‘It was like in movies, the bad guys come and you run’: Afghan woman recounts her escape to India

Shogofa Ansari, 28, is an Afghani lawyer. On August 14, the day before Kabul fell to the Taliban, Shogofa, her mother and brother boarded one of the last flights to Delhi. She spoke with Nidhi Suresh while she and her brother looked for a place to live in Lajpat Nagar. This is her story of leaving her country, in her own words.

ByShogofa Ansari
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‘It was like in movies, the bad guys come and you run’: Afghan woman recounts her escape to India
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Just two days ago, I was a lawyer, I was a working woman, I was someone. My friends and I spent our lives building up ourselves against our history, we worked, we had careers.

And now, look at us. My brother and I are searching for a room in a new country.

I remember how we left. I don’t want to remember, but I do.

My mother, brother and I left Kabul on Saturday. When we decided to leave Afghanistan, things were quieter. Mazar-e-Sharif had still not fallen.

It was like in movies, you know, like when the bad guys come and you run? It was just like that.

For the last few months, we had a feeling that things would go bad. We knew our president would sell us into the hands of the Taliban without thinking twice. The American president and our president together sold us away. Just like that.

I knew we had to leave Afghanistan.

You’re asking me if there was any particular moment that made me want to leave. I don’t know. I remember our parents talking about how it was when the Taliban used to be in power before. To know that, to have grown up hearing those stories over dinner, over lunch over tea, and not leave now? That would mean death – in more ways than one.

Yes, not everyone left. Some of our friends kept saying, “Nothing will happen. They will not come here.”

Have you seen our city? It’s big, it looks strong.

We had to leave behind relatives, friends, some of them truly believed that the Taliban would not come back the way it has, some believe the Taliban have changed…I was not willing to wait and find out.

I had plans, you know. I wanted to be a diplomat.

Several weeks ago, many of my advocate friends started making exit plans. Everyday when we met for work everyone would talk about where to flee to. It’s like when people meet and discuss holiday plans, we were meeting to discuss how to leave our lives behind.

Some of my colleagues fled to Uzbekistan, some to Pakistan and so we also quickly applied for a visa to India.

When the situation started going bad a few weeks ago, we left Mazar-e-Sharif and went to Kabul. Don’t ask me why I chose India, I just did. Surprisingly we got our paperwork sorted out quickly and I knew we simply had to flee.

Till then things were going as per some plan. But the moment we reached the Kabul airport on Saturday morning, I knew something was wrong. Our flight was supposed to take off at 10 am but they started telling us it would only leave by 1 pm. So we got down on our knees, and we prayed on the floors of the airport. I hated it. I was praying and pleading with God to take me out of the land I love so much.

No one should have to choose between their life and their land.

Anyway, while we were waiting, the airport staff suddenly told us this would be the last flight out to India. We had a visa to India. We had to get on that flight. But the announcement made everyone tense. Everyone ran. My brother, mother and I also ran. I can’t remember if we held each other’s hands or our bags or our documents, but we ran.

We managed to somehow scramble onto the plane. It’s a strange thing to do. To push past your own people, fight for that one seat and feel relieved only to realise you might have just pushed someone to their death.

All three of us got seats but when we sat down, the pilot announced that they couldn’t fly till the Indian Government gave them permission. So once again, we sat – praying, crying, hoping.

You ask me how long we waited? We waited a lifetime. I died a full death and came to life in the time that flight took off. I cannot tell you in minutes and hours.

Finally the permission came. It felt like the whole aircraft started to breathe again. We took off.

Two hours after we reached India, the Taliban took control of Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul. I could and couldn’t believe what I was seeing on my phone, we had so many messages from relatives.

Some of them didn’t know that we had left. They were worried. Everyone was crying – some because we were safe, some because we had left, some because we didn’t know if we’d ever meet again.

I had to leave my in-laws behind. I couldn’t see them one last time. Now, they also want to come but they don’t have visas. I don’t know if it’s too late. It can’t be.

My fiance is in Europe. He also kept telling me to leave. He said, “If you don’t leave now, we may never meet again.”

When will I see him? When will he see his parents? When will I go back? Will I? I don’t know.

Nothing will be the same again. We’ve been robbed of ourselves. I don’t know who I am anymore, why I am.

Transcription assistance by Utkarsh Tripathi.

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