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‘Books they love’: A Kabul graveyard library for 2 schoolgirls | Girls

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Kabul, Afghanistan – One morning in early October final yr, 16-year-old cousins Marzia and Hajar Mohammadi have been laid to relaxation subsequent to at least one one other in a distant graveyard on the outskirts of Kabul. Among the many roses on the ladies’ graves, their grieving relations positioned just a few of the youngsters’ favorite books – a tribute to their love of studying.

Marzia and Hajar have been among the many 53 college students killed final September in an assault on a Kaj schooling centre in Dasht-e-Barchi, a predominantly Shia Muslim and Hazara ethnic minority neighbourhood. A suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a crowded classroom amongst college students who had gathered for a apply college entrance examination. A lot of the victims have been younger ladies.

Whereas no group has claimed duty for the assault, the affiliate of the ISIL (ISIS) armed group in Afghanistan, the Islamic State of Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-Ok), has focused locations the place Hazaras worship, research and work. In April 2022, explosions focused two instructional institutes attended by college students within the Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood, killing at the least six folks. The centre the place Marzia and Hajar have been killed had been attacked earlier than – in 2018, in a blast that killed greater than 40 college students. ISKP claimed duty for that assault.

For the reason that Taliban takeover in August 2021, ISKP has claimed duty for 13 assaults in opposition to Hazaras and is linked to at the least three others, during which at the least 700 folks have been killed or injured, in keeping with Human Rights Watch.

An Afghan Hazara woman carries a child as she walks along a street in Dasht-e-Barchi in Kabul on November 7, 2022.
A girl carries a baby as she walks alongside a avenue in Dasht-e-Barchi in Kabul in November 2022 [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

A bucket record of goals

A day after Marzia and Hajar’s funeral, their heartbroken uncle, 42-year-old Zaher Modaqeq, found quite a lot of diaries and journals among the many ladies’ private results. Deeply moved by their writing, he shared some pages from Marzia’s diary on social media, together with a bucket record of issues she wished to do in life.

“My Marzia and Hajar have been such wonderful ladies, so totally different than others their age. I want extra folks may have recognized their willpower,” Zaher mirrored. “They might have impressed many, I consider they nonetheless can.”

Though Hajar’s dad and mom didn’t want to share their daughter’s writing in public, Zaher says Marzia’s entries present a glimpse into each their aspirations.

On the very prime of their bucket record was assembly their favorite writer, Turkish-British novelist Elif Shafak. Different unfilled goals included visiting the Eiffel Tower in Paris and consuming a pizza in Italy. On social media, Zaher posted Marzia’s entry about searching for books after the Taliban takeover. And he shared how the ladies’ siblings left books on Marzia and Hajar’s graves. The posts went viral on social media and touched a nerve in a rustic which continues to lose its younger folks to persevering with violence.

After Marzia and Hajar’s funeral, their 22 siblings returned frequently to the quiet, dusty, hilltop cemetery. A couple of week later, they discovered a number of books – largely in Persian, some in English, and all well-worn from years of studying – left behind by strangers.

The next week, there have been about two dozen books – titles by Shafak, American writer Rachel Hollis and Iraqi Yazidi human rights activist Nadia Murad.

“We all the time knew Marzia and Hajar actually liked books,” defined 21-year-old Insiya, Hajar’s older sister and Marzia’s cousin. However after pages of Marzia’s diary have been shared on social media others realized “how a lot they preferred being surrounded by books, and folks honoured them with these books”.

A photo of a small building with a drawing of two girls on it.
The orange out of doors library in a Kabul graveyard devoted to Marzia and Hajar [Courtesy of the Mohammadi family]

Strangers’ books

Pages from Marzia’s diary, every day notes she wrote to herself in neat, legible handwriting in Farsi and sometimes in English, have been shared by Zaher with Al Jazeera. Greater than half a dozen diaries – some battered notebooks, others leather-bound planners – stuffed with a whole bunch of entries, reveal a decided younger lady who discovered power in books amid the assaults on Hazaras, an traditionally persecuted group, and different Shia Muslim communities, and rising restrictions on ladies below the ruling Taliban.

For the reason that Taliban’s return to energy, it has shut down ladies’ secondary faculties, affecting about three million college students, restricted ladies from coming into workplaces and imposed different curbs on freedom together with requiring a detailed male family member to accompany any long-distance journey.

