I was sitting in my then girlfriend’s apartment in Sarajevo, as I made arrangements for my father’s funeral, over the phone to Afghanistan. My younger brothers, as well as other loved ones, had said they would hold off the funeral until I came home to Kabul, but had asked and urged me to not come- it was dangerous. Not because of war. Never because of war. Dangerous for me, personally, as the men who killed my father, wanted to hurt the entire family- why not start with the eldest, the only girl, and the only biological child from his marriage to my mother.
I was hardly 24, I was fearless to the point of reckless- I had gotten that trait from my father, and yet, I found myself saying “I’m not coming, have it without me.”
“Really?” My brother was surprised.
My father was my favourite person in the world. The sun that we danced around. The life of every party. The most authentic man I would ever meet. My father was my best friend. He is the reason I am me. My relationship with my Boba was the kind of love you only get once in your life- an eternal best friend. My life’s biggest blessing and honour, that I will always take joy from, is that I am my father’s daughter.
My father wasn’t your average man. He was Afghan, a true patriot, who always had hope for his people and his nation- no matter the era. He was funny, adventurous, generous, with a clean heart, a touch of rock n’ roll, and a set of strong values he lived by, and taught us.
I had seen him live as a beggar one day, and the next day a king. It was an adventure just to live life beside him. He had moved back to Kabul in 2003, after circling between Russia and the US, for most of the 90’s, and had started a sustainable farming initiative in our province of Ghazni, where his father, my grandfather, came from. A sustainable farming initiative that was supposed to incentivise local farmers from growing opium, and instead grow more lucrative crops, such as saffron or angora goats. My father would always tease me that I was a farmer’s daughter, that we were just ordinary people, but he was anything but ordinary. I was so proud of him. I am still proud to be the daughter of a farmer.
A couple years later, and I had joined him in Kabul. Having divorced parents meant I went alone to Kabul. My relationship to Afghanistan was fractured, being raised in the West, especially in places that didn’t particularly make me feel accepted by my being proudly Afghan. I had come to Kabul on a whim, just to see, before my father planned to send me to continue my high school education somewhere in Europe. When I got off the plane at Kabul International Airport, I knew I couldn’t leave. I had instantly fallen in love.
Over the years of growing up in the same house my father himself grew up in, in the Karte Se district of Kabul was therapeutic, life affirming, the best years of my life. Those years showed me my purpose. I fell in love with Afghanistan, but in a way that I had to consume everything, know everything, and wanted so badly to help it in every way I could.
Afghanistan is the place I became my authentic self for the first time. It is the place I learned to drive in, graduate high school in, fell in love for the first time (or so I thought!).
Afghanistan is also where my father is buried.
I didn’t say no to coming back to Kabul to bury my father because I was scared. I wasn’t. I never had been. Even through all the years prior, when we lost everything, lost our home, and I was shuttling back and forth between university in Paris and London, and Kabul, trying to help with rent, food, morale, to my crumbling family; when threats were coming left and right to my father, when his back was broken in Lashkargah, and we had to fly him to India to fix the fractures, through the tears, through the self-medicating, through the anxiety, through the financial worries- we could say one thing: that we never once paid a bribe, we never sold our country out. Yet look at the karma- what did we get? Today watching the same type of men who killed my father walk through the streets of Kabul like it’s their mother’s country fills me with anger, frustration, sadness and the feelings are so overwhelming it’s like my body is begging me to lose hope.
I didn’t go to my father’s funeral not because of fear but because my heart was broken. So broken that I thought beyond repair, because not only did my heart ache to lose him at such a young age, so suddenly, hours after I talked to him, and in what squalor he died! My heart was also broken because I felt betrayed by the next thing I loved as dearly as my father- my country. I felt betrayed by Afghanistan.
How could Afghanistan let my father die? How could she kill him? How could this father of mine, with his pure love for his nation, who always believed in his nation, be killed by that very same nation?
I was so close to giving up so many times. I had nothing to live for. The patriotism and nationalism I was known for in my family and friend groups had been almost completely snuffed out. My natural joie de vivre was gone. I was a shell of myself. I was numb, disillusioned, helpless.
It took nearly 18 months before I could even say the word ‘Afghanistan’. Months longer to start building myself back up again, after the worst thing that has ever happened to me- or will happen to me, I know this- happened.
It wasn’t one thing, it was a series of things that brought me back to myself and my country. And it was the second most painful thing I have ever experienced.
I remember the first instances of the flame inside growing again, and I felt like my entire soul shifted back into my body. I smelt hope. I could see adventure and progress on the horizon. I felt like myself again for just a split second.
I kept chasing that feeling. Instead of walking closer to the edge, I turned in the opposite direction and ran until I fell at the feet of my nation.
When you love something so deeply, that love will never go away. It lives within you forever. Even the worst thing you could ever foresee happening won’t break that relationship.
I almost lost you Afghanistan, and precisely because I didn’t I know I must continue to have hope, faith, love and fight for you until my dying breath. If I could forgive the worst betrayal she could ever do to me, you can also get back up for her.
This is not the end.