Mahsa does not want to remember the moment she gave birth. She was her, she knows her, in a house, with the assistance of the women of the village and a doctor who said that she almost died. She was her, she knows her, in the year 1995 in a village in northern Afghanistan. She was newly married a child marriage arranged by two radical religious families. At just 8 years old, she was already a wife, a woman, and a mother.
Of course, her name is not Mahsa, and some other names have to be changed if one wants to tell her story. His son, for example, is not called Ahmed either, but we will call him that because now they fly to Italy and although they escaped from the Taliban regime, they still have family inside Afghanistan and they don’t want to expose it. That and not showing any image of the two is the only condition for Ahmed and Mahsa to talk with Infobae as they fly to Rome, after several months in Pakistan filling out paperwork to be admitted to Europe. “Not much,” says Mahsa, compared to living in his country, passing countless admission interviews and being put on hold in a secret house for months seems light.
Her story and Ahmed’s seem hard to believe, and while they talk, a nine-year-old girl runs around, looks out the window, plays, she can barely answer her age due to shyness and fear. It is difficult to think that with a year less than that girl, Mahsa was the mother of Ahmed. But there they are, one next to the other, very close in age, in stature, in spirit, in everything.
Francesca Iachini is the coordinator of Pangea responsible for your transfer. She has been in charge for almost a year of corroborating her story and finding a new destination for them. She says that, although she is surprised, it is not strange that in Afghanistan girls are married under 10 years old and some even get pregnant. Many, she assures her, die in the process. Others, by grace and misfortune, reach the miracle of surviving.
According to him United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), almost 10% of Afghan girls between the ages of 15 and 19 give birth each year. The pregnancy-related mortality rate for girls between the ages of 15 and 19 is more than twice that for women between the ages of 20 and 24., according to UNFPA. In addition, Afghanistan has one of the worst maternal and infant mortality rates in the world: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 638 women die for every 100,000 live births.
“My mother is from a family of radical Muslims. When she was eight years old she was forced to get married, at that time forced marriages were normal, because we were under the previous Taliban government. That same year she had me, she is only 8 years older than me. She later had more children. When my father died, they wanted to force her to marry another man, because a single woman has no rightsShe must be married, otherwise she’s worth nothing. So they were arranging a new marriage for her, but she ran away from her. He took all of her children with her and off we went. I was already the eldest of four siblings, I was 12 years old, and my mother was 20″, says Ahmed.
He is skinnier than usual. Since the Taliban arrived, Ahmed has lost a lot of weight. He shows a photo of him a year ago and he looks completely different. He now he seems more fragile, more suspicious. In the photo he is seen smiling and owner of his life. He now wears a sour expression even as he sees the plane he is traveling on approaching Rome, where he will be able to start over. “I hope that you see me in three or four years and I can tell you that I rebuilt something of what I had, that you see me working as a dentist or in charge of a clinic. I’m confident we’re going to get it,” he says.
-What did they do once they escaped from your father’s family?
-At that time the Taliban were in power, so we fled to Iran. We weren’t allowed to study there either, so we did it with my mother at home. But when the Taliban left power, we went back to Afghanistan. We did not return to our village but to another because my father’s family was still looking for us in our village. They are very radical and have an affinity with the Taliban, and when they found out that we were in the country they began to threaten us.
-Even outside the government did they have that power?
-The Taliban will not have been in government until 2021 but they had a lot of power, yes. They threatened many people, they murdered many people, they had important support. And my mother was threatened countless times, that’s why we had to leave Afghanistan, yes or yes, when they took the country again on August 15 last year.
Despite the threats and being the mother of four children, Mahsa managed to settle down and study. She graduated as a medical surgeon and began to grow in her career. Her husband’s family sent her warnings: if she acted like it, she was going to be killed. She did not tremble: she moved again, this time to Kabul, and she was able to become a renowned surgeon. In addition, although in her private acts she already was, She became a public activist for women’s rights. And he helped his children to study too. The eldest, Ahmed, graduated as a dentist with an honors degree.
“There were many days and many nights when my mother worked very hard because we had very little money and we spent a lot on education. And there were many days when we went to bed hungry, but still we never gave up,” he says.
-What did he tell you about those first years when he had you?
-She told me that when she gave birth to me she doesn’t know what happened, that it was a bad time for her, that the doctor said she could have died, that it was a miracle she was still alive. But since then he has had many health problems.