On August 23, 2021, a couple of week after the Taliban’s takeover, Marzia wrote, “Right now I stepped out of the home for the primary time for the reason that arrival of the Taliban … I had a sense of insecurity and dread.”

{The teenager} went to a bookshop and acquired The Architect’s Apprentice by Shafak, the writer Marzia and Hajar idolised. “Right now I realised how a lot I like books,” she wrote. “I like seeing folks’s pleasure after they see and browse books.”

As Marzia and Hajar’s siblings came across extra books left behind by strangers they determined to create a small out of doors library.

One member of the family introduced out an outdated cabinet that had fallen into disuse. They cleaned and painted it shiny orange – the ladies’ favorite color.

Fatema Khairullahi, an Afghan graphic designer, made an illustration of the ladies after they’d died exhibiting them with a pine tree – an emblem of power and resilience – and shared it on social media. When the household determined to arrange the library they contacted the artist who agreed to recreate the picture as a mural within the centre of the cupboard.

In late October, the sturdy cupboard was dropped at the graveyard and positioned subsequent to the cousins’ graves. The cabinets maintain about two dozen books, protected by glass doorways that are left unlocked so the volumes could be simply accessed.

Marzia and Hajar lived in the identical family with a number of households. Books have been all the time stacked across the room they shared with their siblings.

“We made this library as a result of we all know how a lot they liked being surrounded by books,” defined Insiya, who sat with different kin together with Zaher, on toshaks, or conventional Afghan flooring cushions, within the sparsely embellished household room of the prolonged household house.

“We really feel that is making them very pleased” as studying and being round books is what they wished of their lives, she added, tearing up as she spoke. “Hajar had written in her diary, ‘I really feel so good when I’m studying. I really feel like I’m a part of that story’.”

A photo of Marzia and Hajar Mohammadi as children sitting on the floor.
The cousins have been finest buddies and have been motivated to proceed their schooling regardless of rising restrictions [Photo courtesy of the Mohammadi family]

Consistently studying

Marzia and Hajar weren’t simply cousins – they have been inseparable buddies. They each dreamed of changing into architects and writers just like the authors they admired.

“Most of us simply learn the books that we’re purported to learn for our college, however Hajar and Marzia have been totally different. They might learn numerous totally different books, continuously looking for extra data,” Insiya recalled with a tragic smile. “They wished to study greater than what we realized at college.”

Each liked fiction, stated their 28-year-old aunt Nooria, Zaher’s sister, who sat with Insiya and wore a lightweight pink costume and a loosely wrapped maroon scarf. “However they have been additionally keen on motivational books. I believe one of many causes they nonetheless had hope [after the Taliban shut down girls’ high schools shortly after returning to power] might be due to the type of books they learn — books that inspired them to be stronger ladies, to intention larger and work for his or her objectives,” she defined.

“I’m assured these books made them stronger even in occasions of adversity and restrictions. It taught them to not quit and proceed combating for his or her objectives,” added Nooria, a medical pupil, and the primary lady within the household to graduate from college.

“When the ladies in our household realized that a few of them would not get to go to highschool, they have been all very upset,” recalled Zaher, a tall man wearing a easy shalwar kameez.

He and Nooria gathered them one night quickly after the Taliban takeover. “I introduced them a cake and had an extended dialog with them about how they need to not quit. I instructed them they should be stronger, they must be totally different,” he stated.

“Once I learn their diary entries from these days, I noticed how motivated they have been to stand up regardless of the brand new restrictions and challenges. They wished to proceed their schooling and had hoped to take management of their future,” Nooria added.

‘No excuses’

Whereas they have been alive, the cousins hoped to attend college. With their highschool commencement delayed as a result of closures, Marzia and Hajar have been decided to press on and begin getting ready for the college entrance examination, which on the time they might sit for.

In February final yr, Marzia wrote, “I’ve to strive more durable than yesterday and final week. … I’ve to decide to alter my future and my life. The one means to reach an emergency state of affairs like that is to check.”

She wrote about passing the college entrance examination as being the “first step” to securing a scholarship overseas so she may depart Afghanistan.

“I’ve to consider in myself and God will assist me.

Time 12:30 midnight

God!! Me and Hajar, subsequent yr this time on Feb 4, we shouldn’t be in Afghanistan.”

In an undated entry, she writes about needing to proceed her research “with or with out electrical energy”.

Of their first mock college entrance examination, Marzia and Hajar scored 50 and 51 p.c respectively. Marzia was dissatisfied. She would intention for 60 within the subsequent take a look at. “Bravo Marzia!” she wrote after she obtained 61.

