ISLAMABAD, Aug 24 (Openly) - In September 2021, Openly published the diary of a gay man based in Kabul, one month after the Taliban took full control of Afghanistan.
The impact of the diary, written over one week, was enormous, with British lawmaker John Nicolson reading from it during a parliamentary debate on LGBTQ+ Afghan refugees.
But what happened to the diarist, a former English teacher who had lost his job and was then hiding from possible death at the hands of the new Islamist regime?
A year on from the fall of Kabul on Aug. 15, Openly recontacted the man, whose name we are not publishing to protect his identity, to find out what happened next.
In a three-part diary, he told us his thoughts and feelings - and experience of fleeing Afghanistan for neighbouring Pakistan as he tries to make it to the West.
Part III - Life as a gay man in Pakistan
Pakistan is a hell hole.
I had to leave my family. I had to leave my friends, everything I worked for – my profession, my education, my career. Once the Taliban had taken control of Afghanistan, I had no choice but to leave.
Leaving my family was incredibly hard. I used to be the person who supported them financially, even though I was the youngest of my siblings. My two brothers were away at university, so it was left to me to buy food and pay the rent.
I told my mother that I'd got a student visa to study in Pakistan.
She'd been asking for months why I had been acting weird, but of course I couldn't tell her the real reason. I told her that one of the universities I'd applied to had accepted me – and I hated lying to her, it was so painful.
Fortunately, one of my brothers is now working, so is able to feed the family, but I still feel so guilty for leaving. I miss them so much.
When I first stepped out into Islamabad International Airport, faced with police officers, I was terrified.
I had no experience of travelling; I had never left Afghanistan before.
The first few days in Pakistan, I was miserable, very very miserable.
I called one of my British friends (who provided financial support after reading the 2021 diaries), and told him I want to go back home. He reassured me that I'd done the right thing.
I knew there was no future for me in Afghanistan, no possibility of an education or simply of living in the country. I knew there was the danger of being killed, but I wanted to go home. I wanted to go home so badly.
And now I'm living in Pakistan; I'm living in this hell.
Before coming to Pakistan, I presumed international LGBTQ+ organisations would help me, but it turned out there was no programme for us. Food, accommodation – it's all very expensive and I worry every day how I can afford to live here.
When I first arrived, it was 42 degrees Celsius (107.6°F)outside. I lived for the first couple of days in a hotel room with air conditioning.
But my pride took over and I had to leave. I couldn't accept charity from my British friends as I just felt too guilty.
Now, I live in a small room with a very small bathroom. There's a bed in one corner, a wardrobe by the wall and chest of drawers. And that's it. That's my life: reduced to one room.
The room does have air conditioning, but it's so noisy I can't sleep.
I think all the time whether I should go home. I have no friends here. Pakistan is still dangerous for me as a gay man – homosexuality is a crime here.
But my options are limited. I'm trying to get into Canada or the UK, but it's difficult.
Determined to do something positive, I decided to study for the International English Language Testing System (which is mandatory for visas to study, migrate or work in the UK or Canada).
It was hard to study in my room as it's so hot – I just couldn't concentrate.
But I recently took the test and passed. This will help me apply for universities. Even if I get a place, I may not be allowed in.
Life is better in Pakistan than it was in Afghanistan, but I don't know what is going to happen day to day.
I have to keep myself motivated, particularly in terms of my mental health. The challenges I face every day in Pakistan are incredible and I'm so grateful for the friends I have who keep me going. But it is difficult. It is so difficult.
I hope to get to Canada. I hope to get to the UK. I hope I can start my life again.
I had my dreams, my goals, in Afghanistan. Now, I am now just living for the day when I can have them again.
This is his story as told to Openly Editor, Hugo Greenhalgh. The diary entries have been edited and condensed for clarity.
This is Part III in a three part series. For more in this series:
Escape from Kabul: Part I - Life of a gay man in Afghanistan
Escape from Kabul: Part II - a gay man flees Afghanistan
Kabul diary: A gay Afghan tries to flee the Taliban
A year in exile: Afghan refugees tell of fresh starts
LGBT+ Afghans fear being forgotten 100 days since Taliban takeover
LGBT+ Afghans left behind say world turned its back on them
(Reporting by Anonymous; Editing by Katy Migiro and Hugo Greenhalgh. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.
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