Fatima Haidari gives European tourists tours of her country Afghanistan via Zoom, and the proceeds from these virtual tours fund secret English classes for women in Afghanistan.
Italy-based Fatima Haidari is fully aware that her dream of opening a travel agency in Afghanistan is slim to none, at least as long as the Taliban rule there. So she now takes people on Zoom tours of her country, and the proceeds from these virtual tours help finance confidential English classes for women in Afghanistan.
In 2021, Fatima was forced to leave Afghanistan after the Taliban took over. Before that, she worked as a tour guide in Herat, Afghanistan. Today she is studying international politics at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy. Along with this, she is also determined to introduce the rest of Dina to the beauty of Afghanistan, and in the context of the changing situation since 2021, even the decrease in the arrival of tourists in Afghanistan has not dampened her passion.
“When you think of Afghanistan, you think of war, terror and bombs, but I want to show the world its beauty, solidarity and history,” she says. In Milan, Fatima lives in a flat with four other students, from where she gives ‘cyber-tourists’ tours of Herat via Zoom. During these tours, tourists get to see Herat’s Jama Masjid, historic fort and bustling bazaar. These tours are organized by British tour operator Intimate Borders, with people from the UK, Australia, Germany and India fulfilling their desire to visit Afghanistan.
Fatima’s journey to Bocconi University
The Taliban have imposed strict restrictions on women in Afghanistan since coming to power, including banning them from attending schools and universities. Fatima also faced restrictions and difficult conditions in Afghanistan. After becoming the first female Afghan tour guide, she also faced insults and was even accused of “satanic work” by local religious leaders. This happened especially when they were accompanied by male tourists. According to Fatimah, on such occasions, boys in the streets would throw stones at her.
Recognizing the same plight faced by Afghan women, today Fatima spends a third of her income from virtual tours to finance confidential English classes for women in Afghanistan. He himself had been struggling to get an education and access to books. His childhood was spent in the mountainous region of Afghanistan. She is the youngest of seven siblings and at an early age was entrusted by her parents to look after the sheep.
Recalling this period, Fatima told AFP that she used to take sheep to graze by the river, where there was also a school for boys. In this school, when the students were studying, Fatima used to listen secretly and since she did not have a pen, she used to write the lesson with her finger on clay or sand. When she was ten years old, her family moved to Herat, but due to poverty, she could not enroll in school there either. Fatima says she stayed up all night for three years making traditional clothes at home so that she could save money to pay school fees and buy books.
She eventually managed to convince Fatima’s parents to let her go to university in Herat, where she began studying journalism in 2019. She says her parents wanted her to be a “perfect housewife” but she did not want an arranged marriage like her two sisters. Therefore, she continued to pursue education and in September last year, she was among the 20 Afghan refugee students who were admitted to Bocconi University in Milan.
Today, when Fatima wears a black scarf, a sleeveless leather jacket, jeans and boots to university, she is indistinguishable from the rest of the students. She seems to be one of them, but she has not forgotten the plight of women in Afghanistan. Describing the conditions of the women there, Fatima said, “They are imprisoned in their homes, just as if they were locked in a prison or buried alive in a grave.” And thus, Fatima does not find it possible to fulfill her dream of returning to Afghanistan.
The local tour operator that Fatima worked for in Afghanistan warned her that she might be targeted after the Taliban regime was installed, after which she decided to leave the country.
As she left Afghanistan, she described Kabul airport as she saw thousands of helpless people desperately trying to get on the plane while “the Taliban were shooting people with Kalashnikovs, bullets in my ear.” “I was passing by and a girl fell right next to me and died. I thought I was in a horror movie but it was all happening.”
After seeing grim sights and unsuccessful attempts to board ships bound for America and Poland, Fatima finally managed to board a ship bound for Rome. She still dreams of going back to Afghanistan to open her own travel agency there. She wants to run a travel agency in Afghanistan that employs women as guides, but she says, “As long as the Taliban are in Afghanistan, it can’t be my home.”
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