2 February 2023


Evacuation Story

Personal Experience: Evacuation

On August 14th, 2021, I learned that the Taliban had taken control of my hometown Mazar-I-Sharif. We all felt that it was our final few days of breathing at that point, and I was living in Kabul. The Taliban took control of Kabul the very following day. When my cousin told me that the Taliban had landed in Kabul, it was almost noon. I can still clearly recall that it was the worst feeling. Every day from August 15 to August 26 seemed like a decade to me. I was in communication with my co-workers, and we were all awake. We didn't get a full night's sleep for the entire 11 days. On August 26th, we were finally evacuated.

We spent a day in Bahrain and I flew with just a carry-on suitcase to the United States the next day. What would happen was a mystery to me. Despite being praised by many around me as a strong, brave woman, I was mentally lost.

On my first day in the United States, I inhaled deeply and made a promise to myself that I would start over and that everything would be okay. Everyone aspires to travel to the United States, but this was unusual. My recovery from the trauma I had experienced took months. The alarm woke me up on a chilly morning, and as I looked out the window at the frozen snow, I realized that I was far from the place where I had spent all of my life—my childhood, my memories, my friends, my work, my school, and my university—and that I was now far from home.

I recall the first day I participated in my new classroom's free writing exercise. It was a program for language and thinking. Only Afghan students were enrolled in the class, and the instructor encouraged us to write on anything that came to mind. I was reminded of our challenges by the questions my lecturer asked, the setting of our class, and all the faces in the room. Despite all of that, the majority of us wrote about the tiny, lovely things that we still miss. These may appear straightforward, yet they are the guiding principles that govern our mental health.

What comes to mind as a migrant is that I've been fortunate to have the chance to realize my passion by receiving a scholarship to complete my Bachelor's degree. I applied for a scholarship at Bard College during my first month in the country, was given full support, and arrived at Bard in November 2021. For some people, Bard is just a college, but for myself and many other students, Bard College is our home. But I question whether everyone can understand that. Will every girl be able to establish themselves in a new nation? What about Afghan women' rights and freedoms? Are they able to attend school? To enroll in college?

The freedom and immigration both made me happy and sad at the same time. I’ve encountered many obstacles moving to a new country like transitioning, family, work, culture, religion and many more. The transition to an unfamiliar country is the toughest one to encounter. We should keep in mind that when we use the word migration, it means there is a reason why one is a migrant; why one left their country, place, and motherland, and why one moved to a completely new place and started everything all over again. It is the wish of everyone to live a happy and free life in a country where they get equal opportunity and thereby can secure a better future for themselves and their families.

More than a year has passed since that terrible day in Afghanistan and girls are still prohibited from attending school. For all the women who have no future prospects, our hearts are broken. We call on the UN, UN Women, and all members of the international community to stand with Afghan women in defence of their rights. We deserve to have a seat at the table, receive a top-notch education, take charge, mentor others, and give our opinions in public.

Rukhsar Balkhi

Rukhsar is a senior student of Human Rights at Bard college. She is a former employee of US Embassy Kabul. Rukhsar worked as a research assistant with Bond Street Theatre in New York City to research WPS and extremism in Kenya, Asian, South Asian, and Central Asian countries. She also worked as a full time employee for a US Embassy funded project at the Lincoln Learning Center as Deputy Coordinator; as a Business Officer for the Afghan Job Creation Program at USAID; as a Project Assistant with Afghan for Progressive Thinking. In her extra curriculum activities, she is a fellow with USIP and youth advocate at OGIP. She has been mentor for start up businesses of women in Mazar-I-Sharif and have been awarded for excellent academic achievement at Aria University. She is the co-founder of Mawlana international model United Nations and the first project award winner at SDGs gender equality committee 2019.

Words of Appreciation

Since the day of the evacuation until today, I've encountered a number of people who have helped me adjust, including family, friends, coworkers, and even strangers. I will never forget the help and encouragement I received from my senior supervisor James Bayer and his humble wife Indira Bayer. They were the first to offer me emotional support at this troubling time. Every single one of our coworkers from the US Department of State and the US Embassy in Kabul offered encouragement. From the moment of meeting people in the airport who were waiting for us the day I entered the USA, they made me feel safe and welcomed.

Bard College you are and will be my home always! Education is my priority always and luckily, I got a fully funded scholarship from Bard College. From the day I entered Bard until now, every day is a great memory. Jennifer Murray, Tamara Stafford, Abigail Swartvagher; I can’t describe how grateful I am to know you all and how positively you’ve affected me since the day I entered Bard. Shout out to Bard Globalization and International Affairs Program (BGIA)& Bond Street Theater (BST)!

Thank you, Professor Richard Harrill and Professor Frederic Hof for guiding me on how to fit into the academic system of the US, finding my life purpose once again, and creating a more professional path.

Thank you Erica L. Kane for being so helpful and friendly. I learned many leadership principles from you, and sorry for the delays sometimes.

Joanna Sherman Michael and Casey are such amazing leaders who helped us learn many skills. I hope to be a part of BST always and I feel a deep connection with the organization and its members. I will try my best to be part of a project which changes people’s lives for the better.

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