In August 2021, I started a journalist internship at one of the Herat city TV stations. We had barely started work when the city and then the country fell into the hands of the Taliban. The Afghan government collapsed, and the beauty of the city and the appearance of its people changed abruptly: you rarely saw a girl on the street, men stopped dressing to go to the office, and almost everyone began to grow a beard It seemed to me that even the minarets in Herat were crooked and misshapen.
Shortly after the Taliban took power in Kabul, my classmate and I rode our motorbike to the TV station. We had made the trip many times before, but this day was completely different. The street seemed longer than usual and it was as if there was an unseen heaviness in the city, no doubt a reflection of what was going on inside its inhabitants. Before the Taliban took over Herat, my partner and I talked along this path, but we didn’t exchange a word that day. As soon as we walked past the city’s minarets towards the Tank-e-Malawi junction, my heart started racing. “The Taliban have nothing to say to you, you’re a student, you haven’t done anything wrong,” I kept repeating to myself.
I saw some fundamentalists standing by the side of the road, guns in hand. They had long dark hair and their clothes appeared to be covered in dust and dirt. They watched the traffic. One of them raised his hand to stop our motorcycle. I was shocked. As soon as I got off the motorbike, the Taliban searched me and asked for my ID. Images came to mind of the bloodied and injured bodies of local newspaper reporters who had been arrested and nearly beaten to death by the Taliban in Kabul.
Is journalism a crime for the Taliban? It’s a question I don’t have an answer to yet. When the Taliban searched us back then, I feared that my partner and I would be arrested and beaten just because we were journalism students. To reassure myself, I repeated to myself that I wasn’t a criminal: “You’re a student and that’s all.” Calm down, you’re not that important a person to worry about. Eventually the fundamentalist told us to leave. After driving in silence for a few minutes, we finally reached the office door.
On the wall next to the doorbell was a sign that said “Islamic Emirate” and the Taliban flag. Below it was written: “This TV office has been searched by the Islamic Emirates Armed Forces and no soldier has the right to search it again without permission.” We rang the bell and the security guard looked at us through the small peephole in the door. “Are you back?” he said as he opened the door.
The multi-story building, usually full of people, seemed empty. We went into the office and found the televisions were off. There were many colleagues in the office, but everyone was busy on their phones. When the news chief saw us, he turned to the others, laughing, and said, “Look at these two! You’re back!” Then he turned to us and asked, “Didn’t you go to Kabul to catch a plane and get out of the country?”
Somehow hope still lives within us. We have lost everything and still dream on.
We didn’t answer him. We didn’t know what to say. We both went to our usual places and sat down at the computer. Nearby, the desks of our two companions were empty. I contacted her later. They told me they had been told not to come. “The news director said the Taliban came to the office yesterday and ordered women not to work on television until further notice,” she said.
The chain director’s table was also empty. He had fled to Kabul with another of our colleagues hoping to catch an evacuation flight. Apart from these few words addressed to us upon our arrival, nobody in the office paid us the slightest attention that day. They all focused on writing and emailing foreign organizations hoping to be evacuated. I will never forget the heavy atmosphere that prevailed. It was hard to believe.
The friendly atmosphere and jokes from a few days ago were gone. They changed just as quickly as the clothes of the people on the street. This 180 degree turnaround was hard for most people to bear. We left the office without signing the final list as before and returned home in silence. The streets were full of scared and angry people. The tension could be felt everywhere. When the Taliban took power that day, they not only destroyed the political system and security forces, but also the very fabric of Afghanistan. relationships broke up. Friends became strangers and everything fell apart.
I don’t know how we got through those two dark years. Somehow hope still lives within us. We have lost everything and still dream on. To paraphrase the famous Persian poet Hafez: One must have patience with this sorrow so that the night finally becomes dawn.
The original version of this text was published in English under a pseudonym in the Afghan media company Rukhshana.
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