Short Docs

How I became friends with a teenage girl in Afghanistan — and what happened to her when the Taliban arrived

The documentary ‘Fatima in Kabul’ shows a young woman living through the Taliban’s return to power

The documentary ‘Fatima in Kabul’ shows a young woman living through the Taliban’s return to power

Fatima came of age during Afghanistan’s rebuilding years and grew up with technology at her fingertips; like most teenagers, she spends a lot of time on her phone. The short documentary 'Fatima in Kabul,' shows how her video and audio messages changed as the Taliban approached Kabul in the summer of 2021. (CBC / Fatima in Kabul )

By: Brishkay Ahmed, director of Fatima in Kabul

Fatima and I became friends through Facebook.

I first heard about her from a former colleague in 2017. He had seen Fatima on BBC News, talking about how her mother had been killed in a suicide bomb attack in Kabul. She had just turned 17. 

My colleague was moved by Fatima's story. He knew that I had been working in Afghanistan and thought I might be able to help her somehow. I watched the interview and my heart wanted to reach out to her. She was a young woman with a lot of responsibilities inside a dangerous city. So I contacted a friend at the BBC and got her contact information.

In late 2017, Fatima and I began talking through Facebook. 

In 2018, I went to Afghanistan to film a documentary. I needed a female assistant to help me film inside ZAN TV (the women's news network) in Kabul. I offered this job to Fatima. I thought it would be good to train her, to help her gain some skills; plus it was an opportunity for her to work in a safe environment. Between 2018 and 2020, I returned to Kabul many times to film that documentary. Each time, Fatima helped me more and more. Slowly, we became reliable friends.

Fatima graduated from high school and was accepted into Kabul University's theatre department. I was planning to go back to film her unfolding life in 2020 when the pandemic got in the way. We both became confined to our nation, city and home. But we continued talking via Facebook and WhatsApp, and our exchanges became the backbone of the documentary Fatima in Kabul.

Fatima has always wanted to share her life experiences with the world. She began by speaking up about her mother to the BBC, then she spoke to me about her own unfolding experiences. She's a young woman who grew up in the digital age; expressing her realities is part of her identity. She did not have any reservations about being filmed or filming herself (something she learned to do when she started working for me in 2018). 

In Fatima in Kabul, you see our conversations slowly shifting from daily life to Fatima's future. Our voice and video messages, back and forth, show how quickly things changed for her.

Life in Kabul changed quickly in 2021. Fatima's conversations with 'Fatima in Kabul' director Brishkay Ahmed went from life updates and selfies to worrying how she would take care of her younger sister and ailing father under Taliban rule. (CBC / Fatima in Kabul)

At the beginning of the film, she's telling me about school holidays and sharing selfies with funny filters. As the date of the U.S. withdrawal approaches, she tells me that she bought a new hijab because she's afraid of being harassed and assaulted by men in her neighbourhood. 

In August, as the Taliban approaches, she tells me she heard that they are taking women over 15 for forced marriages. She's terrified about what might happen to her, and worries about how she'll be able to take care of her ailing father and younger sister. I sensed that fulfilling that duty and obligation would be impossible for her under the Taliban regime.

Unfortunately, when the Taliban arrived in Kabul, she had to do what many other Afghans did: escape. There was no choice for Fatima. She was a young Hazara woman without any protection. She had to leave. 

Leaving was not easy, but she is now safe outside Afghanistan. 

We still talk all the time.

Watch Fatima in Kabul on CBC Gem.

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