Bravery beyond borders

In her essay, Behista Kofi tries to describe the breaks between her life in Kabul as a student and volunteer, the flight and the new experiences in exile. In doing so, she makes clear her lack of understanding of how she is seen from the outside with very negative connotations and not as a young woman who has achieved, lived through and overcome a lot.

Behishta Kofi © private photo

Bravery beyond borders

A normal day of life in Afghanistan

It’s a normal day of life and my final year at school in Afghanistan. With the golden rays of the sunlight my set time alarm starts beeping. I groggily hit the snooze button and get to bed again, until my mom comes to my room trying to wake me up, saying :”Wake up or you’d be late for school”. As my mother says this I open my eyes slowly trying to get out of my bed
(Having an Afghan mother who enjoys waking up before the sunrise is truly a blessing. Sometimes I wonder how my mother manages to do all the things by herself. Taking care of 7 children never could be a simple task, but I see how humble she is. She never shows a weakness. She always teaches us how to be strong, passionate and patient in life. She has always been a role model, and how I wish I could have her patience and be an early bird like her.)
Back to the story
I put on my all-black uniform and a white headscarf. Even though black is not my favourite colour, but it is the colour of the official public-school uniforms for girls in my country, and I must obey. Besides my mom always tells me that black actually suits me well. Maybe that’s the reason why I have half of my closet filled with black colour clothes. I braid my hair, wear my white headscarf, pack my bag, grab my bottle of water “get hydrated”. I finally leave home while my brother is waiting for me downstairs. He takes me to school by car. To be honest I love my school despite having some subjects which I find really boring. A perfect example for that can be maths, and I’m sure a lot of people agrees here. But still going to school, meeting my school friends, which I call friends for life is the best and the fun part of my life.
There are some rules which never made sense to me, such as no usage of cell phone within the school, no food and etc., there is no cafeteria in our school, for this reason the little food that we order in school costs us a lot, so we ask one of the school staffs who we call “our dearest aunty” to bring us food from outside. She brings it, but of course after that we tip her. Our aunty is so close to us, we respect her so much and I feel we are the only girls who she loves the most among the students. When she sees us coming, you can see the happiness in her eyes, even though she knows we’re not capable of helping her, still she never minds sharing her life story with us sometimes. I know she feels herself closer to me so I am all ears trying to make her feel heard and understood. Some days she complains of her circumstances, she lets her heart out and cries and sometimes she laughs out not caring about anything. And, when I look at her, I just think how strong she is. She is the only one who works in her family, and everyday coming to school despite it all requires a very powerful mindset and attitude towards the life which she completely poses. Sometimes the girls and I try to make her happy, we are joking or teasing her, and sometimes we keep quiet so that she talks and tells us all the problems she has.

My work in a child project

She was the reason for me to start working for such kind of powerful women in our society. I worked in an organization where we used to help poor people and kids that were not able to go to school with some basic needs, our work environment is so nice and healthy, my colleagues, male and female, co work with each respectfully. We feel like a family together, we support each other, I along some of my male/female colleagues working on a project that is for kids. The objective is to support those children that work on the streets and are unable to study and go to school. We share our ideas, each of us discusses different ideas, ways to help these kids, but our goal is the same: to make something new and beneficial for these kids. Seeing my male colleagues stand by, encourage, and support my female colleagues is something heartwarming! It makes me feel positive. We helped women who had no man in their family. I used to go and see people who had nothing to eat, no place to sleep. It was always interesting and inspiring to hear from these people and to listen to their life experiences. I always put that auntie as an example. I have always wanted to do something or at least be a voice for the kids who are not able to study. Kids who have no one to take care of them, who are on the streets all days and late nights doing some jobs, asking for money and help. Families who the life circumstances have forced them to send their children to work on the streets instead of sending them to schools. I want to support them in any case possible. I want to tell them to never give up, to tell them that our parents are always proud of us no matter what kind of work we do, to tell that we are all the same, the difference is only in our situations. I felt like I have accomplished a milestone, and I always remember what my parents told me (if I’m able to help anyone and if I’ll bring on anyone’s face a smile, I have made them so proud), and this sentence kept me working more and more, despite having school. I spent all my day working and seeing those families.

