Hundreds of people gather near a US Air Force C-17 transport plane at the perimeter of the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 16, 2021.

‘I had to burn a lot of my stuff’: Two Afghan women on what they left behind when they fled the Taliban

Thousands of Afghans rushed to leave Afghanistan when the Taliban retook control of the country. Many had to make split-second decisions about what to pack in a small bag or backpack.

The World

Hundreds of people gather near a US Air Force C-17 transport plane at the perimeter of the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 16, 2021.

Shekib Rahmani/AP

As the news about the Taliban takeover reached Afghanistan's capital of Kabul, 24-year-old Hareer Hashim found herself in a panic.

“A fear [sank] into my heart. I rushed very quickly with my father back to my home and we just locked ourselves in our house and we were waiting.”

Related: The spotlight has faded on Afghanistan, but not the urgency for Afghans seeking safety

Hashim, a women’s rights activist with the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, had never lived under Taliban rule. But she knew the group would not tolerate someone like her.

Around the same time, and in the same city, 20-year-old Tuba was having similar thoughts. She wondered what the Taliban would do if they found out she is an artist.

It was such a difficult day, said Tuba, who asked that her full name not be used, because she fears for the safety of her relatives in Afghanistan.

For many Afghans, Aug. 15 is a day they’ll never forget. It's when the country fell to the Taliban and the life they knew ended. Thousands were forced to leave out of fear, not knowing if they would ever be able to come back.

And in those hectic days, inside each home, people like Tuba and Hashim were making split-second decisions about what to leave behind and what to take with them.

For Tuba, this was easy — she decided to take her two pets, a mynah bird called Juji and her cat, named Pishi. There was no way she was going to leave them behind, she said. There was no one to take care of them. They’d die.

At Hashim’s place, there was also a last-minute scramble to pack.

Related: 'Why don’t you have mercy?': Afghanistan’s Hazara people increasingly face eviction, violence under Taliban rule

“I had to burn a lot of stuff like my diplomas and everything, because there was talk about the Taliban going and searching people’s houses. So, I couldn’t take those things with me, but I had my childhood pictures, I had my family’s pictures, I had my grandma and grandpa’s pictures. And my grandpa is very dear to me. I’ve left him behind. And my grandma passed away.”

For both women, getting out of the country turned out to be arduous. They had to let go of almost everything they packed. Tuba’s cat went to a stranger, and her bird, to the French ambassador, Xavier Chatel.

Hashim grabbed a fistful of soil before boarding a plane.

“I had nothing [to put it in] ... so I took out my mask and I put it in my mask and I covered it up and I kept it with myself.”

Tuba and Hashim say they never expected such a sudden, chaotic goodbye to their homeland. They say they’re lucky to have been able to leave. So many Afghans never managed to get out.

To hear more about the women’s harrowing journeys out of Afghanistan, click on the player above.