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Lessons from an Afghan girl
I sit with her at breakfast. We laugh. She teaches me Persian; I teach her Spanish. She tells her family I am her best friend here. Her name is Sona, and she is from Afghanistan. When she arrived, she knew nothing about American history, so we began trading stories. Inevitably, we skipped to the very recent past and the present day.
She says that before the Taliban entered her country, her mother was a teacher and her father had a government job, so they were living in Kabul. Though her original province was safe, Kabul fell to the Taliban. Fearing for her father's life if his employment was discovered, Sona and her family went to Pakistan, as did many other people.
She says the Taliban destroyed many ancient, national monuments, and that in the provinces under their control, women could not leave the house. No girls could go to school. Wearing pants could have a woman killed.
In Pakistan, she learned to speak a version of Hindi. Most of the children ages nine and older did not attend school, but instead, went to work in the factories. Sona says that, while her parents were literate, most other people weren't. Perhaps for this reason, her family insisted that she, her sister, and her younger brother continue school. Her mother worked in a factory, and her father became a vendor.
After the Taliban left, Sona's father got a different job in the government, and they returned to Kabul. She says many of her friends, who had worked in Pakistan, were several grades behind her in school.
Many people who didn't have jobs in Afghanistan were able to find them in Pakistan and therefore have favorable memories of Pakistan. Two other Afghan students lost their fathers to the Taliban and therefore have no reason to like living in Afghanistan.
Today, she says, there are some provinces where no one goes because every day there is news of a bombing. She sees many American soldiers at her home in Kabul, and says they drive vehicles with signs to keep back one meter. She told me that there was one man who was mentally retarded, and drove too close; the soldiers shot him.
She says most people want the Americans to leave, but she doesn't know what to think. She fears that if the soldiers leave, her country won't do anything and the Taliban will return.
She doesn’t hate the United States, her own government, or anything else. She says that, in all countries and organizations, there are good people and bad.
I have, in the past, doubted if countries could ever reconcile, if there will ever be an end to the hate underlying many of the Middle Eastern conflicts. But Sona has been a war refugee, has watched her family and everyone around her sacrifice. And she doesn’t hold on to the hate.
She has given me hope that perhaps, one day, there will be peace.