In my family: No gender restrictions

In my family there are no restrictions imposed on you just because of your gender. There is no such thing in our country as ”women and girls are not allowed” to do this or that, to go out or not, you can feel peaceful and happy outside despite the problems, most of the people are happy, content to some extent.
Everyone is free, you could see lots of families having picnic, children playing with balls, girls and boys talking like two normal human beings. You could see how everyone is happy, everyone has a peace of mind somehow. The days pass with the same daily routine. Now there are only two months left from my final year at school and soon I’ll be graduating. Of course, I have the after-graduation plans: to join lots of programs and courses before being able to join the university. But the favourite part of the day for me is go to work. The two months have passed and I’m finally graduating from high school. I don’t know how life would be without school now, I never thought that I’d miss it, but yeah, I do. I throw a party with my friends since we don’t have any official celebration at school. We all have fun. I plan for my future, what I want to study, who do I want to become and I’m really optimistic about it. But little did we know that everything would change so fast to the point that even getting out from your home is a challenge.

The capture of Kabul by the Taliban

Our beautiful normal days come to an end now in a very unexpected way…We could not imagine that 15 August of 2021 would change our lives in a terrible way. Maybe the hardest part of this story for me is to write about this day, the day that damaged everything for me as an 18-year-old girl and not only me but thousands of girls/women who were studying/working in Afghanistan… It is 15 August, a normal day in our home, as usual everyone has their own works and daily routines. Since I finished my school a few months ago, I have my work and some other courses to join. The only thing that has been changed in my life after school graduation is no more 6:00 a.m. alarm and wake up calls. I am finally happy to get enough sleep. My little siblings still have to go to school, my sisters as well as my dad and brother leave home for work. On this day my mom is at home with me and my other sister. Around 8:00 she turns on the TV – there is a breaking news. Breaking news has always been sad news in my country, immediately we know something bad is coming. Today they say, that the president leaves the country and the Taliban have taken over the control of the city. My mum calls my dad, we are in shock, the only thing I understand is that the Taliban are now in Kabul. I have heard stories about their past. The things they have done scare me and now I will see them with my own eyes! This time it seems that my generation has to suffer. There is no hope left now and anything can happen at any moment.
I am deeply sad and terrified; I don’t know what I could do. I feel so empty inside, because all my dreams and plans, my life, our life disappears. We have to give up. My mum tries to reach my dad, brother, and sisters by phone. Suddenly our door bell-rings, it’s my little sibling. She is sent off by school because of the situation. My mom thanks God: “You have arrived safely, don’t worry, everything is going to be fine “. She calms her down.
Everyone is anxious, no one knows exactly what is happening, my mum is worried about my dad, my older sisters and brother. We wait for them to come home, my mum is still unable to reach them. I´m super sad and shocked I don´t know what to do. I go to the balcony, the place that used to be the safest place for me, asking God for help. I wait for someone to wake me up from this nightmare. Suddenly my dad with my brother come. We thank God they’re also safe.

There is a huge silence like a silence before the storm in the house. Suddenly mom receives a call from my sister… She is stuck in the middle of a chaos outside. She says: “all the ways are getting closed one by one as the Taliban are entering Kabul”. She is terrified. Mom assures that we are fine, but call ends and we cannot reach her again. I feel broken and poor, I am frozen, cannot control my tears. Suddenly the doorbell rings. It’s my older sister. Thanks God she is also home safely. My other sister is still trying to reach home in the chaos, but we cannot reach her by phone. Everyone is worried, my brother decides to go to find her, but the roads get closed one by one. The Taliban have entered the city, everybody is worried. Suddenly, the doorbell rings. It´s her: shocked, terrified, with tears in her eyes saying: “They are now everywhere, its over…”. Mom hugs her trying to comfort her…and then there is a huge silence at home again. Everyone keeps watching the news about the situation outside. Kabul, that crowded, noisy city we knew once turns to an empty silent city… the only sound we hear is the sound of celebratory gun fires, the sound of helicopters and planes evacuating people all over the Kabul sky. Our beautiful city is turned into a horror city now. Taliban are now everywhere and they have the power over everything. We lost our country, it´s getting dark and night falls, a sleepless night. The city is still in a complete silence, you know everyone is in a complete shock.

