Kabul diary: A gay Afghan tries to flee the Taliban

by Anonymous | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 3 September 2021 13:44 GMT

U.S. Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) process evacuees as they go through the Evacuation Control Center (ECC) during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, August 28, 2021. U.S. Marine Corps/Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla/Handout via REUTERS.

Image Caption and Rights Information

A gay Afghan teacher records his perilous effort to board a flight out of Kabul

KABUL, Sept 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The Taliban are expected to announce a new government in Afghanistan on Friday, two weeks after the Islamist militia seized control of Kabul.

The militants have promised a softer brand of rule than the radical form of sharia law they enforced from 1996 until 2001 when they were ousted by U.S.-led forces but concern is growing for LGBT+ Afghans, some of whom are on the run fearing death.

Even before the Taliban takeover, LGBT+ people said it was too dangerous to live openly in Afghanistan.

But under the Taliban's extreme interpretation of Islam, LGBT+ Afghans say they could be punished with death, especially if international attention fades.

One gay man, a former teacher whose name and age we are withholding for his own safety, has kept a diary for the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Kabul about his hopes and fears.

Here, he writes about his life, his boyfriend – and what sort of future he has in a country that could put him to death if its new rulers knew the truth about his sexuality.

 

August 25, 2021 

At 11pm, I received an email from my one and only hope, an organisation that is trying to evacuate and resettle Afghan LGBT+ people to countries far away from the tyranny of Taliban. The email said that our case had been approved and that we could go to one of the several gates at the airport. I took my backpack and filled it with my essential documents and certificates and went to the north gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport (also known as Abbey Gate – the scene of an Islamic State suicide bombing the following evening).

The Taliban were everywhere, all holding guns. I took some pictures of them and how they looked at people, even those whose cases had been approved and who were carrying the correct documents.

A woman pulls a suitcase with a child sitting on top during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, August 24, 2021. Sgt. Samuel Ruiz/U.S. Marine Corps/Handout via REUTERS

If they had caught me taking their photograph, they could have shot me, and they really looked like they were ready to do it. I visited the other gates, but I couldn't get through to the airport. But I couldn't go back home because I didn't want to lose the chance of getting on a flight, so I wandered around the airport perimeter all night long until, finally, I received another email.

August 26

By 3am, I was worn out. I was wandering around the streets, waiting in hope – but then I received an email asking us to go to a particular place where we could find a bus that would take us inside the airport. I stayed there for almost three hours, but no bus was booked for so early in the morning. I cannot explain how exhausted I was. All around me I could see women, girls, children sleeping on the streets. Since washrooms were unavailable, they had to pee near the places they slept, ate and stayed, while waiting for this bus to take them inside the airport. They way Taliban treat people is inferior to how one might treat a wild animal.   

As I have not worked for three months, all my savings are spent and to buy food and water – and have enough left for bribes – I have sold my laptop.

Read more: LGBT+ Afghans desperate to escape amid Taliban takeover 

I returned home utterly exhausted. Afterwards, I received a call from one of my foreign friends who told me that a bus for LGBT+ people was leaving for the airport. I reached the bus as soon as I could and after a lot of effort, I managed to get on. On entering the bus, I noticed the scared faces of the passengers, all of them LGBT+ people.

Our bus reached the main gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport and there we waited for seven hours. The stressed faces of the Afghan LGBT+ people on the bus were noticeable, so we shut the windows so that people could not force their way on to the bus. The heat inside was appalling, but everyone could only drink just drops of water. If they drank too much, then they would have to pee inside the bus where everyone could see them. No one wanted to take the risk to go 50 or 60 metres away from the bus because everyone knew it would not wait for anyone.

A photo of a martyred Taliban soldier is displayed on a billboard in Kabul, Afghanistan September 1, 2021. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS

After waiting seven hours, we were told that there was a high likelihood of threats against the people waiting outside the airport. When I came back home, I had never felt so humiliated and devastated as ever before. I had lost all my hopes, all the dreams I had and all the future plans I worked hard for. It felt like everyone was carrying their funeral with themselves.

