The School Girl

I had been in Kabul for some time now, and I had been spending most of that time at home, in my sanctuary of quiet, trying to make sense of the rapid changes the city had gone through in the past few months.

Today was one of the few days I would venture out into the city beyond the markets and shops, and to the girl's school that had been shut down when they had barged in and taken over my beautiful city. It would be the first day the girls would be returning, and I knew the excitement had been building for months, as the girls counted down the days where they could go back to writing on the chalkboard and playing in the courtyard with their friends. Later, they would walk home in their identical uniforms and stop along the way for some snacks along the street stalls. Samosas, hot bolanis, jalebis, roasted nuts, the list went on and on.

As I arrived to the gates of the school, to cover a story on the return of girls to school for the local paper, I found myself in an almost comedic scene.

The gates were lined with T-men, holding their weapons with their heads up high, as though they gained honor and power from barring young girls from entering their school grounds. I felt my stomach sink I felt my breath shaking in anger as the realization dawned on me.

The girls had all arrived. Some were crying, some were staring in disbelief, some were staring defiantly at the men who blocked their way, and some were even shouting. I could hear the pain in their voices, echoing their broken dreams.

As I was about to turn away a girl caught my eye. She stood defiantly in front of the gates, staring the men down, clutching her books in her hand.

"You can't stop me from learning," she shouted at them. "I know you're afraid of me, because you don't know half the things I know. One day I'll be powerful enough to build hundreds of schools for us. You won't be able to stop me with your pathetic weapons and tactics."

The men in front of her stood with their heads bowed down, looking at the ground, as though unsure what to do. They clearly had never had a young girl shout at them before and as foolish as they were, they knew they couldn't hurt her publicly. With one last shout, she clutched her books and spun around, walking away from the gates.

As she passed me, she looked up and saw the camera I was holding. "Go away, there's no news to cover here", she said with pain trickling in her voice. "It's the same story it always has been, we don't have rights because we are women."

I gently put my hand on her shoulder to stop her. "They can't stop you from learning jaanem", I responded softly. "They are afraid of your knowledge, that's how powerful you are now. Imagine the power you'll have with a full education. Don't ever give up your dreams because of a fool with a weapon. Your weapon is your knowledge, and that is the power they all fear."

She nodded, her face still serious. "I'll show them," she said. "Someday I'll show them."

And I knew she would.

Story and illustration by @rasmorawaj ©

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