The sound of her calloused palms rubbing together was audible as she vigorously rubbed her hands. Seated beside a bountiful collection of freshly picked vegetables, the woman deftly tied them into neat bundles, utilizing pre-threaded strands she had set aside. Mint, onions, chives, and a variety of other vegetables were artfully stacked atop one another, each bundle a testament to her skillful craftsmanship. The small plot of land, situated within the walls of her house yard, provided a humble but plentiful harvest.
Safia, a resilient 43-year-old woman, faced the challenge of raising her son and two daughters single-handedly after her husband’s demise. When questioned about her life experiences, she paused for a moment, cleared her throat, and with a twinkle in her eyes, responded with a smile. “To be honest, my life has been nothing but hard work. But I have grown accustomed to this way of living, and it’s a blessing that I can provide for myself and earn my daily bread.”
Despite being illiterate, Safia articulates herself as though she has devoured numerous books and committed their contents to memory. Her expressive speech is a testament to her keen observation and perceptive nature.
She tied the knot at the tender age of 15, at a time when civil unrest raged on and hot bullets claimed many lives on a daily basis. As she recollects those tumultuous days and the horrors of war, Safia gazes into the distance, while gently and slowly swirling the vegetables in the water, cleansing them thoroughly. Perhaps lost in thought about the days gone by when her husband was still alive, she speaks in a soft and gentle tone. “Most days, the sound of gunfire was our constant companion, yet my husband and I managed to eke out a good life despite the war. He ran a bakery, and this house was inherited from his father to him.”
Safia’s life with her husband lasted for only 9 years. She lost her beloved partner to illness almost 18 years ago and has since shouldered the heavy burden of life alone. Raising her children, Rahela, Sajeda, and Alireza, single-handedly proved to be an arduous task. “When my husband passed away, Rahela was only 4 years old, and Sajeda and Alireza were merely 3 years and 1 year old, respectively. From that day on, I never had a moment’s respite and toiled day and night. I managed to persevere and make it this far.”
Safia cannot recall when her family first arrived in Kabul, but she vividly remembers spending all the years of the war in the city where the sound of bullets had become a constant companion of her life. As she talks about the war, her voice quivers with emotion, and a melancholic sorrow is evident in her eyes, which perhaps would prompt her to shed tears if she were alone. “I don’t remember much of my childhood, except for the times when we had to hide under the basement of our house whenever the sound of shells grew louder, indicating that the war was intensifying.”
Safia’s husband passed away just as the Taliban regime crumbled, and people began to dream of a brighter future. However, the explosions and gunfire that persisted in the years following the fall of the Taliban never allowed Safia to forget the horrors of living in a war era. With a somber tone, she recounts the years that followed her husband’s death, spent amidst the deafening sounds of explosions and suicide bombings:
“To me, the death of my husband was simply an extension of the years of war and suffering that we had already endured. While people around us were celebrating the fall of the Taliban and the slow return of peace to their lives, my three children and I felt that nothing had truly changed. In fact, with the loss of my husband, everything had become even more arduous. The sound of explosions and suicide bombings that persisted in the aftermath of the fall of Taliban felt like a continuation of those same years of war.”
The advent of the republican system provided Safia with an opportunity to send her daughters to school to ensure that they did not have to suffer the same fate as the previous generation, whose futures were buried in the darkness of war. Safia speaks of her daughters’ schooling and higher education with a sense of joy, knowing that it has opened up a world of possibilities for them. “I will never forget the first day that Rahela went to school. I placed all of my hopes and dreams into her books, hoping that she would be able to soar and succeed. And now, she has completed her university studies and is a teacher herself.”
During these years, Safia has worked tirelessly to ensure her children receive a good education, taking on a variety of jobs from weaving carpets to cleaning others’ homes. For the past eight years, she has been growing vegetables inside her house yard and selling them at the market. Despite the fairly difficult task of growing vegetables, she persevered, driven by the hope of providing a better future for her children. “I never gave up on working hard, day and night, to secure a better life for my children than many others,” she says. “When I realized that the toll of heavy labor outweighed the benefits, I decided to set up a small vegetable farm inside the house yard with the help of my brother. Today, it earns us up to five hundred Afghanis (around $6) a day, which allows us to live a comfortable life.”
Rahela, the eldest daughter of Safia, has obtained a degree in Chemistry from the Kabul Education University, while Sajeda graduated in Nursing from a private university. Prior to the fall of the Republican regime, Alireza served as a financial manager at a private institution. However, following the Taliban’s takeover, he, like thousands of others, was forced to migrate. He has been residing in Turkey for almost a year, awaiting an opportunity to reach Europe.
As Safia finishes packing the last bundle of mint, she instructs Sajeda to call the shopkeeper at their alley to request him to come and collect the vegetables. “My Daughter, call Uncle Abdallah to come and collect the vegetables. Also, ask him to bring a pack of dates, so that we may make a vow for Alireza.”