A Journalist’s Harrowing Escape from Afghanistan

She almost didn’t escape.

In August, the United States began withdrawing forces from Afghanistan, ending the longest war in U.S. history. New York Times journalist Fatima Faizi was living in Kabul, the capital. As the Taliban started to reclaim the country, Faizi gathered her family together and prepared to evacuate. “Don’t worry about bringing clothes or shoes,” a friend advised. “You can replace those. Just bring things that remind you of home.” In the end, she carried only a knapsack and a tiny painting from Bamyan, a city she loved.

Faizi took this photograph of a girl’s school in Afghanistan. It was bombed a few weeks before she was evacuated from Kabul.

On November 11, Faizi spoke virtually about her experiences as an Afghan journalist and women’s rights advocate for FIT’s Department of Social Sciences’ World Affairs Lecture. The annual talk, which is open to the public, offers students a firsthand account of global events that might seem removed from daily life in the U.S.. Souzeina Mushtaq, a faculty member of the University of Wisconsin, River Falls, interviewed her. 

When Faizi arrived at the Kabul airport, the scene was chaotic, with the sounds of gunfire and crowds of people desperate to escape the shooting. Faizi and her family raced from one corner of the building to another. Eventually, a member of the Taliban told them they had to return home. “There are no planes,” he told Faizi. She and her family hid out in a journalist colleague’s house for several stressful days. Ironically, when air transport finally became available, members of the Taliban escorted Faizi to the plane, and to safety.

Growing up, Faizi wanted to be a journalist, but her family was opposed to the idea; so she studied photography. She got her break at a protest in 2015. A friend at the news channel Al Jazeera knew of her work and asked for photographs; she had also done a few interviews, so she sent both, and the outlet published them. Two years later, a friend who was leaving the Afghanistan Times bureau told her to apply for the job and explained how to get in touch with the bureau chief. Faizi got the gig. As a woman journalist in Afghanistan, she had better access to women’s stories than most men. But in conservative or rural areas, she stood out; once, a male subject told her that her trendy sneakers signaled that she was an outsider.

Fatima Faizi.

Mushtaq pointed out grim realities of reporting in Afghanistan, and asked how Faizi dealt with trauma. “I go for walks, and I cry a lot,” she replied. “Sometimes, I don’t sleep for two weeks.”

One student wanted to know what strategy, as a journalist, Faizi used to keep readers from feeling desensitized by the tragedies in Afghanistan. “When it’s just numbers, no one pays attention,” Faiza said. “‘500 people were killed somewhere’? It is just a number. But when we tell stories about personal experiences, personal lives? Then they become human beings, and people pay attention.”

This lecture was organized by Praveen Chaudhry, professor of Social Sciences, and presented in partnership with the Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Presidential Scholars Program, and the Office of International Programs.


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