Descending from war, ascending toward peace

A short story

Ali HujjatiAbout the author: Muhammad Ali Hujjati is in the 11th grade at Marefat High School and plans to study business or economics in the future.

It was 2010 and a reporter from Le Monde, a famous French newspaper, was interviewing Afghanistan’s newest ambassador to France.

Interviewer: Madam Ambassador, welcome to France. You are clearly not the image that most foreigners have of an Afghan woman. We would like to know about your journey as a woman from the war-torn country of Afghanistan to your current position as the Afghan Ambassador to France.

Marzia: Thank you, ma’am. That’s a very long story. I will try to summarize it for you.

I remember the day that I began to dream about being in a position like I am today. Kabul was experiencing the harshest and bloodiest winter and the streets were deserted. It was the last day of February in 1993. The war between the political parties was at a peak. Smoke was still rising from the ruins of the houses hit by rockets the previous night. The heart of the city was broken. The steady rain hitting the unpaved streets created a muddy mess that was sometimes impassible. Thousands of innocent people were being massacred and misery, ignorance and fear ruled everywhere. Men and boys were engrossed in war. Women, girls and disabled men spent most of their time in bunkers excavated in almost every yard, used as a shelter against bombardments.

I was a simple fourteen-year-old Hazara girl, singing an ancient Hazaragi folk song while rocking the empty cradle of my dead infant brother.

Loo lo, loo lo, my brother.

My brother shall grow up.

He shall be the governor of Bamiyan.

Loo lo, loo lo, my brother.

My voice filled the room and could be heard faintly in the yard of my mud house in the west of Kabul where Laila, my mother, was helping my aunt, Fatima, with the laundry.

The metal chain of our large wooden gate and all the glass windows trembled when an ear-splitting rocket zoomed by, but I was still singing calmly, lost in my thoughts, rocking the cradle. The door to the room opened and my mother ran in shouting, “Marzia, Marzia. Hurry up! To the bunker,” but I didn’t move and continued to sing. She grabbed me and pulled me toward the bunker. I came to my senses and tried to take the cradle with me but my mother pulled me so hard that the cradle slipped from my hands. “No, no the cradle!” I cried loudly and tried to flee but my mother’s grip did not loosen as she pulled me to the bunker.

My crying had ceased by the time we reached the bunker, replaced with constant hiccups. I looked around and saw my Aunt Fatima holding her paralyzed husband, Muhammad Sadiq, who had been shot in the spine in the war leaving him handicapped forever. Nearby sat their daughter Shakila, who was also my age.

Frequent shots of an AK-47 could be heard in the neighborhood. My mother looked at me. I was holding my knees and staring with a vacant look in my eyes. “Stop playing with that empty cradle all day for God’s sake. You will go crazy,” my mother said, pulling me a bit closer. But I resisted her affection and protested, saying, “But Ehsanullah once slept in it, I can still smell his scent in it. I can feel him in it. My memories of him are bound to that cradle,” and a drop of tears glistened in the corner of my eyes. My mother shook my shoulder and slapped me hard on the right cheek and said with a stern face, “This is war, you have to be strong!”  I interrupted her and shouted back, “But he was just a baby! He had nothing to do with this Goddamn war! Who did he harm? All he could do was smile.” The words stuck in my throat and tears flowed down my cheeks.

“Be the change you want to see,” my mother replied.

“But I am a girl. How can I change anything in a male-dominant society?” I asked.

My mother wiped the tears from my face with her palms and said, “It’s a fallacy to think yourself incapable because you are a girl, God has said, even in the Quran, that I have sent human as my caliphates on planet earth. So if you think yourself a human, you can do anything a man can do, even more. Thank God we escaped the massacre in Afshar……” my thoughts drifted away as I considered the helplessness war had left us with. I remembered the tragic, battle-filled days when our once happy life had been taken away.

My father had left his job as a teacher to join Hizb-i Wahdat forces to defend the Hazara ethnic group. On 1st February 1993, my mother and I were washing Ehsanullah’s cradle when his crying voice rose from the room. As I took a few steps toward him, a rocket blasted through our roof and Ehsan’s cries were never heard again. Just a week later, while our family was still mourning Ehsan’s death, the Islamic State of Afghanistan government forces and Ittehad-i Islami attacked Afshar, a Hazara dominated area. Military forces from both parties attacked Afshar, murdering, raping, burning, looting, and abducting women and children without shame. A thousand people were either killed or missing while hundreds of others fled the region. My father barely managed to bring us to my Aunt Fatima’s house in Dashti Barchi.

I was shocked out of my memories when another piercing shriek and explosion burst near our bunker. My mother pulled my face to her chest, patting my head. My eyes were open, but again I was lost in deep thoughts. The words of my mother were still floating in my mind, “Be the change you want to see.” Shakila also crawled into her mother’s arms. My uncle Sadiq said, “May God have mercy on us; it was so near this time, I think it hit Noorullah’s mother’s house. That poor woman lost her husband and young boy last month in this war.”

Most of my time was spent in the bunker listening to my mother’s stories about the more prosperous days in Afghanistan. She played with my hair and narrated the stories of how she had fallen in love with her father, how they met secretly in the fields. She also told me stories about war and assured me that someday I could change the condition if I wanted.

My father, Janali, visited us once a week to bring us food and news from our relatives and others, but once he did not come home for a month. Then, the heartbreaking news of his martyrdom was received by my family. This was when my maternal uncle called us to Quetta, Pakistan as we had no one to give us food and shelter anymore. He assured us that he would find work for my mother and help me to continue my studies as well.

My mother’s stories ignited a hope and desire in me to do something for my country, so the migration was not favorable news for me. After being settled in Quetta, I selected the nickname Mahajer (refugee), to remind myself where I belonged whenever called by that name. Several years brought great changes in my life; I graduated from high school at the top of my class and perfected my English. The fall of the Taliban regime provided a great opportunity for me to return to Afghanistan and serve my homeland. I attended Kabul university while being involved in political activities. Soon after, I received a scholarship to the U.S. where I earned my Ph.D. in international relations and upon my return to Afghanistan, was soon appointed as ambassador of peace.

Interviewer: Your story is an inspiration to all Afghan girls. Please tell us Madam Ambassador, what is your closing message for your countrymen?

Marzia: As Baba Mazari, the beloved leader of Hazaras, said, “War among the ethnicities in Afghanistan is a great disaster. If we want to prosper, we must accept each other as brothers rather than trying to eliminate each other.” I want to tell my countrymen that war and discrimination shall equally damage all of us. We must promote equality, tolerance, social justice, and brotherhood for all.