My childhood was spent in Kabul with my parents and five siblings – in our family home filled with children's games, mischief and laughter. But there was no joy the day I was told, at six years old, that I’d be sent to primary school.
My mother took my hand and walked me to the school gate. I cried the distance of our walk. I would go forward, then pull back. I didn't want to enter the school; I didn't want to be separated from my mother.
But she got me inside and, after a brief meeting with the teacher, bid me goodbye. With fear and panic, I looked around at the other children, whose eyes were filled with tears.
That was it. I had to get out. But just as I tried, the gate guard stopped me and, in a matter of moments, I found myself ushered back into the classroom, where I took my seat in the first row.
I remember the teacher distributing our books. Then I remember my mother returning to pick me up. The day had passed, my rage had not. I handed my book to my mother.
“This is for you,” I told her. “I will not go to school anymore!”
But my mother brought me to school again the next day. And again, it was miserable. The class, the faces, the chairs – everything strange, unfamiliar, unpleasant.
Each day ended the same. I would turn to my classmates and declare, “I will not come to school tomorrow. Goodbye to you all.”
But my mother always won. And after a few months, I began to adjust.
One day, our teacher started the lesson by writing the letter ‘A’ in white chalk on the blackboard. This was the beginning of the battle between white and black. These symbols clashed in my head. I wrote them over and over again in my notebook, from ‘A to Z.’
And as I did, the battle calmed. What the teacher said began to make sense – how we could combine these letters to make words. Like the word ‘holiday’, which sounded pleasant to my mind. And the word ‘school’, which did not.
Then, with all our new words, we could form sentences. Little by little, I got used to my classmates and my teachers. I didn't like holidays anymore. I loved school.
As each year passed, I realized there was even more I could do with language – the subject widened. I started writing articles. I’d enter essay writing competitions and win first place.
From there, I moved to poetry and fiction. I wrote of a child who sells windshield wipers for cars. The words I found for this story were so heavy, I’d lose the lines and angles of my writing, the back and forth, not knowing where to start. These words were not just a combination of letters. They had a weight, a shape.
My writings piled into more until I had my first book. I made it heavier with other subjects – the burdens of the brave women in my country, the misogynistic society in Afghanistan.
But just before the book went to print, I added one more poem: "Please Open My School Door.”
Because on the first day of the school year, in March 2022, as my classmates and I sat eagerly awaiting our teacher, we were met instead with despair.
“It is time to go home,” she said after entering the room, deep lines of sorrow visible in her face.
I looked at my watch. Nine o'clock in the morning. It wasn’t a holiday. And it was no longer a school day. Classrooms around the country had been closed for all girls above Grade 6.
My family was crying by the time I got home. My parents, four of my siblings – had all received higher education. I burst into screams.
What had happened? Did my dreams just crumble to the ground? I want to obtain my doctorate. Those sweet, memorable days studying and playing on the school grounds with my friends – will they come back?
Through the hopelessness now, I console myself with the poem of Master Razeg Fani:
Burning is another stage of our growth
You have to get over it
I will try to be a strong, burning voice. A defender of women's rights, a defender of children’s rights.
I think of the books I read, opening new worlds to me, the load getting heavier every day as I searched more and more, like stepping onto an endless road.
"Strengthen my steps, O Tahir Quds."
It is a long way to my destination.
But I hope to see my name on the list of the world's greatest writers. One day.