Three years ago, I was lucky enough to spend an hour a day with a young man from Afghanistan. I gave him additional help with his English to help him with his GCSE’s. As a teacher, I have never spent time with any student who worked harder. He was also one of the politest lads I have ever worked with. Over the year we were together, he told me stories about his country. These stories spring to mind and break my heart when I watch the news at the moment.
Within a couple of weeks of working together, we were learning numbers, and he stated he thought I was twenty-one, no wonder I liked him. However, the flattery was a lot more than impressing his teacher. When I told him I was forty, he was genuinely shocked. He explained that women in his country have such a tough life that they age very quickly; by the time they are forty, they look like our grandma’s.
Looking at the persecution of women in Afghanistan, I finally realised the implication of what he told me. Margaret Atwood famously said that everything in The Handmaid’s Tale is based on real-life events. So it isn’t hard to see where the premise for Gilead came from.
As time went on, he shared his journey of how he came to England. The journey he told filled me with fear. I thought of my thirteen-year-old nephews making this trip. In a world where we worry if they go out on their bikes without a helmet, I don’t think we can comprehend what these children go through.
The saddest part of his story, though, was when he spoke about his family at home. Boys in Afghanistan are quickly recruited to fight at a young age. My young man told me that his mother could only afford to send one of her son’s to England through the people traffickers. So to choose between him and his twin, she tossed a coin. At the time, she didn’t know whether she was sentencing one or both of her sons to death. She also didn’t know which of the sons would be safer, but she knew she had to try.
I asked him questions about his home country, and he shared many stories with me. He told me about their political system before occupation. Each region with its leader; because each area worked independently, they couldn’t deal with occupation as a collective. I remember reading that if the Native Americans had combined all their tribes, they would have defeated the white man. But, unfortunately, they were fighting amongst themselves and the white man and couldn’t resist on multiple frontiers. It is a situation that was similar in Afghanistan.
He showed me pictures of his country with great pride in his voice. He showed me the beautiful mountains, and he told me that the mountains were full of valuable natural resources, which worsened the fighting.
Knowing the history of my country, I question whether we went to Afghanistan to stop terrorism or to get the resources from their land. We went to fight in Iraq when fighters threatened the oil reserves. The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, leaving its people to rot, would suggest the resources are depleted.
We talked at length about how much he couldn’t wait to go home to his beautiful country. Finally, we agreed when the trouble ended, perhaps he could act as a tour guide and show me around. From the pictures he showed me, it is one of the most beautiful places I have seen.
With the events in the news, it appears that dream is many years away; I pray it will be possible in my lifetime. I doubt it, though. I hope that this lads family are safe and manage to join him in this country. I pray that other families find refuge and safety. The least we can do is offer protection to families and women who are now running for their lives.
Our governments put troops into Afghanistan on the pretence of stopping terrorism. How easy it will be for the Taliban to recruit young people to attack the countries that quite literally left them to the wolves and ran for the safety of their mansions, in their relatively peaceful suburbs. So unconcerned were they about what was happening, they were all on holiday.
We have left the country in a worse position than when we entered it, and we should be deeply ashamed. The brave soldiers who sacrificed their lives and health to fight, did so for nothing. Does anyone else see similarities between this conflict and another famous American mistake?