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Starting over

The Taliban killed my mother when I was a girl. I imagined a new life in Canada with my husband who had worked as a translator for Canadian soldiers in Kandahar.

By: and /
16 December, 2020
Saira Ahmadi_Fence
Author Saira Ahmadi and her husband, Ezatullah, in New Delhi arranging for her immigration to Canada.

By Saira Ahmadi, as told to Zahra Nader.

I was one of the first girls to attend school in my village of Hotqol, in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province, during the years that the Taliban were in power. The Taliban were not always present in the village, so young girls like me could attend school secretly. I wore regular clothes rather than a school uniform to conceal that I was a student. When the Taliban came to the village, I would run home.

Even as a young girl, I wanted to become a lawyer to help women stand up for themselves. My mother was the only one who supported me. She did everything she could so I could go to school. I lost her in 2009 in a Taliban attack. My father worked for the Afghan government, and that made her a target.

I was traumatized by my mother’s death. I immediately became the prime caregiver for my siblings, including my youngest brother who was only two months old. For several months, I had nightmares. I couldn’t sleep. I thought I might never laugh again.

I did laugh when I met Ezatullah, a boy from my village whom I fell in love with. But I knew that my conservative family would not approve. Friendship and love between members of the opposite sex are not acceptable in my village, so we kept it secret for five years. Meanwhile, Ezatullah got work as a translator for Canadian soldiers in Kandahar province. This later helped him obtain Canadian residency.

While he was in Kandahar, we talked on the phone every Friday morning. I was in grade 12 and about to graduate from high school when he returned. We met near my home, under an old almond tree. With a pocketknife he drew a line on the tree as a sign of his promise that we would live a happy life together. That night my family found out about the relationship. I was terrified. Girls can be killed for dating in Afghanistan. Instead, my family banned me from going outside, and in particular from attending school. That was the worst kind of punishment for me. It meant I couldn’t become a lawyer.

“My father refused Ezatullah’s marriage proposal, and Ezatullah left for Canada without me. He called every week. ‘In Canada you can become whomever you want,’ he once said.”

Ezatullah sent his family with a marriage proposal. My father refused. Ezatullah’s family came a dozen times, but every time my father turned them away. Ezatullah left for Canada without me. He called every week. “In Canada, you can become whomever you want,” he once said.

He returned to his home in the Jaghori district of Ghazni and again sent his family with a marriage proposal. After five years of rejection, my father finally agreed. We married. Soon after the wedding, he went back to Canada to start my sponsorship process.

As part of this process, which took two years, we were invited to an interview in the Canadian embassy in New Delhi, India. It was like a honeymoon we didn’t plan. Ezatullah arranged for us to meet at the airport in New Delhi. We spent 14 days together. They were the happiest 336 hours of my life. We laughed. We walked. We talked. Sometimes, I wish to travel back in time and live the rest of my life in those 14 days.

When I got a visa to travel to Canada, he came back to Kabul. We were supposed to go to Canada together, but he stayed behind to care for his father who was undergoing medical treatment. I arrived alone at Pearson International airport in March 2018. Within a week, I received the worst news of my life. Ezatullah was dead. His family told me the Taliban had targeted the car he was travelling in.

I didn’t want to live without him. I wanted to die, too. For the past seven years, he was the one giving me hope, and now he was gone forever. My dark days were back. I kept asking God why this had happened to me. At the time, I was living with Ezatullah’s relatives. They welcomed me as part of their family, but I still cried alone in my room. I didn’t want to share my sorrow, because my pain was too much to bear for anyone.

When I came to Toronto, I barely knew a few English words. My Afghan friends — Ezatullah’s relatives helped me find my way around. I enrolled in an ESL class. They encouraged me to apply for college, and I did. The new environment and educational opportunities slowly helped me focus on something other than Ezatullah’s death.

Then, one day in November 2018, I checked my Facebook account and saw a post that said the Taliban had attacked my village. Another said my father and brothers were wounded. I screamed and hit the wall. Something was burning inside me. Everything was dark. I didn’t sleep for three days. A worried friend took me to the emergency ward of the Humber River Hospital in Toronto. There, I learned that my father and three eldest brothers were dead. Other members of my family were on the run.

I had two choices: kill myself and get all the pain over with at once, or search for ways to help my family, perhaps by bringing them to Canada. I chose the latter. I couldn’t let my family suffer another death. While investigating how to get my family to Canada, I found many kind Canadian friends who offered to help. I cannot express how thankful I am to all of them. They welcomed me to their homes and treated me like their own. Now I am a first-year student at Centennial College, studying for a degree in social work. I hope for the day I can reunite with my family. I still dream of becoming a lawyer.

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