The familiar brown mountains rose up beneath the wings of our Boeing 767 as we began our descent into Kabul. It was dawn in mid-May, so the sun awoke just before seven. From my aisle seat, I could glimpse the outskirts of the city emerging from the shadows of the night, small clusters of houses tucked into the edge of valleys. This had been my last view of Afghanistan five years ago and from above, it seemed like nothing had changed.
I leaned over my traveling companions to get a better look. Madeliene Tarasick and Margaret Stewart were taking pictures from the small window. They were captivated by the view, a pair of determined women—both retired educators—who had spent the last ten years raising money for a non-profit group called Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan. Because of their work and dedication, duplicated by women all across the country, hundreds of Afghan girls are now going to school, given a chance to learn that was never possible under the Taliban. The two women were on their first trip to Afghanistan and determined to document every single moment.
“Can you see?” Madeliene asked, putting her hand on my shoulder. I nodded and then leaned back in my seat as the plane made its final approach into the airport. I took a deep breath.
In October 2008, I was on assignment for the CBC, reporting on the conditions in one of the sprawling refugee camps that had sprung up outside the city. It had been a terrible summer of fighting in the south. Thousands of refugees from Kandahar, Uruzgan, and Helmand provinces flooded north to escape. At the Charahi Qambar refugee camp, about a half hour northwest of Kabul, more than 5,000 people were crammed into mud huts built around open sewers; more were arriving every day.
My fixer, Shokoor, and I had just finished interviewing a family from Kandahar and were on our way back to our car when I was grabbed by a gang of thugs armed with AK-47s. I was stabbed, shoved into the back of a car, and taken to the edge of a village called Maidan. As darkness fell that Sunday night, my kidnappers threw me down a hole, an elaborate hiding place they had dug behind an abandoned house. And this hole was where I would spend the next twenty-eight days; where I waited for my stab wounds to heal; where I would be violently assaulted at knifepoint. There were days when I thought I would die in this hole, my remains never to be found.
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