An Essay by Sharifa Ahmadi
When I was about six or seven years old, I lived with my family in the small village of Sia Dara in the Yakawlang district of Bamyan province. Even then I worked as a shepherd, getting up very early to have breakfast and take my family’s flock of sheep into the nearby desert, hills and mountains. Sometimes I went with my sister who was two years younger than me and sometimes alone. My days were busy. I had to watch out for our herd of about 25 sheep. But I also spent time playing in the dusty land, singing songs that I made up for myself. Sometimes I even slept on the desert ground.
One day soon after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, I came home early from the hills. As I walked, I noticed some boys wearing backpacks. Some carried books as they went to their houses. Where have they been with those books and what are they doing, I asked myself.
That evening, as the weather became darker, my father came home from the fields full of stress and fear. But he saw my face and asked me whether I was having a problem. I answered my father that I wasn’t having a problem, but that I wanted to be like the boys and go to school. But my father was concerned. You who are very small will not be able to walk so far, he said. Those boys walk almost three hours in the morning and three hours at the end of the day. I promised my father right then I would walk and study every day and that if I did not do these things, he could take me out of school and I would do chores again.
My father agreed to send me to school. That night I was very excited and didn’t have a proper sleep. All night I thought about what to wear and how to find the school in the other village and what would the other students be like.
The next morning, with prayers from my mom, I left house to walk to school. Remember, I was only about seven and this was my first time leaving my village on my own. After one hour, I came to the village of Dahan Dargashtak. I asked a man where was the school. You should be at home not in school, he said. I walked away from him to seek help from another man across the road, who told me directions and that there were two more hours of walking. The weather was very hot that day. I felt hungry because I didn’t have food. Actually I wasn’t really thinking about my hunger. I could only think about finding the school. I was so excited to start my studies.
Finally, after two hours, I arrived at Sheenya village, the location of the girls’ school. When I reached there it was break time. I was very happy because the girls looked like me with their hair style, clothes, and the way they talked. I found the first-grade class and my first day at school started. I was full of enthusiasm as I continued going to school for another four days! I found friends. I studied very hard so that I could learn and get good results to show my father. Even my teacher knew that I hoped to become the first and best position in the class.
Till one day! My teacher walked into the classroom without greeting us. She started drawing on the blackboard. She drew only a simple flower and then asked us, how is this? We all together said! No, no it is not good. Then she drew a flower for a second time, asking what we thought. The third time, the teacher drew a simple line and asked us the same question. The class grew quiet. Involuntarily, I told her ahaqieeee, which means the worst.
Again the class became very quiet. The teacher came over to me and told me to stand up! She told a classmate to go and bring a piece of wet wood from the tree outside. I kept standing and the class was full of fear. The teacher took the wood and told me to hold out my hands. But I still did not understand why I was at fault. She hit me five times on my small hand. My hands became red and I started crying. She told me to stop crying or she would send me out of school. My hands were burning in pain, but I stopped crying. That day after school I came home and didn’t share anything with my mom and dad, on that day and other days.
A few days later, my older brother came to visit from Pakistan. He encouraged me to be an intelligent girl and be the first position in the class and told me he loved me very much. But I didn’t even share my very bad school day with him. However, from that day onwards I didn’t like to go to school. My teacher kept treating me badly. I was tired of going to school but continued to attend.
One day my mother’s aunt and her husband who lived in Pakistan came to visit our village. They asked how our life was going and my parents explained all the economic and other problems that we had. Then they wanted to take me with them to Pakistan to go to school. At that time I was seven years old, and my parents agreed to send me and my older sister with them.
It was 2001 when we started traveling to Pakistan. The trip was exciting because everything was new for me along the way. We traveled by car and it took almost three days. The roads to Pakistan weren’t paved and at some points we had to walk because vehicles couldn’t drive. It was a long journey for a young girl who was leaving her parents. I was happy and sad at the same time. Sad to leave behind my family and friends. But happy because Pakistan seemed more beautiful and peaceful than Afghanistan. And I was very happy because I did not have to see that teacher’s face anymore!
Dear readers, going to Pakistan was a very difficult option. But I had only two choices: to stay with my family and then every day face that discouraging teacher or leave for Pakistan to get a good education. I selected education. And eventually I received my family back.
Now I am a very successful and lucky person in my society. My family and relatives are proud of me. I am Sharifa Ahmadi.
About the Author: Sharifa Ahmadi is from Bamyan, Afghanistan and has worked as a teacher for Jesuit Refugee Services. She recently graduated with her MS in Mathematics from a university in India. She wants to raise her voice through her writing on behalf of women who live in many difficult places.