Khalida's story: Leaving Kabul in fear, returning with hope
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (UNHCR) - "I want to go back but I am afraid," she said, waiting as her mother registered the family of 15 at Takhtabaig Voluntary Repatriation Centre near Peshawar, western Pakistan.
"I am afraid because I cannot forget the way we left Kabul," explained Khalida, 22, an Afghan refugee who had been living in Pakistan for almost eight years.
Recalling the terrifying circumstances that led to flight from Kabul in the pre-Taliban days, when Afghanistan's capital was being torn apart by different mujaheddin groups battling for control of the city, she continued slowly, "I still remember our last night there. We were sitting at home and talking when my brother burst into the house. He was panting and his faced was blue. He said, looking towards my mother, 'Today it is our neighbourhood's turn.'"
It was only later that Khalida found out what her brother meant - groups of men working for the different armed factions were abducting women from their houses. Khalida's family spent the night hiding in the basement, something they had done before when there was shelling and bombardment outside.
"When we were all in the basement, my brother said, looking desperately towards me and my sisters-in-law, 'They are coming to take the women; I cannot let that happen. I love you, but for my honour and my family's honour, I will kill you the moment they enter the house and then I will kill myself rather than hand you over. So, forgive me your blood, as God knows what will happen.'"
"We were shocked but understood him well," said Khalida. "I wanted to cry and my chest was going to burst, but I thought that by crying, I was going against my family honour. That night we listened to the trampling of feet in the street, shooting and cars moving. Every time I heard a voice coming, I thought that was it. I do not know how I fell asleep that night."
The next day, the family decided to flee for Pakistan. Khalida's nephew found a getaway car while everyone else hastily grabbed a few items of clothing. The women did not have chadari (an overall worn by some women in Afghanistan), so they covered themselves with bed sheets in the car.
"The whole journey was tiring and I did not dare to remove the bed sheets because I had heard stories that if someone takes a fancy to you, he will take you and marry you and you will never see your family ever again. I was very afraid and the whole day we could not eat anything," recalled Khalida.
"The next night we stayed in Jalalabad, and in the morning the journey continued. It was dangerous but I was no longer afraid. I was thinking of reaching Pakistan, where so many relatives have gone before and never came back."
The family reached the Torkham border in the shadow of the Khyber Pass in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province in the wee hours of the morning. They eventually joined an uncle who was living in Hayatabad, a town near Peshawar.
"We had nothing to eat or wear," said Khalida, reflecting on her initial days in Pakistan.
After almost eight years in Hayatabad, the family settled in; Khalida worked while her brothers attended school. "But we have decided that it is time to go back home. God will take care of us."
Leaving Takhtabaig with her family, Khalida smiled and said, "See you in Afghanistan."
By Mariam Arzomand