By Nehru Odeh
Singing comes naturally to Afghan pop singer Aryana Sayeed. Not only has she wowed Afghans with her mellifluous voice, winning several awards, she has also championed women’s rights in Afghanistan, making sure Afghan women and young girls follow their passion. And that indeed makes her an easy target for the Sharia-hooked, gun-toting and whip-brandishing Islamic fundamentalists.
However, Aryana is currently singing on the global stage not just her Nunc Dimintis, but about her harrowing experience, how she was able to beat the roadblocks, checkpoints and strictures mounted by red-eyed Taliban officials, escape from Kabul and breathe the air of freedom once again, this time in Los Angeles, United States. .
Her journey to freedom is indeed a metaphor for the struggles and pains many had to go through in order to flee tyranny in Afghanistan since the Taliban took over power on 15 August. What makes Aryana’s experience hair-splitting was that she and her fiancé Hasib Sayed, an Afghan music producer, were supposed to board an airplane at Kabul International airport on 15 August. Unfortunately that was the day the Taliban took over Kabul.
“I was in Afghanistan for the past eight months. And all of a sudden when things change and the Taliban came to Kabul and they took over I was left with no choice but to leave Afghanistan. And we left in a very difficult manner. It was very challenging for me and my fiancé. Because beside the fact that I am a singer I have also been a very outspoken women rights activist in Afghanistan,” she told the CNN with a voice that sounded like novelistic prose.
“Especially for me it was difficult because by the time we wanted to leave, there was Taliban checkpoints all over the place. We were very scared to be caught alive. And the major challenge was, you know, the journey from home to the airport – that was where the problem was. But fortunately, we made it to the airport and we were evacuated by the American Army air plane, C17.
However, to Aryana, leaving Kabul was like passing through the eye of a needle. Aside from the mind-boggling sight of thousands of people jostling to leave her country, she almost lost that rare opportunity to regain freedom.
“My flight was like for 8pm and we made our way to the airport and the Taliban were not there then. So we got to the airport. There were thousands and thousands of people. Everybody was trying to get out, children, like they were piled on top of each other. Still, there was no Taliban and we were hoping that we would be checked in and leave by 8 ó clock. And fortunately within a span of a few hours, the time was about five, six in the evening, we heard gunshots.
“And suddenly the entire airport staff, including the security, left. They left people just like that. People were scared and were sort of rushing inside the airplane. The airplane was filled with thousands of people, as a result of which even the pilots ran away and the plane couldn’t take off. So then we had no choice but to come out of the airplane.
“Because we were hearing news that the Taliban were close and were going to enter inside the airport any moment. And for me I couldn’t stay anymore because obviously I was thinking if they came inside the airport they were going to check our identity. They were going to find out who I was This was around nine and 10pm. Then we decided to come out of the airport again.
“But unfortunately there was only one road that could take you outside the airport and we had to walk through that road to get outside. While we were walking out, hundreds of more people were walking inside. They were terrified and scared and were just running with small kids in their hands and stuff like that.
“So at the end of the road, this is where I actually bumped into a few Taliban. And they were actually shooting. They were like shooting in the air because they were trying to scatter people up around, people that were like trying to get inside the room.
“They were shooting all over the place. And we just walked in and I saw a bunch of them. I looked and I even saw a senior Talib who was standing in the middle, with his hands behind him. He was just screening and scanning people. Because amongst us, on that airplane that was supposed to take off, were a few government officials, very important people on that flight as well.
“And so that was why they were checking to see if they could find them amongst the crowd. And fortunately, I was covered in a hijab. I was covering my face as well. They could only see my eyes. And luckily, they did not recognise me among the people and somehow we just got out of there and then the next day we attempted to go to the airport again.”
Though Aryana has fled the tyranny that Afghanistan is fast returning to under the Taliban, she is not a happy woman. “I got lucky to get out of Afghanistan. But what about the rest of the people that are there?” Aryana, a British citizen, said. “For the past 20 years, I mean, so many girls and so many women, they went to schools, they got educated. So many of them are school teachers, doctors … so many achievements. How can it all just end, just like that?”
The multiple award-winning singer and activist will definitely live with a traumatic experience she had that day for the rest of her life. As she was about to board the plane, a woman approached her and handed her baby to her. “She was screaming and crying and she gave me the baby, as I was about to go inside, asking me to take the baby with me.
“But I thought how can I separate a baby from its mother? I asked the soldier if we can take both of them with us. But, unfortunately, the soldiers could not,” she said, crying and adding that she had to hand the baby back to its mother. “I was lucky… one of the lucky ones with a UK passport who could get out,” she added.
On 21 August, the “Bache Kabul” singer also left a word of advice for President Joe Biden and the United Nations, expressing her anger about their move to “leave Afghanistan in chaos.”
“Taking a few thousand civilians/American citizens out of Afghanistan is appreciated but it won’t solve the problem. What about the millions who are left behind in total chaos??” she wrote in an Instagram post.
Any hope for Afghans under Taliban rule? The singer said: “I do not believe the Taliban. I am sure they will go back to reality and who they are. I hope the world can hold them accountable for what they are saying, In the hands of Taliban, there will be no future for Afghan women.”