When she closes her eyes, Mohadese Mirzaee can still picture herself as a child. «I always wanted to have some wings and fly» she says. Pilots are born. And then you become one. Fighting, day after day, until you reach the sky. The wonderful everyday life of Mohadese was suddenly shattered. Overnight. She went from Afghanistan to Bulgaria, with the hope of returning (soon) up there, amongst the clouds, behind the controls of a Boeing 737.

The story of our speaker resembles that of many, many Afghan citizens. A real escape. From Kabul, from the Talibans who are once again in power. Besides, where would you have been in Mohadese’s place? Let’s rephrase: what would the extremists have done to her if she had stayed? So young, so determined, so Western in pursuing and wanting a different life. To stay, well, that would have been dangerous, to say the least. All the more so for a woman pilot, the first one ever in Afghanistan.

I was thinking to myself: it’s going to be a normal day at work, with the usual security issues, but eventually I’ll get home and have a cup of green tea with my mom and sisters.«It was night, it’s still night». By the time the Taliban (re)captured the capital, Mohadese was at the airport. She was wearing her Kam Air uniform. Her schedule that day included an evening flight to Istanbul. A few short hours earlier, she had said goodbye to her family and left home. She had never imagined that she would never return home. Nor to find herself, as a passenger, on another flight. Destination Kiev, Ukraine, far away from the terror. The aircraft took off as night, in every sense of the word, was falling on Kabul. «It’s still dark,« Mohadese continues, embracing the metaphor. «The fall of the city came quickly. It took me months to come to my senses, as if I was unable or unwilling to believe that Afghanistan had gone backwards.

The life of Mohadese has been turned upside down. At just twenty-three years old, she found herself alone. In Bulgaria. «After what I went through, it wasn’t easy to get back to some kind of normalcy. It’s not fair to have been put through that. I speak for myself but also for my co-citizens. At some point, however, you have to find the strength. The strength to go on as much and more than ever before. To find a reason even when it is impossible to find one. To make ourselves a valid reason to continue fighting. I, for one, try to hold the pieces of my heart together. And I hope so much for a better tomorrow.»

«If I can take a plane to the sky anything is possible.»

An adjective that is often overused in our part of the world, resilient, fits perfectly to describe Mohadese. Accustomed to flying, she is forced to the ground by contingencies. Eager to make a difference in Afghanistan, she was forced to flee and take shelter in Bulgaria. « Prior to the return of the Taliban, we Afghani women took the opportunity offered to us. The one to fight for our rights. We seized the moment to help build our country. Compared to forty years ago, I would say that we have done an excellent job.

A job that was interrupted, abruptly, by the Taliban. «But I want all Afghan girls and women to continue to fly. To study. To work. I myself am struggling. And I’m not giving up. Life is not always the way we want it to be. Some things, many things are beyond our control. We must, however, bring out the best in every situation. To try to make good choices. To keep faith and hope. By working hard, I have the belief, I can get back up there in the clouds soon. And if I can take a plane into the sky, it means that other women can also conquer something impossible.»

Noble words and sentiments, which sadly clash with the current reality. «I consider myself lucky because my family members have also have been evacuated from Kabul. I am in contact with them on a daily basis. Politics, in Afghanistan, is something I can never predict or understand. Right now, it goes without saying, we are in the hands of closed people. Their minds are left over from centuries and centuries ago. They do not conceptualize the presence of us women, let alone accept our capabilities.»

As a child, I longed for wings to sprout from my back. That’s why I became a pilot: when I’m in the cabin, my body becomes one with the plane.

«Fear and Despair

Flying, we said. To be and feel free. This is what many Afghans believed shortly after the arrival of the Taliban in Kabul. Convinced, in their desperation, that by clinging to a U.S. Air Force C-17 as it took off, they would avoid the worst. Some fell from the sky. Into the void. «When I saw those scenes, I immediately thought of one feeling: fear.

«Fear of the Taliban. No one, on the other hand, under normal conditions would cling to a plane like that. It was really sad. I wondered from the beginning who would have stayed in Afghanistan if it had been possible to satisfy every desire to escape. No one, I think. A just government should be working for the good of its people, not scaring them to the point of forcing people to cling to the undercarriage of a plane.»

Mohadese closes her eyes. She imagines herself as a child. She smiles. She tries to smile. «The passion for flying started at a young age, as I said. I have always loved and admired science, as well as the complexity of machines. I’ve always loved the clouds and the stars, too. When I was a child, I really wanted wings to grow out of my back. That’s why I became a pilot: when I’m in the cockpit, my body becomes one with the plane. And that’s when I finally feel I have the wings I’ve been dreaming of.

Conquering the sky was not easy. «I worked a lot. I did a lot of trial and error. Kam Air, however, believed in me. It supported my studies and training. In August 2020, I received my certification to fly B737s. I was the first, among women.» A pioneer. Who would love to get excited one more time. With her head in the clouds.

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