? Perhaps this is a naive thought, that my grief, your grief, and our grief could transform into our collective mourning, and maybe it’s true about us that “each person’s pain is their own.” But ultimately, maybe, no, certainly! our anger, our grief, and our chests heavy with pain make each of us, individually, stronger. One day, we will laugh in the face of those who scattered us from the school and university gates with their guns. With a description of all the hardships and the future we aspired to but didn’t reach, and with the abandonment of all our hopes and ideals today, on the day of freedom—when no woman is deprived of her human right to be a woman, and the homeland is liberated from the chains of the black ideology and ignorance—we will dance with apple blossom scarves on our shoulders, hair flowing in the wind, and barefoot steps.