Rodaba Noori, now a student at Bard College, stands in front of Montgomery Place, a mansion overlooking the Hudson River. (Credit: Kate Brennan)
Rodaba Noori, now a student at Bard College, stands in front of Montgomery Place, a mansion overlooking the Hudson River. (Credit: Kate Brennan)

Editor’s Note: This is part of our Afghan Women project, marking two years since the Taliban takeover.

Rodaba Noori remembers the gunshots. She and her mother were standing in line to buy bread at their local bakery, eerily aware of how few people were on the street that day, when they saw it – Taliban members driving in a police car, firing gunshots to celebrate their takeover of Kabul. 

As a member of Afghanistan’s all-girls robotics team, Noori had already been receiving negative attention. She had traveled to a competition in the United States without a male chaperone, which many conservative Afghans disapproved of.

“Some of my neighbors saw me in the media, and they were shouting at my mom, ‘Oh, you’re not Muslim,’” she said. “And they were also shouting out to my father and my brother, ‘You guys are not Muslim.’”

On another occasion, her local shopkeeper warned her that two men came into the shop to ask where she lived. So when the Taliban took over, she knew she had to get out.

She was one of many women to get in touch with an old contact, journalist Danna Harman, who put together a rescue coalition (read more here) and secured Noori and her younger brother, Rashed, a spot on a bus out of the country. 

Noori remembers how she felt when she first crossed the Afghanistan border, with the sun setting. “I looked out on both sides. And I told myself, look, this is the last time you’re looking out to your country.”

She and Rashed spent eight months in a refugee camp in Abu Dhabi, but because he was a minor and had to wait for their mother, she had to leave for Calgary without him. She wouldn’t see her family for 10 months after that. 

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Flash forward to two years later. She’s entering her second year at Bard College in upstate New York, where she’s enjoying basic freedoms like attending classes, riding her bike and walking around by herself and feeling safe. She said college is more enjoyable here than it was in Herat, where she had been studying when the Taliban took over. 

“It’s not just about always studying,” she said. “You have to be away from the family and know how to take care of yourself, work for yourself. It’s also about working on communication, finding friends and enjoying the events here.”

Her mother and brother are in Calgary now, and she was happy to spend time with them for the summer. She described her brother as a typical high school student – “He’s so stylish,” she laughed. “He dresses like the teenagers here. He’s speaking English very well. And I’m so happy for him. He has everything he wants.”

Noori said she feels safe walking around the Bard College campus by herself. (Credits: Kate Brennan)

Stil, Noori still feels that she has left a part of herself in Afghanistan – especially because her father, who passed away a few years ago, is buried there.  “I really wish I can go back to Afghanistan – if only one time – because I have lots of things to tell him.”

No matter how much she loves her new life here, she said it’s not so easy to call a new place home after living in Afghanistan for 20 years. “You always feel like your spirit is back at home, while your physical body is in another place,” she said. “And you still miss that place, even if it was bad for you.”

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