Leaving Kabul 

How I Left Afghanistan, My Beloved Land, with a Little Suitcase

Fatimah Hossaini

Afghan photographer Fatimah Hossaini, who has until now covered Afghanistan and Iran for Outriders, captured with her camera her last days in the country since the Taliban seized Kabul and she managed to flee.

Saturday, August 14.

Before the Fall of Kabul.

I was in a restaurant having coffee, I went to a bazaar for shopping and we had a great gathering with friends just the night before the Taliban entered Kabul on Saturday.

The Taliban had already taken over more than 20 provinces but in Kabul life looked normal and when my parents, who live in Iran, called me to learn when I would leave, I told them they should not worry.

I was trying to convince my parents that nothing will happen In Kabul while I didn’t know Kabul would fall the next day.

When we were with friends, all our conversation was about what would happen if they came to Kabul and everybody was about to apply for some visas and leave Afghanistan for a while. But nobody was totally ready to leave.

Sunday, August 15.

“The Taliban are here”.

On Sunday morning, August 15, before the Taliban seized Kabul, I went for my PCR test as I was supposed to leave Kabul for Istanbul on Monday morning. It was around 9:30 AM and I left home to go to a clinic in downtown Kabul.

I was on my way and the taxi driver told me to please go home. Everybody was running and they were all shouting: “the Taliban are coming, the Taliban are here.” It was unbelievable.

I tried to hide at home, and as I live alone, I called my friends to be with me.

We three women journalists were alone at home, we were in panic, shocked. We didn’t eat anything the whole day. All our families kept calling us and we were following the news to see what was happening. It was heartbreaking and shocking.

We could see they were taking over Kabul step by step.

In the morning, they were in the streets and in just less than 10 hours they sat at the Presidential palace, then they blew out our flag and entered national TV and radio studios. I never would have imagined that I would see a Taliban on a motorcycle with their white flags from my balcony one day.

We were all busy with our mobiles, calling and messaging, and we could see the Taliban and the fall of Kabul is on the headline of all news. After seeing a tweet from one of our friends that the Taliban started a door to door search looking for government officials, police and NGOs and journalists in Kabul, we decided to change our location.

Monday, August 16.

The suitcase.

It was Monday, August 16th, about 7 PM, the last time I was in my house in Kabul, on my balcony, which was the only place for me to heal and enjoy the view of Kabul city after work.

I left everything behind, all my stuff and souvenirs I collected from different countries and all my printed photos that were supposed to go to NYC for my next exhibition.

I left my home with a small suitcase and a bag pack for my camera and laptop.

I filmed this video the last time I was on my balcony. We, three friends, went to another friend’s house who lives with her family. When we saw each other, it was all about crying and crying.

Wednesday, August 18.

Deleting our profiles on social media.

Wednesday, August 18, passed with stress and panic. My friend’s mom tried to cook food while we didn’t have electricity, and everybody was trying to give us hope and reduce our stress. But nothing worked during that moment.

We, four women journalists, tried to delete our profile pictures and deactivate our social media accounts.

We wore a full hijab and totally covered our bodies , and went to walk around the area. We did it, but it was so hard to see the Taliban in front of us walking in Kabul with their weapons on hand and rockets on their shoulders. I couldn’t believe that the Taliban, those who had killed us 20 years ago, those who had killed my friends, my colleagues and my students at Kabul university, were in the middle of our city and we could do nothing. We bought something to eat and got back home.

The rest of our day in Kabul was about calling and sending emails to everyone to see how they could evacuate us from Afghanistan. I got so many responses and it was more stressful when we saw everybody was trying to force us to leave. I got so many messages from everybody who knows me, and it was so sad; my mom was calling me every 10 minutes and she was crying and crying.

We just ate dinner without electricity and I made my bag smaller, and we decided to leave for the airport. I got some letters from the French embassy in Kabul, I had a US visa application and a Turkey visa on my passport, and I thought all these could be enough for evacuation. My brain  stopped working and I couldn’t think and decide what we should do. Everybody promised us that they would let us know, but nothing was confirmed.

Thursday, August 19.

Leaving for the airport. 

So, in the early morning of August 19, we, four women journalists, left home for the airport. We were there for over five hours. The Taliban were beating people. It was like a movie, with so many Taliban checkpoints in Kabul.

We couldn’t make it. The Taliban closed all the gates and started gunshots so close to us. We had to return to our friend’s home with a tired face and shattered body and so disappointed. The four of us were trying to call anybody we knew asking for help, but it was so complicated.

At 5 PM, we got a call from another friend who is a correspondent working in the US, and she gave us another direction. This time the two of us went to the airport and tried to enter from a different gate. Another friend told us, “you can go and if you find any way, just call us”, but we didn’t know it was the last time we met and even we didn’t say goodbye.

Friday, August 20.

Leaving to have a voice.

I could not believe that, after three hours on our way, in the traffic and stuck among the people, we could get into Baron compound. We were there for one night and, in the early morning of Friday, 20 of August, we stood in the line heading to the airport.

On our way, I saw such sad scenes that I will never forget. People in line, on one side the Taliban were beating them and didn’t let them pass, and on the other side, foreign troops tried to control the population in front of the airport.

It was heartbreaking for me to see my people like this, and I didn’t know who to blame, the government, our leaders, the US or what. I was just hopeless. After so many gates, finally we got into the military airport around 6.50 PM in Kabul.

French soldiers took my friend and me to a French shelter inside the airport, and after five hours of waiting, we finally went to a French military aircraft at 1:05 AM on Saturday, 21 August.

 

It was the last time I was under the sky in Afghanistan; I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t imagine I would leave my motherland one day like in the stories I heard from my grandparents. It was happening again in 2021 and I was leaving my beloved motherland because of war and to continue my work. And to have a voice.

Saturday, August 21.

Landing in Abu Dhabi.

On Saturday at 4:18 AM we landed in Abu Dhabi. We went to a camp to rest and get ready for another flight.

The situation was so weird. I had come back to Afghanistan to have a country and to work there. I would have never imagined I would experience another migration and again I would be on my way to be a refugee.

Paris, France. On Saturday, at 2:10 PM, we took off to Paris in a military airplane from the United Arab Emirates.

Another migration, another disaster, another tragedy, a repetition of the sad history. August 21, 2021 was the day I left Afghanistan, my beloved land. I had returned to Afghanistan to show the unseen portraits of women and a bright side of my country and I had never imagined leaving my homeland like this.

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