Zaher shared how her scores improved till she obtained 82 p.c, a consequence she wished to keep up. “However then…” he stated, his voice trailing off.

“Marzia and Hajar turned to their schooling and books for options when the state of affairs obtained worse. Even when it felt like there was no hope of college, and a few folks have been saying ladies may not even be allowed to take a seat for the doorway exams, they nonetheless continued to check, learn and study on their very own,” stated Marzia’s older sister, 23-year-old Parwana. “They impressed us.”

However not every little thing they learn helped. With the uncertainty in Afghanistan, 50 pages into the account of Yazidi activist Nadia Murad about surviving seize and enslavement by ISIL, Marzia remarked in her diary that she didn’t have the “endurance for it” and put the ebook away earlier than later finishing it.

In late 2022, just some months after they have been killed, the Taliban banned ladies from college. In January, the Taliban ordered non-public universities to not enable feminine college students to take a seat for upcoming entrance exams.

Afghan women protest against new Taliban ban on women accessing University Education on December 22, 2022 in Kabul, Afghanistan. A group of Afghan women rallied in Kabul against a governmental order banning women from universities. Armed guards barred women from accessing university sites since the suspension was announced on December 20. (Photo by Stringer/Getty Images)
In December, ladies in Kabul protested in opposition to the Taliban banning ladies from college [Stringer/Getty Images]

‘A variety of ache’

Even earlier than the Taliban restrictions, it was not straightforward for the ladies in Marzia and Hajar’s household to entry schooling. “We needed to wrestle for it,” Nooria stated.

“Our dad and mom are illiterate they usually didn’t perceive the significance of equality; the boys have been valued greater than the ladies,” defined Insiya, sharing how she and Hajar’s eldest sister stopped going to highschool after her marriage as an adolescent. “However since then we have now been combating these traditions and regularly altering views of the elders within the household in direction of educating ladies,” she continued, referring to the various conversations that Zaher and others needed to persuade older kin to permit ladies within the household to check.

“We reside in a society the place such change is difficult, however Marzia and Hajar’s dad and mom actually got here round to the concept and had been absolutely supporting their daughters’ schooling,” stated Nooria.

Right now, their dad and mom and the remainder of the household are nonetheless grappling with their loss.

“There may be a number of ache,” Parwana stated, pausing briefly to carry again her tears. She took a deep breath and continued. “However constructing this house, this small room for them, has given us the chance to channel our damage in a means that might make Marzia and Hajar proud.”

Zaher chokes again tears whereas talking about his nieces, repeating how “distinctive” they have been.

When the Taliban retook energy in 2021 there was a mass exodus of Afghans, significantly these susceptible to persecution.

Zaher stated the household selected to remain to play their half in shaping a brighter future and peaceable society in Afghanistan.

“Because of this we stayed, so we and our kids like Marzia and Hajar, could possibly be catalysts for change,” he stated.

Now he solely hopes that the reminiscence of his nieces can encourage some optimistic change on the subject of ladies’ schooling.

A photo of a metal cupboard, with a mural of Marzia and Hajar Mohammadi.
A metallic cabinet, with an image of Marzia and Hajar, serves as a second library established in honour of the cousins. The inscription on the prime reads: ‘Hajar and Marzia had dreamed of changing into architects. Women, it is best to comply with their goals’ [Photo courtesy of the Mohammadi family]

Inspiring new readers

The graveyard library on the town outskirts will not be straightforward to entry – it will probably solely be reached by automobile – and as such, has not obtained many guests. The library’s assortment is slowly rising.

“However the response to it has been overwhelming, as a result of many individuals are actually speaking in regards to the significance of studying and schooling, the values that Marzia and Hajar strongly believed in,” Insiya mirrored. She recalled how an older neighbour visited the graveyard and returned with one of many motivational books from the library.

“She got here to our home later saying that she was impressed and wished to learn and study extra.”

In February, the household arrange one other small cabinet library with about 30 donated books – largely novels together with Marzia and Hajar’s favorite titles – in a major faculty of their village in Ghazni province.

The household hopes to finally arrange bigger libraries in reminiscence of the cousins in Kabul and different Afghan cities. “It was Marzia and Hajar’s imaginative and prescient for all Afghan ladies to have the ability to proceed their studying, even when they’ll’t go to highschool,” stated Nooria. “For now, this library is an emblem of that message.”

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