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For many families in Kabul, the arrival of the Taliban on the outskirts of the city was the final sign of the Taliban’s total control of the country. Despite the air of panic and tension everywhere, shops and offices remained open in the first week of August. But gradually everything started to open later in the day or not at all; people came to work in smaller numbers with unannounced absences while senior staff and civil servants began to make excuses for their absence. Prices went up in the bazaar as people started to panic buy from the stall holders and shopkeepers still trading.

As the Taliban physically entered Kabul on August 15th, going straight to the Presidential Palace to take symbolic control of the country and announce itself as the new government, many people either tried to leave the city in any manner available to them or just went into hiding.

Young single women like ‘Mubina’ (name and personal details have been changed to protect her identity) who is a university graduate and worked alongside Afghans and internationals alike, were torn between protesting for their rights and demanding careers on one hand and the traditional obligations of family on the other. Many such women decided to stay in Kabul for a mixture of these reasons.

This is the summarised diary of one single woman in Kabul, giving insights into her thoughts and fears, insightful observations, strength and resilience

15th August 2021 suddenly became Day 1 of the Taliban government. I started the day normally preparing to go to my office even though I was told that there was ongoing fighting in the Pol-i-Charkhi area and the prison was under attack. I did not take it seriously because it sounded like yet another routine event between warring groups that did not involve normal people. I thought it was a routine life event for us.

“Don’t take the bus, I will drive you today” my cousin said. We headed to the office it was 07:00, passing the wholesalers’ markets I saw it was still closed and only a few shops were half-opened. I asked my cousin that why they are close today? He nodded and said I don’t know and we continued on our drive to the office. Today I had meetings at a government ministry, and as I approached the main barriers I saw that there were fewer guards in the main entrance gate and they were looking worried and agitated, as I approached, I even did not see any guards by the minister’s office gate. At first, I was a bit worried then I ignored that and ended in the office of my colleague for a scheduled meeting even though the building was very quiet.

After an hour of quiet discussions, a mutual friend knocked on the door, got in and told me that Kabul is under the siege by the Taliban and the Ghani regime is going to collapse at any moment, and he asked me to leave. When I heard that I pulled myself together and re-focus on the closed wholesalers marked, no security guards in this ministry compound, and absence of Minister’s guards at his office entrance – these thoughts worked like an electric shock on my body I took my stuff and walked quickly to my offices a few blocks away. The traffic had increased and many food and fruit sellers were starting to cover their gods and push their carts into the traffic.

Entering my own office to grab my stuff from my room, our supervisor came over and told me to immediately leave and go home immediately, I asked why? He said there is a power vacuum and the Taliban are already in the city. When I heard that I felt a sharp pain in my head and shivering down my spine. I thought that everything is finished now, I sobbed secretly and picked my folders while I was emotionally disturbed, suddenly I saw my two older male colleagues turn their vicious gaze on me and said, “poor girl, didn’t you know?” “your democracy has gone and see how your American Godfather tosses you like a piece of trash to rot”. “Go and find a safe spot for you and your Foreign supporter family”.

I was feeling so sad, worried, and very scared. At that time I was wishing to God that All this is not a reality but only a nightmare; unfortunately, it was the reality. I took a cab home and on the way, I saw people were wandering around looking confused and scared. Some shopkeepers locked their shops and stopped looking out of the car window and put on my sunglasses, crying deeply behind them. On reaching the home I immediately asked my Mother to help me gather the families certificates, pictures and other documents that could prove we had been working with foreign donors and NGOs. We burned them all in the stove including the training certificates, letters of appreciation, references, pictures of exchange trips…all gone in flames

Later in the early evening, I heard the heavy firing and shouts in our street and I got up on to the flat roof of our house to see what is going on? I saw that the Police headquarters which is located near our home had captured and the white flag with black writing had been raised.

Weeks 1 – August 16-23:

The first night under their regime was the eeriest one, especially when I saw their armed vehicles parked beneath my house and under my house balcony, leant their weapons against our yard wall and around our entrance main gate. First, I thought that they had blocked our house and will soon start searching our home. A small group of five or six men wrapped up stood outside our house all night talking and wandering up and down the street carrying weapons. I had scary thoughts which caused me to tear and insomnia. The men in our house stayed on the ground floor and on the roof to see what was going on for most of the night while my mother and others stayed on the first floor in one room, unable to sleep. In the morning, there was no trace of the men, they left no sign of their presence, but arrived again at sunset every day.

This fear of being arrested by them remained with us for the whole week and continued its battle with my soul and brain which caused me a frequent panic attacks. Especially one night when my aunt called us – she was frantic and scared because their house was searched by the Talib with the accusation of having the weapon at home, but it ended peacefully after the intervention of their Mosque Mullah. Since the 15th of August all the banks are closed and we are now using what little cash we collectively have in the household and asking extended family if they have enough food that we can perhaps start to share amongst us.

Week 2 – 24-31 August:  I did not leave the house for over a week. The days of being able to walk out and go to work or even the bazaar as an unaccompanied woman are gone. No more last minute shopping for dinner, bring the fresh naan back before we eat together.

Day by day, the fear of being exposed to the Talib as a university graduate and having worked with and for foreign organisation was increasing and I feel ill and have lost the will to leave my room and I am beginning to question my mental balance.

In the meantime, the news of evacuation and the departure of my friends and their last words weaken me from inside and brake me down into pieces. Especially one night when there was a sudden heavy firing due to the return of Mullah Habibullah to Kabul I thought that the World War III had begun and we managed to get into our basement where we all stayed shivering out of terror. That night I was unable to sleep and stayed awake until dawn, and I was praying to find some opportunity to safely leave Kabul with my family, but could not find any way to flee from here, and I remain stunned.

However, my foreign friends kept asking me about my safety and I had no words to say rather than a fake yes with a smile that “I am fine”. Several of them tried their best to evacuate me with my family but could not succeed either. I lost my mental health and always had tears in my eyes while looking back to my past and my vague and uncertain future.

With the US abandon Afghanistan, I was very optimistic that the UN will do something for us and will stop my country falling back into the 1990s, but nothing happened. I was silly because I was asking for a miracle that is not going to happen in this era.

Hence, I was counting the evacuation flights and the plane soaring caused me more pain and suffering. On 31 August night, I was sitting on the top terrace of my home when I was watching the last military charter plane take off at 12:15 am, after watching that in the sky I felt numbness all over my body and I cried out of pain and I was mumbling this to them and myself «goodbye and I apologise to you on the behalf of my people that we were not a good host and not a good nation to build our country……… it was the time that I realised that now nothing is going to stop this and it was not a nightmare but a dark and painful reality. I had to accept that democracy is no longer in power and everything is gone in the wind and a dark morning is waiting for us and I pulled myself together and I went back to my room but could not sleep.