Can you imagine being a young musician and your sister calling you in a crisis and telling you to destroy your guitar because “the hands of the Taliban are capable of killing you for your art?” ”
Nasrin Nawa described begging his sister to do so in a podcast and Washington Post op-ed on August 16, the day after Kabul was captured by the Taliban.
Nasrin, a Fulbright scholar at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, had fled Afghanistan days earlier without her sister and family. Listening to him describe his nightmarish escape and his fears for his sister, it broke my heart.
I was already working on hyperdrive with friends around the world in an attempt to get a mutual friend and family out of hiding and get on a plane before the August 31 deadline. I had been working in almost a frenzy but was stopped in my tracks by the Nasrin podcast.
The idea that the instruments would be destroyed, that music would be banned, and that some musicians would be killed – not to mention what would happen to women and girls – touched me deeply. A few days later, Afghan folk singer Fawad Andarabi would be shot in the head.
I am an activist, born and raised by a feminist, artist, and disruptive mother and grandmother. I am a musician; I play the piano. I am a documentary photographer, daughter of a director of photography. I have traveled all over the world to photograph women and their cultures.
I founded a non-profit association for teenage girls, Teen Talking Circles, based on Bainbridge Island, and have run speaking circles for women and girls for 25 years. At 19, I lived with the first female rock group, Fanny, as a documentary photographer, and became one of the first female rock-n-roll photographers on the Joe Cocker Mad Tour. Dogs and Englishmen in 1970.
So when I heard Nasrin on the podcast telling his sister to destroy her guitar, my guts twitched, and then I got to work.
I first searched Google for “Kabul Girls Musicians” and found the Facebook page of a young woman named Negin Khpalwak, who was the first female conductor in Afghanistan and conducted Zohra, the first all-female Afghan orchestra. Immediately I felt the urge to get in touch with her, to tell her that someone halfway around the world was worried about her.
After she accepted my friend request, we started to send each other private messages, and so began what will certainly be a friendship for life. Negin’s story could have been taken from an episode of the Homeland TV series, but details must be kept confidential to protect those who remain.
Here is some of our correspondence:
August 16, 2021, 9:57 p.m.
Negin, hello, my name is Linda. I live on Bainbridge Island in Washington state USA, and I was heartbroken watching the news there, and saw you and the girl band and I was so sad and worried about you. If there is anything I can do, I have a lot of friends in the music industry. I want to help you.
Hi. Thank you very much, we are trying to get out of here Kabul, but we cannot get a visa yet. Thanks for feeling me.
August 17, 6:57 a.m.
I don’t know where or how to help, but I’ll try. I’m here for you if you just need an ear. If you need money, I can send it to you.
Thank you very much my dear. Now I have money when I need it I’ll tell you. I am applying for a Canada visa and a USA visa. I’m waiting for that.
Negin and I continued to communicate via Facebook that night and the next. I gave him my phone number and told him I would go work on his behalf. I then went back to work to get my friends out of Kabul.
Then, a week later, Negin let me know that she was in Virginia, but needed a place to live. I was shocked. I was starting to feel a little hopeless. All we had obtained in our efforts to help were form letters. I had started to feel that any luck for my friends was drowning in a tidal wave of fleeing people.
Negin told me that a man named Ajmal Subat had helped her. She gave me her name and phone number, and I called her immediately. He led the mission from the United States with a team in Afghanistan, led by a 27-year-old woman. I needed to know if he could help our friend out. He said he would try, and the first day he texted me saying he got it on a list.
Then the suicide bombing shattered everything. Kabul airport, already in chaos, is now in crisis. Everything stopped. But, on the other side of that horror, this group of some of Afghanistan’s most visible and creative women had been rooted out by Ajmal and her team.
Ajmal explained to me what the women and their families needed. They had been treated, had been vaccinated, and had been housed temporarily in donated Air guesthouses, but that was going to end in mid-September. They needed housing. They also needed therapy.
I suggested doing listening circles on Zoom. And then I got down to business calling all the clients, friends and contacts I had in the Washington area and those in the Pacific Northwest who could help or might know people they could ask for help. aid.
So far we’ve secured funding for AirBnB units in Washington for a full year for at least five women, and thanks to another friend from Bainbridge, we’ve secured a guesthouse for two other women. All funds are collected by Ajmal non-profit association, Restore Her Voice.
I have also secured funding pledges to offer Women’s Listening Circles on Zoom through Teenage Talking Circles and to train, if necessary, someone who speaks Pashtun and English to work with our facilitators. I am happy to say that my friend and his family still in Kabul are now at the top of the official US State Department list and may be evacuated soon. He and his family feel safe in a new hiding place at the moment.
I also contacted my musician friends to see if anyone would donate or buy a guitar. Ajmal told me that one of the women in her group was a journalist and classical guitarist. Just yesterday I found someone to help me.
Then, while writing this article, my husband, Eric, asked me, “Could the guitarist journalist be Nasrin’s sister?” I am relieved to report that Nasrin’s sister, whom she had to leave in Kabul, has been extirpated in the United States and now lives in Virginia.
I told Nasrin that it was because of his reporting that I was motivated to help. She said, “I’m so happy that at least it caused this good. I can’t explain how I live with a sense of survival guilt here since I left all my loved ones behind to be safe.
I am writing this to reach out to my community to help others leave Afghanistan and to contribute to Gofundme for Restore Her Voice to help resettle these women and their families at www.gofundme. com / f / resettleafghans. And watch this video of Negin from his bedroom in Virginia on September 3 at www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/day-music-died-afghanistans-all-female-orchestra-falls-silent-2021-09-03 /. It is powerful.
Linda Wolf lives on Bainbridge Island