But I did receive a message from my beloved boyfriend. He said he was trying to get into airport alongside his family, as they had a special emigration visa. I have never felt lonelier in my entire life. He means the world to me and we never realised that this day would come and split us up. He is not only my partner but also my best friend. We fight a lot as a couple, but we are best friends. We have always considered our bond inseparable.

August 30

The evacuation of Afghan people has come to an end. Afghan LGBT+ people have been abandoned and it is clear that no countries care about us. The Taliban have taken control of most of Hamid Karzai International Airport and they were waiting for the last American military personnel to leave so that they could celebrate their success because America had announced at midnight that the airport would be free from their control.

I was very scared and I decided to move to one of my relative's houses for my own safety. Before I went to my relative's house, I had kept myself hidden in my own house, keeping busy only with activities indoors. After the Taliban took over Afghanistan, I tried to concentrate on reading, but all I could think of was the situation I was going through and about my own survival. I wanted to walk through my relative's house so I could see how they were living. I had thousands of questions inside my head such as: how people are doing? Would women and girls be walking on the street like before? Will there be children going to schools fully equipped with school bags and in their uniforms?

Although Kabul is considered the most crowded city in Afghanistan, it seemed completely empty. No laughter of children in the alleyways; no women and girls on the streets going to university or school or even work; no sign of any school children. Most of the stores were closed; credit cards to top up my mobile phone were unavailable. The only things you could see were police cars full of Taliban military and rickshaws on the streets.

Read more: 'Now, we are back to zero': Afghan businesswomen on the run   

Kabul that night was a nightmare. No one could eat, nor could they sleep. At half past midnight, when the U.S. handed control of the airport over to the Taliban, the Taliban kept firing bullets in the air to celebrate what they saw as a wonderful occasion. We were in bed trying to sleep and all of a sudden we heard gunfire. We thought that there was a war going on between Ahmad Massoud (the commander of several thousand fighters from local militias and remnants of the government's armed forces  still resisting Taliban rule). We took the children and fled to the basement far from any windows, doors or glass that could break and harm us. They celebrated for several hours. We could not sleep till the morning.

August 31

Even crowded places, markets and business centres are empty. Anyone can see how the situation has harmed small businesses. Poor people have brought their possessions onto the streets to sell them cheaply to be able to have food on their tables.

I can barely see girls or women walking on the streets. Although the Taliban have not said anything yet about any upcoming laws, people are already returning to what they used to do in 1996, such as growing beards, moustaches and wearing turbans. Women can only leave the house with a mahram (a family member as an escort). If Taliban catch a woman without a mahram they will punish her.

I have now grown a beard and moustache and I wear a turban. I have hidden myself in my relative's house, bringing only some essential things and my books. Now, we are told to go to either India or Tajikistan to process our visa, but I have neither passport nor enough money because I haven't had a job for the past three months.

My boyfriend is now in a refugee camp in Qatar, but due to the lack of WiFi or internet, we cannot communicate easily. After even 24 or 48 hours, he just sends me short messages informing me about his health and diet, and asks me if I am OK. I have no idea where he is going and when. It's been 24 hours since we have talked to each other. It makes me realise that I will never meet him again in person.

September 1

Living in my relative's house is not comfortable, though they do everything to cheer me up. I chose to become a teacher because I respected people and wanted to be respected. I spent a lot of energy and time to educate children and teenagers and share all the things I have learned. But now it looks like all my dreams have been buried. I hope I can live in a country where I can continue my studies and have the best version of myself.

I woke this morning to a message from the organisation trying to help me. They sent me a web link to the story of a gay man raped and beaten by the Taliban.

The stress of being punished by the Taliban is eating me up. Even those of us still living in Kabul cannot guess what is going to happen five minutes from now.

The diary entries have been edited and condensed for clarity

Related stories:

LGBT+ Afghans in hiding, fearing death under Taliban

OPINION: I grew up under the Taliban. Don’t trust their promises on schooling girls

IN FOCUS: Afghan women under Taliban rule

(Editing by Hugo Greenhalgh and Tom Finn with additional reporting by Rachel Savage. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

((hugo.greenhalgh@thomsonreuters.com;))