Layla’s Story: The Escape from Afghanistan

Editor’s Introduction

Christine Drinan, Galavante in the World Chair & Galavante Founder

The heart of who we are at Galavante is our Galavante in the World Foundation, (GITW) where we humbly work to make a difference around the world. It’s not the number of countries I have the privilege to visit, but on my way to all 195, it’s about the impact we can make.

You’ll recall that the Afghan government fell to the Taliban in August 2021. The United States spent 20+ years in war, only for the Taliban to return and terrorize the Afghan people. The women, who had fought so hard for their education, have had all their rights stripped away these past nine months. As a global citizen, I could not watch from the sidelines. When I guest-lectured at the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF), I had the honor to mentor female scholarship recipients. Since August 2021, we have been actively involved in supporting AUAF alumnae.

Around the World will be the updates of AUAF alumnae’s brave stories, as these young women once again fight for their survival. If you wonder why we do what we do, these women are the answer. Leila’s story starts here, but it’s not nearly the end of her story. The universe willing, this is just the beginning. Leila will share her experiences, starting with when she left Afghanistan.

Wish to support our foundation? You can be part of our efforts on behalf of the AUAF alumnae and families here.

Layla’s Story Begins

Layla S., American University of Afghanistan Alumna and Human Rights Activist

Nine months have passed, and I am still mourning the loss of my nation, of my dreams and hopes. The grief of losing my homeland to a terrorist group, the Taliban, is immeasurable. It has left an indelible scar on me and millions of other Afghans. I was once a proud graduate of the American University of Afghanistan, a regionally prominent institution; I had a decent job in a prestigious organization and was surrounded by people and my cats, who cherished my company. It was never safe in Afghanistan, but I felt grateful for every minute I survived.

The Beauty of Kabul

Despite the daily hardships, Kabul was a warm and content city rich in history, poetry, and color. A few days before the collapse, it was clear that Kabul was losing its magic and vibrancy. Each province’s collapse was like an arrow into the city’s heart, turning her gray and dreary.

August 2021

While I was aware of things changing, I didn’t expect them to come haunt us so quickly. On August 15, 2021, when the Taliban captured the outskirts and approached Kabul’s gates, chaos spread like a storm. We were instructed to leave our offices and go home immediately. The scene on the streets was terrifying. It felt like the world was ending, Everyone seemed to be running for their lives. I saw the troops leave. There was no police, and no sense of order in the city. I prayed for it to be my worst nightmare instead of reality. Later that year, I watched the movie “Don’t Look Up,” which depicted the world’s end. The day the Taliban made it through the gates of Kabul, I felt as Leonardo DiCaprio did as the comet hit the earth.

On August 21, 2021, my 18-year-old sister left for Iraq, yet another war-torn country. However, the dread of losing your life pushes you to the fringes, and if you’re an Afghan, the window of choices is pretty narrowed.

The Kabul Airport

I experienced things I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. On August 26, 2021 — the same day as the massive ISIS attack on the airport — we wandered around the airport gates for hours, watching the Taliban torturing and whipping people. The worst part was seeing the pleasure in their eyes as they beat and lashed us. At times they would fire their guns in the air, and all we could do was sit and cover our heads. I was terrified. I begged my brother to leave, and just as we did, the suicide attack occurred, killing about 170 Afghans and dozens of foreign forces. Its terrifying sound and pressure wave shook me. All I could think about was little Soraya and her younger sister, both of whom I’d met earlier that day outside the Abbey gate, one of the entrance gates to the airport. I couldn’t stop crying over what might have happened to them.

Leaving Afghanistan

Before my family could leave Afghanistan, we saw the worst of it. The Taliban shot the person I grew up with, my best friend — my brother. When I saw him covered in blood, my heart shattered. I thought I had lost him forever. But he fought his way through; it wasn’t the end of the road for him yet. Nearly two weeks after the incident, we made it out of Afghanistan, and ever since, we’ve been living in an immigrant camp — miles away from a beloved home that I can only carry in my heart.

Leila’s story will continue, as she diaries what came after leaving her beloved home country.


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