A Spanish journalist’s day-by-day account of her experiences during the summer of 2000 among Afghan refugees in Pakistan, and of her daring venture into Afghanistan to learn more.
Tortajada was so moved by a refugee’s speech in Barcelona on the plight of Afghan women that she felt compelled to go there. Four months and many e-mails later, accompanied by a student and another journalist who had been similarly moved, she arrived in Pakistan intent on living among Afghan women refugees and experiencing their world. Her report covers the days between July 30 and August 18, 2000. Tortajada and her companions form close relationships with the Afghan women; this bond and the warm, hospitable spirit of the refugees living in privation are at the heart of Tortajada’s story. Visiting schools, orphanages, clinics, and workshops in Peshawar, listening to the stories of female refugees, and interviewing aid agency workers, the author and her comrades become determined to enter Afghanistan. They obtain visas from the Taliban consulate by pretending to be tourists interested only in sightseeing. Once in Kabul, they want to see how Afghan women are surviving under a regime that forbids them to hold jobs or attend school. The visitors find, however, they cannot leave their hotel unless accompanied by an official interpreter, who restricts what they can see. They manage to circumvent this restriction and, encased in the hated body-and-face-concealing burkha required by the Taliban, they visit underground schools for women and children, recording the courage they observe under the harshest of conditions. Tortajada’s account was published in Spain prior to the events of 9/11, and so it reflects the situation before the invasion of Afghanistan, the fall of the Taliban, and the return of millions of Afghan refugee to their homeland. While her exposure of the Taliban’s horrific treatment of women remains shocking, it’s not the revelation it was in mid-2001.
Evocative of a time and place, but events have rendered this dated.