She wears a bright green tunic and black leggings with a zebra print. Her lightly highlighted hair sits on top of a gold jacket with a fur collar. She smiles a pink-lipped smile and when she speaks of Afghanistan, her dark, lined eyes go wide.
“Our country is a backward country and we need more time,” she said. “We are better in the future.”
Shahera Nabizada is 23. She first came to the United States on November 10, when she moved here to join her husband, Ghulam, 33, who has lived in Bolingbrook, Ill., for eight years.
Both originally come from Mazar-I-Sharif, a city in the northern part of Afghanistan.
Shahera would have been just eight years old when the Taliban took over Kabul in 1996. She said she remembers not going to school, having to wear a burqa that covered her body, and only being allowed to go outside when accompanied by a man.
“That was a very bad time and I remember that we don’t go to schools and it’s not allowed from Taliban to go to school for girls,” she said. “And we stay at home at that time and in this case they [the Taliban] were backward. After that, we can go to schools and now it’s good.”
According to the U.S. Department of State, under Taliban rule, all women were required to wear the burqa, including girls as young as eight or nine. Make up and nail polish were also prohibited.
“The Taliban thought that they want to improve Islam in our country at that time, but it’s not true,” she said. “They misused from Islam,” she said.
In Mazar-I-Sharif, Shahera said there was a secret school where girls could go to be home schooled. But it was illegal under the Taliban.
When she was 12, Shahera said she remembers walking with her father in downtown Mazar-I-Sharif and seeing a man who was hanged on the side of the street.
She will never forget, she said, that the man had one shoe still on his foot, while the other shoe had fallen to the ground.
Her father, a doctor, was killed by the Taliban in 2001. Shahera said it is unclear exactly what happened.
“I scared, and for all it was so difficult,” she said. “At the time, my uncle came in my house and we were living together. Because we were all so small, we were too young to do everything by ourselves.”
While her husband Ghulam came to the U.S. in 2002 as a refugee who was reuniting with family, Shahera came, not as a political refugee, but as a young bride looking to begin a new life.
In 2009, the United States resettled over 60,000 refugees. By comparison, Canada, which took in 10,804 refugees, came in second out of the 16 other countries that took in refugees that year.
The influx of Afghan refugees in the U.S. has been low since 2001 because they are not considered high risk by NATO, which currently lists Iraqi, Bhutanese and Burmese refugees as the displaced groups most in need of resettlement.
According to data from the Illinois Bureau of Refugee and Immigrant Services, in 2004 there were 35 Afghan refugees placed in Illinois. This number dropped to 15 in 2005, and from 2006 to 2010, the number was in the single digits.
Dr. Edwin Silverman, chief of the Illinois Bureau, said the issue is complicated by the fact that Afghanistan is technically an ally of the U.S.
“Part of what drives resettlement numbers is the political pressures or political relationship between the country of temporary refuge and the receiving country,” he said.
Many Afghan refugees, he said, are fleeing to Pakistan, where some choose to stay, but others long to go home.
“It’s a shame that there are many Afghan refugees that are sort of caught in a limbo,” he said.
Sadiqa Rashan, 39, is Shahera’s sister-in-law. Like Ghulam, she has been in the states for eight years.
Rashan, who just returned from a trip to Mazar-I-Sharif, said the city is transformed since she left. Gas and electricity have been restored and new businesses are developing.
“The people before, not too much food, not too much job. Nothing. Now, everybody working. Everybody good food, everybody busy. I like it. All the streets are fixed,” she said. “Before I am so sad. Now, it is better.”
Like Shahera, Sadiqa also lived in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. On her trip, Sadiqa made a point to visit her old house. It used to be the most beautiful house on the block and when she came back, she said she barely recognized it among the other newer houses.
“So small and too old,” she said.
Sadiqa, who attended nursing school before the Taliban came, said she found an appropriate place for her burqa when she came to the U.S.
“I throw it in the garbage,” she said, laughing. “Take out everything, I’m free!”
Shahera, new to the late night hours of Best Buys and Targets, said she is amazed that the stores in Bolingbrook stay open as long as they do. In Mazar-I-Sharif, she said everything closes at 8pm.
Ghulam said his wife appreciates the variety and accessibility of the stores.
“She’s so happy my house is so close to the shopping. Everyday it’s come home and go to shopping,” he said.
“As you know,” Shahera said with her pink smile, “all girls like shopping.”