According to Unicef data, 28% of Afghan women between the ages of 15 and 49 were married before coming of age. Under the previous government, the legal minimum age for marriage was 16. Lhe current economic and food crisis facing Afghanistan intensifies the situation. Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, denounced: “We have received reliable reports of families who are offering their daughters as little as 20 days for a future marriage in exchange for a dowry.”
On the other hand, the United Nations Population Fund estimates that, without immediate support, there could be 51,000 more maternal deaths this year, 4.8 million unwanted pregnancies. Not everyone will have the same fate or the same tenacity as the Mahdis story. It is probable that the great majority, silent, will sink under the weight of the Taliban, darken under the veil of its shadow while the world debates what to do with the terror of others.
A little before turning 30, Mahdis started working as a plastic surgeon in a clinic. Little by little it became known that there was a doctor who helped women and began to receive victims of gender violence who arrived with the body burned by their husbands. It was not unusual for them to be set on fire with fuel and left with their bodies seriously injured, marked forever. Mahdis started doing free surgeries for them, so they could get some of their skin back. That violence continues today, but she is no longer helping them. In fact, after taking power, the Taliban attacked the clinic where she worked and killed two of her colleagues. For Islamic fundamentalists, plastic surgery is prohibited because it “modifies God’s creation” and that is a sin that deserves to be punished.
It was not the only “sin” he was fighting. Also, Mahdis performed hymen reconstruction surgeries. It’s a serious problem in Afghanistan: young girls who have sex outside of marriage and no one can find out because if the families find out that they lost their virginity without being married (or if the future husband finds out), they are in great danger that stone them or kill them. Then Mahdis would do repair operations on them so no one would find out. “It may be difficult for an outsider to understand, but it is something that has saved many lives,” explains Ahmed. His own career was also – is, he corrects himself each time – prodigious. At only 27 years old, he managed the dental section of a clinic and had many dreams ahead of him.
-How was the day the Taliban arrived in Kabul?
-The day before I was at the clinic working and people began to behave strangely, so we asked what was happening and they told us: the Taliban are coming to the city. I went to talk to one of my bosses, who was very close to the government at the time, and he told me that it was possible that the Taliban would enter Kabul that day and attack the clinic, because there were several people they had on the list. of enemies. So I grabbed my things, told my colleagues what was going on, and went home. That night everyone went to the airport. I looked for my family and we also went. We spent a day there and everything went crazy, there was a desperate crowd.
-Is it the day when people tried to get on airplanes through the wings?
-Yes, that day. I saw with my own eyes the man who fell from the sky from an airplane. It was like this: a plane took off without caring that there were people hanging. It was crazy. There were security forces coaxing people with gunshots to get off, but still people wouldn’t stop. The people on the wings didn’t think the plane was going to take off, they thought it would open its doors, but the plane began to move, took off and after a while we saw people falling from the sky.
-What did you do?
-After that we tried many times to get to the airport, but after the explosion of August 26 we did not return. A day before I had been there. So that day I started looking for alternatives to leave the country in another way, and that’s how I met Pangea, the NGO that helped us.
They were given a refuge in Kabul first, in a “safe house” (a refuge for people in danger), then they were helped to cross the border and they eventually left for Pakistan, where they spent several months in Islamabad until now, that they obtained the permits to travel to Italy. He says that he was afraid but it was not something new: “Our life was always under threat, not only from the Taliban but from the family we left in the past, for having escaped from that. And then, for being activists, for our exposure in society. So we were always in danger. How do you deal with that? You neither forget nor get used to it… It’s just like that”.
Mahsa today is 35 years old and plans to install a clinic to help Muslim women in Europe, where there are also radical families that violate their human rights. She doesn’t speak English as well as her son, but she knows she can learn. “My mother is very much like a friend, she is my best friend actually, but she is also an amazing mother, she is my hero,” says Ahmed.
-What did you learn from her?
-There is a very strong idea in our country that women need men. But I saw my mother without the support of a man throughout her life, and I never saw her give up or that she needed someone else. She is the best example that you always have to trust and work to get ahead, and in the end you can. Whatever it is that God wanted for you.
-Hopefully we will do this interview again one day when saying their names and showing their faces no longer pose a danger.
-And hopefully in Afghanistan. I trust that it will happen. Insallah!
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