Shattered Dreams: Tales of Female Students in the Days of Confinement

By: Behnia

Jasmine branches and crimson flowers adorn a piece of fabric, captivating passersby who appreciate traditional clothing with its vibrant colors. Yet, beyond these lively threads and exquisite blossoms, a young girl’s dreams have vanished into thin air. It was along these very threads that Fawzia embarked on her journey to pursue her dreams, dedicating three years of her life to their fulfillment. These years were riddled with countless challenges and hardships, but they held the promise of brighter days. Within that time, she unearthed a world of work and discovered her future, comprehending its vastness and significance. However, on her path to realization, a group intercepted her progress, refusing to let her proceed any further. Fawzia found herself imprisoned on charges of embracing femininity and stripped of her education. To console her weary soul, she now weaves her lost dreams onto the colorful threads, piercing them repeatedly with a needle, one after another.

On the outskirts of Kabul, a determined girl embraced lofty aspirations, her life brimming with goals, dreams, and desires. As a third-year computer science student at Kabul Polytechnic University, she envisioned a future where she could establish her own company, serving as its employer, a skilled programmer, or even a talented designer, employing a multitude of individuals. However, the rise of the Taliban altered her path. Like many other girls, she now finds herself confined to a corner of Kabul, subjected to house arrest by the rulers of her homeland. In these challenging times, her focus has shifted to mastering the delicate art of manipulating threads on fabric, striving to support her family by easing her father’s burden and ensuring to provide for their family.

Embroidery used to be a mere pastime for Fawzia, a way to occupy idle moments and mark the passing days of her studies with colorful threads. However, circumstances have transformed this activity into her sole means of livelihood and an escape from her melancholy. Reflecting on the past, she shares, “During my university days, I would immerse myself in embroidery with great enthusiasm. I had a genuine passion for this craft. Each afternoon, I would sit at the sewing machine, pouring my heart into every scarf and handcrafted shirt. The money I earned from these creations allowed me to buy boots and the clothes I longed to wear to university, as my job back then wasn’t compulsory. But now, I am compelled to continue this work.”

As Fawzia sat in her university classroom, absorbed in sketching equations to reach her dreams, the ominous shadow of the Taliban descended upon her life. The news of their arrival had permeated the air, casting a pall over the entire university and the city beyond. Still, she struggled to grasp the reality that the Taliban had effortlessly seized control of the city, knowing that it would irrevocably alter her life and the lives of all the girls. It wasn’t until her professors uttered incomprehensible and bone-chilling words that the truth hit her like a freight train. “We were in the midst of our programming lesson when news of the university’s closure reached us,” she recounts. “The professors delivered the devastating message that we were on an indefinite break until the situation clarifies. I simply couldn’t fathom it and clung to the hope that it was a nightmare from which I would soon awaken.”

Yet, it wasn’t a mere dream; it was the harsh reality that thrust Fawzia into a life filled with adversity from that day forward. The blissful study days of the past were now out of reach. Although the universities eventually reopened their doors to girls, the suffocating constraints and oppressive measures imposed by the Taliban left Fawzia with a disheartening realization—her dreams of joyous graduation days and the pursuit of her aspirations were no longer viable. Once again, this group tightened its grip, further barricading the doors of education for girls.

From the window of Fawzia’s room, she witnessed a profound transformation in everything. The city underwent a change, people changed, and fear and terror permeated every corner. The motivation to carry on dwindled, leaving her without the will to live. The streets no longer buzzed with news of joyous students, and the presence of female scholars vanished from the city. Survival became the sole focus, as everyone aligned themselves with the Taliban. Only a few advocates sought Fawzia’s return to the university and the resumption of her studies.

From sunrise to sunset, Fawzia retreats to a corner of her room, surrounded by tangled threads and scattered remnants of her embroidery. There, she mourns the burdens of her dire economic circumstances. The flame of her ambition and desire to study has been extinguished, leaving her apathetic toward the dreams she once held dear. With a heavy heart, she confesses, “The hopelessness has consumed me. I can’t bear to glance at my books anymore, and even my computer password has faded from my memory.”

