For nearly two weeks after Kabul fell under Taliban control, Maryam Khademi checked her phone constantly. Even in the middle of the night, she heeded its slightest vibration. She was waiting for news that she could leave Afghanistan.
Maryam feared that living under the Taliban would mean the end to the life that she dreamed of. She was part of a generation of possibility, raised in the nearly two decades since the conservative religious movement had last governed Afghanistan.
Her dreams took her from hometown near the border with Iran to Bangladesh, where she won a scholarship to study at the Asian University for Women. AUW has an unusual mission: To take young women — many poor, some refugees, most with little educational opportunity — and to transform their lives and their communities through liberal-arts education. In just a decade, its alumnae have gone on to government offices, to international-aid organizations, to graduate programs at some of the world’s best universities. Think of it as a whole college of Malalas.
(Here’s my profile
of AUW and several of its remarkable students.)
At AUW, Maryam studied politics, philosophy, and economics and minored in development studies. She planned to return to Afghanistan after graduation, where she wanted to start a mentorship program to connect younger students with the kind of transformational educational experience she had.
When the Taliban began its advance across Afghanistan ahead of a planned U.S. military withdrawal, Maryam was in Kabul, studying remotely because Covid-19 had closed AUW to in-person classes. She feared for the worst. The Taliban has targeted students, professors, and universities in its attacks. In particular, it has opposed the education of women and girls. And by mid-August, its forces had taken Kabul.
Maryam was afraid to go outside. She didn’t have a burqa, the full-body veil and dress worn by some Muslim women. She felt vulnerable as a young woman. She wondered if this would be her life, confined to the house. “Would I have to forget what I was before?” she thought. “Would I have to become a different person?”
But her phone offered something different, a lifeline back to possibility. Afghan students are the second-largest group of students at AUW, and university officials were working feverishly to try to get students and its alumnae out of the country.
Finally, Maryam got the message she’d been waiting for. It took three attempts — navigating gunfire, hostile checkpoints, and even the terrible suicide bombing that killed more than 200 — but she and 147 classmates and recent gradutes finally made it to Kabul’s airport. (You can read my story
about the harrowing evacuation effort in the Chronicle, free registration required.)