I was 15 years old when my father forced me into marriage. He sold me as one would a piece of cattle. My husband was around 45, I´m not sure. He had at least two other wives, and all of us lived in one house. You´d expect some form of sisterhood, but no. They were jealous of me because I was younger.
In that house I shared a tiny room with my mother and little brothers. Our father had abandoned us. The first three months of the marriage were kind of okay, but after that things really got bad. I lived with that man for five years. He didn´t allow me to do anything: talk, laugh, leave the house, nothing. I tried to kill myself three times. Did it matter that I lived, in a life that wasn´t mine?
My older brother lived in the same village and found himself in acute danger. It was then that we decided to escape. Our destination? A country where we´d all be safe, and free to live the lives we wanted.
This was the plan. Every day, my husband would leave the house at 6 am to go to work. My little brothers were to play outside in the street; they often did, no-one ever paid any attention to children playing. They were to warn me the moment they saw my brother, and I would join them.
And so it happened. Out on the street we started off slowly and calm, to avoid attracting attention. You can´t trust anyone there. Once we were out of sight of the villagers, we started to run as fast as our feet would carry us. Getting away quickly was the only thing on my mind. We ran until we reached the Pakistan border.
The journey was long and hard. Guided by smugglers we travelled through forests, barren wasteland, on the sea in rubber boats. We walked a lot, and were regularly hurried into and out of trucks. It left us bruised and exhausted. For days we´d live on dry biscuits, with little or no water.
This is how we carried on, from Pakistan via Iran to Turkey. We arrived in the Netherlands in late November 2015, where after being housed in various asylum-seeking centres throughout the country we ended up in Maastricht.
In large parts of Afghanistan, especially in rural areas, girls and women have no rights whatsoever. I´ve attended quran school for three years. The only thing I did there was read the quran. Like me, most girls and women would love to go to a normal school to learn and study, but they won´t let us.
In the Netherlands, too, I wasn’t allowed to attend school, this time because I´m an asylum seeker over 18. But I refused to accept that. For six months I’d go to a school where refugees learn Dutch, begging them to enrol me. Eventually they accepted me. Last week I finished my exams at A2 level. My grades were good.
For me, the journey from Afghanistan to the Netherlands was also a journey to personal freedom as a woman. In my own country I was imprisoned against my will, in a life that was no life, in a marriage I hadn’t chosen myself. My life was not mine. By escaping I left all that behind me. That in itself has provided me with a sense of freedom. But my past has left many scars. I´m seeing a therapist now to come to terms with that.
I also experienced a gradual transition in freedom in terms of appearance, through the clothing I wear. Upon arriving in Pakistan I immediately exchanged my burka for a chador. For the first time in years the wind caressed my face, and I felt the heat of the sun directly on my skin. In Iran I went a step further and replaced the chador with a scarf. It was strange at first, it made me feel vulnerable. Now I wear my scarf loosely over my hair. I feel free here, as a woman.
In this country I can do whatever I want: get an education, cycle to school, climb trees. Or playing in a playground, doing fun things. It may seem simple, but I missed out on all these things. I´ve got a lot of catching up to do.
Yet here too, I’m not really free. We won’t be until we get a residence permit. Right now it seems unlikely we will get one. The Dutch authorities claim that Afghanistan is safe and intend to deport us. Our last hope is the court. If forced to return to Afghanistan, I will kill myself. I won’t go back there, ever again. I´d rather be dead.