Slowly I understand, that we won’t be able to stay home any longer. It´s not safe and it´s now in the mouth of a shark. There is still only the sound of gunfire and the sound of airplanes over Kabul evacuating people. I cry all the time, my whole-body shakes. Three days have passed since the Taliban took over, we are hiding, nobody is allowed to go out. I call friends, everybody is in the same state of being: lost. I think about everyone in the city, the street kids, I call my manager and he is shocked knowing that I still want to work and help those kids. He tells me we are not going to help those kids we have to help ourselves now. In that situation you can find smile in someone’s face very hardly. There is the-moment I would say when my comfort zone, my home became the most dangerous place for me, day by day the situation got worse. By watching the news about the people at the airport you see how dangerous the situation outside is and how everyone is in search of a safety, a way out.

Our attempts to leave the country

Home is no safe like before. We have no choice but to leave our home and country. Few more days passes we now get a chance to be taken out of the country. We head towards the airport; we are nearby but an explosion occurs.

The sound is huge, there´s a complete crowd, a hell on earth. We receive an email, the cancelation of our evacuation plan, and return home. We lose hundreds of people, it´s traumatic and heartbreaking. Families now start pulling apart, our family tears apart now. My older brother with a little time difference between the airport explosions reaches the airport gate for the evacuation while we are still in the country. Everyone is deeply concerned and tired of the situation. One week has passed since my brother is not with us, but at least he is safe now. And that’s enough for us. My brother constantly calls, he`s worried about all of us, we assure him not to worry. Taliban now have started the home searches, and raiding houses; we have the share of it thrice. Eventually we are forced to leave the country as soon as possible. We are on the way to Pakistan now, Taliban are everywhere, they are right in front of us and I am totally terrified. They recognize our family. My dad gets out of the car, they take him with them. My mum sees that, she also goes out of the car, they take her as well. We are in the car, I think it’s over, we lost our parents. After hours they finally let them go. God gave my parents back to us. Finally, we can cross the border. Later on, I notice that my mother’s bag in which she kept her precious things is not with her anymore. I understand why the Taliban let us go.
We are now on the way to Islamabad, everyone is silent, tired and lost. I just look out of the window of the car. I am lost in thoughts and questions: What will happen next? Who helps people inside Afghanistan? I think about the street kids again. I leave, but the ones with the lost childhood dreams, what will happen to them? I close my eyes…with a hope to be able to open my eyes to those normal days in my own country once again…

Moving to Europe

However, moving to Europe did not mean that difficulties and challenges were resolved. I’ve gone through things that I never anticipated. Racism and discrimination against immigrants are unethical and difficult to deal with in Europe. I came to a place where I was simply judged by my appearance, people started looking at me in a different way. It’s a big misconception that immigrants leave their country just for the wealthy West, and some people think they have no concept of what it means to live. They think people with hijab are not educated enough, despite this I was not able to study because of racism. People started looking at me differently, they were acting scared only because I have a scarf. However, world looks beautiful with diversity. Another problem that I faced was racism.

At that only Ukrainian people were the priority (I do not mean that they do not deserve it) but I just felt that inequality among refugees and every help was given to them only, and here was another challenge for me to face with, and it felt really hard to hear negative answer in everything I was trying to reach to. After all, I will do my best to accomplish everything I want and show the world that refugees are capable of anything if you give them a chance!

Some people see as a refugee, some people see as a immigrant but what I see is people who are brave enough to leave everyone, everything, their family’s , loved ones, their lives behind and to pack small suitcase and to fly with one way ticket. To start a completely new chapter of a live, despite all challenges and difficulties.

Behishta Kofi is 20 years old and comes from Kabul, Afghanistan. She grew up in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. She spent most of her childhood far away from her home country in Afghanistan. However, her dream has always been to return to her homeland and learn more about its culture.
In 2021, just months before the Taliban took power, Behishta graduated from high school. Her childhood dream was to become a fashion designer. She is also involved in working with children.
For security reasons, her family left Afghanistan and fled to Europe a few days after the Taliban took Kabul. Currently, Behishta is trying to find her way and enroll in a university.

As part of the project Flight – Exile – Participation: Citizen Science on Historical and Current Experiences of Flight as Participatory Educational Work (FEP), Behishta wrote the essay “Bravery beyond borders” , in which she presents her reflections on the themes of “flight” and “new beginnings”.

The essay “Bravery beyond borders” was first published on the website of We Refugees Archive as part of the project Flight – Exile – Participation: Citizen Science on Historical and Current Experiences of Flight as Participatory Education (10/24/2023).