Like a bird with its wings cruelly clipped, Fawzia finds herself trapped within the realm of shattered dreams. In the corner of her room, she laments the slipping away of her educational days. Yet, amidst the shadows, she occasionally gazes beyond, contemplating the delicate equilibrium between her existence and the oppressive force that denies her the freedom to breathe. With a tremor in her voice, she speaks, “I dread the day I am freed from this cage only to remain imprisoned within myself, forsaking my right to soar. May I never forget that I once possessed wings for flight, and the Taliban succeeded in their purpose.” Her longing extends not just to herself, but to all the girls, yearning to escape this abyss before the ominous grip of the Taliban and their enforced subjugation take hold.

Fatima, a fellow student, finds herself compelled to undertake laborious tasks due to the economic hardships inflicted by the Taliban’s regime and the shuttering of university doors. She had been pursuing a pharmacy degree at Kabul University, a mere two semesters away from accomplishing her education, when she was abruptly halted and denied access to the campus. Now, from dawn till dusk, instead of occupying a university classroom, she immerses herself in the world of weaving, embroidery, and the occasional intricacies of carpet-making.

Fatima rarely gets the chance to escape from her current preoccupation, and occasionally she steals glances at her textbooks. However, whenever she tries to focus on her studies, the oppressive atmosphere of her room, meticulously orchestrated by the Taliban, hampers her ability to read and venture into imaginative realms, fueling a profound sense of despair. Fatima expresses, “There are days when I feel motivated to carry on studying, and I eagerly reach for my books. But on most days, the prevailing sense of hopelessness engulfs me to the extent that I lose all interest in doing anything.”

After the Taliban seized power, Fatima’s father lost his job. Previously, he had a stable source of income and ensured that his daughters could fully focus on their studies, without worrying about providing for the family. However, things changed drastically. Now, he searches for work during the day but returns home empty-handed at night. Consequently, Fatima’s elder sister tirelessly seeks employment, blurring the distinction between day and night until she secures a job. Currently, Fatima’s family relies solely on her elder sister as the breadwinner, even though her income is insufficient. Consequently, Fatima, too, is compelled to undertake work she dislikes, reluctantly joining her sister to contribute to the family’s expenses. She explains, “It’s clear that I have no choice but to do this work. Those who study and find jobs aligned with their field would never resort to weaving and sewing unless it’s simply a hobby.”

The money Fatima earns from this work hardly reflects the effort she invests in it. After a week of labor, she only manages to earn 100 Afghanis by meticulously sewing beads onto every three meters of velvet fabric. This meager sum is not even enough to cover her mobile phone expenses. Nevertheless, Fatima feels compelled to persist in this occupation, clinging to it as a means to escape the suffocating grip of shattered dreams. She hopes that by enduring these challenging days, she will find a path to a better future.

Fatima harbored a fervent desire to graduate from university and secure a job in her chosen field, becoming a pillar of support for her father. However, destiny dealt a cruel blow, leaving her dreams as mere wisps of possibility. Each day, she laments the untimely halt to her educational journey, grieving the loss of what could have been. With bated breath, Fatima yearns for a glimmer of hope to illuminate her doorstep, heralding the long-awaited reopening of the university. In moments of contemplation, she whispers to herself, “If only the Taliban had arrived a few months later or delayed their order to shutter the university. Perhaps then, we could have graduated, at least.”

In the face of heart-wrenching circumstances, Fatima clings to the flickering flame of hope. Determined and resilient, she remains steadfast on her chosen path, prepared to weather any adversity. Her heart yearns for the momentous day when the university gates swing open, granting access to her and countless Afghan girls, allowing them to resume their pursuit of cherished dreams along the paths that await. Yet, a lingering worry gnaws at her spirit – the fear that these constraints may endure for years, condemning girls to prolonged confinement within the four walls of their homes, eroding their aspirations over time.