Before the Taliban, Zargona was studying Chemistry at Kabul University and graduated 2019. When she graduated she started work as a teacher to help out her family as only her father was working at the time. She then went on to assume responsibility as manager/principal of a school where she was responsible for over 500 students. Out of the 86 schools in the area, Zara was female manager/principal and, almost certainly, the youngest being in her early twenties.
Zargona’s parents had experienced five years with the Taliban rule before she was born so they told her many stories about the tyranny and violence that they brought with them. Her mother would often worry and so Zargona would try and comfort her but the situation got worse and the Taliban were getting closer to them every day.
On the week of July 5th, they had taken over all the surrounding provinces. Zargona was at work when the news broke. The Taliban had arrived in Kabul. Her only thought was to get the children to safety. She received calls from her own parents and brother telling her to get home immediately, as she was in great danger. Her colleagues were terrified as schools had become a main target for the Taliban who forbid the education of all women. Zargona sent all her colleagues home, leaving her alone responsible for all the children. There was no way she was leaving until the last child was safely in their parents’ care. It took a further three hours before the last student was collected and she could rush home.
People were running in fear and panic, desperate to get to their families and the safety of home. In all the chaos the bus services were halted, leaving Zargona no choice but to walk home. She had to walk and run through streets lined with Taliban soldiers armed with kalashnikov. “It was a blessing that I had worn a long dress that morning and I used my scarf to cover my face showing only my eyes because this meant they ignored me” said Zargona “I ran past them so they would not question why I was notaccompanied by my father or brother”.
She finally made it home two and a half hours later.
Zargona later reopened her school, despite warnings, but shortened her hours to mornings only.
The Decision to Leave
On August 26th, Zargona received a call and email from Marina LeGree, the CEO of Ascend, who had obtained travel documents from the American Congress allowing her to escape Afghanistan. “It was sad because the situation was so bad” said Zargona, ”I had the papers to go but I didn’t want to leave and let myfamily get killed. I didn’t tell them to begin with because I knew they would have made me go. When I eventually told them, they were so happy for me and relieved for themselves”.
Escaping the Taliban
On this first attempt to escape, she got on a bus that should only have sat 30 people but around 200 people, of all ages, were clinging on, all desperate to escape. When they got to the airport, amid grenade blasts and gunshots, they were told to go home.
The next day, Marina told her she could get her on a flight to Qatar but they had to get out of Kabul. Zargona was told to make her way to a secret location where a bus was waiting for her along with many other people fleeing with American assistance. The journey was fraught with danger as they were going through a very dangerous part of Afghanistan. To make matters worse, on their journey, at every station, the Taliban would stop the bus asking: “Where is your man? Why are you alone? Where are you going?” to which Zargona replied “My father is at the front of the bus”.
If they had known the truth they would have pulled them off the bus.
Once they arrived, they were put into a waiting hall (hotel conference room), with more than 700 people. There was nowhere to sleep or wash so they had no choice but to sleep sitting in chairs or lying on the hard wood tables. They stayed there for about two weeks where they had to contend with the scorching heat during the day and the freezing cold at night. There weren’t even blankets to help keep them warm.
After two weeks, they were resettled in another room with five other girls, waiting for a flight. One day at 3:30am they were told they had a flight, only to get to the airport to be refused and told to go away again. It would be 35 days before they finally flew out!
During the 35 days, Zargona explained: “We couldn’t find any warm water for washing. We had to wash our body with the salty water which was very cold! We didn’t have any soap or shampoo so our hair got into knots. Headlice spread amongst us so we were all scratching all of the time”.
Life in Ireland
Until she arrived in Ireland, the only place she had ever known was Kabul.
Upon arriving in Galway, she says: “I was very, very cold because, compared to where I was living, it was like I had come from the summer to the winter in a few hours. We didn’t have any warm clothes at all!”
Grateful and relieved to be safely nestled into the warmth of her local community, Zargona said, “It’s so beautiful here, even the streets! It’s a very, very green place compared with Kabul which is very dry and very hot. There’s also so much water here and it rains a lot. But, it’s a really beautiful country with beautiful houses unlike inKabul where the roofs are flat. I used to dream of living in a house like this. Many years ago I drew a picture of a house like this in my notebook and now I’m here.”
“The Irish people are very kind and friendly. I don’t know why they helped us like this, but I’m so happy I’m here.”