Days following the Taliban’s takeover, the first picture I got from my family in Afghanistan was of my siblings tearing up our family album. “The Taliban should not get their hands on these photos!” was the comment my father wrote. Among the pictures that were being torn up, I recognised one of myself and my grandmother in a park. We were in exile in Iran at the time. That was before 2001 when the Taliban ruled my home country Afghanistan.

It was my grandmother’s last outing before she got sick. For the rest of her life, she longed for her lost home. We children grew up with their stories. She told of her childhood and she longed endlessly to return to her parents’ house in a village near Mazar-e-Sharif. If only she would have lasted a little longer. In 2002, a few days after her death, the Taliban were overthrown.

Jalal Hussaini. Photo credit: Jann Wilken

Memories of Taliban

My oldest memories of the Taliban are pictures I saw on television. It was a report of a woman in a blue veil who was shot in a football stadium. After the fall of the Taliban, we returned to Afghanistan. First, we found shelter in Kabul, where my father and siblings have found refuge these days. I remember our arrival in the city full of war ruins. I often think of the completely destroyed houses and the people who lived in them.

Among the pictures that have now been torn up is one of my father holding me. I am wearing a light green shirt and jeans. I often think of our walks through the streets of our city. He took me to work on the construction sites where he was a contractor. I sat in the shade and watched him. It was often very hot. He smiled at me and that gave me courage. “One day, while I still have strength in my hands, I will build a nice house for us too,” he said.

The picture of the construction site for our house has now also been torn up. It showed my father and me. The two of us built the house all by ourselves. I was 14 years old at the time and the house became our home for many years. Now it is abandoned.

In August, the Taliban captured Mazar-e-Sharif. Nobody was there to defend it.

I miss our little garden and the oven my mother baked bread in, the cackling of the chickens my sister hunted. I also miss waking up in the morning and listening to my father’s voice. He often sat in the courtyard and recited the Quran. I now understand better what my grandmother felt. A longing grows in me. It is the longing for the place that can no longer be reached.

Afghan children play on the remains of a Soviet-era tank on the outskirts of Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Photo credit: Parwiz/Reuters

Childhood memories

In this time that has destroyed everything, there is a longing to be a child again, to be held and protected. There is a longing for security and peace. My heart would like to be able to sleep in peace and would like to be awakened in the morning by the peaceful sounds of the Quranic recitation. The other day I dreamed that I would be back and meet my father in the yard of the house. I said to him: “I am a father myself and I now understand why it broke your heart when I had to leave you and home.”

There was always the hope that I could return, that I could show my children this place. They too should have the feeling of belonging to a big family, going for a walk with their grandfather, playing with their uncles and everyone should be together. Over the last few weeks, there is no longer this hope.

My thoughts wander to my father. This is a particularly tough time for him. He was now to sit in the courtyard of the house he had built for his family and receive visits from his grandchildren. For him, the sound of someone entering the house should be a friendly sound. It should announce that his children or grandchildren are coming to visit him.

Woven into history

I understand how difficult it is for you, father, to leave this house to keep your children safe. That you have to seek refuge again in a place where your hands no longer have the strength and tear up pictures instead of building houses.

Here I am now, far from him and my siblings. All I have are the pictures that they took and sent to me before they were torn up. What do I do with them? Maybe I will print out the cell-phone pictures and create a new family album. An album in which my children can watch my family’s story. A story about a home that has been lost again and again.

The rise, fall and resurgence of the Taliban are woven into our history. In this new album, the pictures will be of my grandmother, my father and me. Of course, I will also stick the picture showing my siblings tearing up our old album.

This article first appeared on Amal, Hamburg!