Mursal  ·  Afghanistan

The Taliban Came and Gave Me a Warning, But I Did Not Stop

A trained dermatologist from Afghanistan struggles to find a way to practice in the United States as a refugee.

Edited by Heather Oman
Doctors coat

My name is Mursal. I am from Afghanistan. I am a doctor.

I graduated from Ariana University of Higher Education with an MD. Here, my degree doesn't work. It is very difficult for me. I’m glad we are safe now, but it is very hard to start over. And the most important thing is my education.

In Afghanistan, everything is different for a woman who wants to do school. I like university and studying. Some societies are very dangerous and some of our fellow students do not have an open mind and they don’t like women to go to school.

I went to a private university (an internationally supported private non profit in Darulaman, Kabul). I was very excited when I got in, because I had to take specific exams to be accepted. Also, I had nobody to support me financially. My mother wanted to support me, but she was a teacher and a teacher’s salary in Afghanistan is not very high. I had to pay for tuition myself. So I worked hard and I studied hard. And because I was a top student, I didn’t have to pay full price.

It is challenging because some of the schools don’t accept girls. But some of them are open minded. And they accepted girls in our class. It was a big class. There were about 115 people in the class and all of them were fighting for good grades. Every time I was the top student. The men didn’t like me, they don’t like a woman being one of the top students. But women were always the best. 1,2,3 and I was always at the top.

Many women doctors in Afghanistan choose to be gynecologists. But I wanted to do something different. So I chose dermatology.

After I graduated, I got married, and my husband and I moved to Balkh, Afghanistan. I started to do some laser therapy to help remove scars on women. So many women were scarred from domestic violence and trauma, and my laser treatments helped with those scars. I also did some other treatments. I did some Botox, as well as some other surgeries, like vaginal tightening, which is good for urinary incontinence. I was the first one to do cosmetology, and the women liked the treatments and accepted me. Beauty is very important to women. I became a very famous doctor. I had my own clinic.

Often, women would come to me and ask me not to share their name. They wanted to stay anonymous. But that woman would tell a friend, and her friend would come, and so even though I did not advertise, I still had women coming to me. I grew my practice through word of mouth. When I helped a woman with her scars or blemishes on her face, she would be happy. I know I made a difference in their lives. I always tried to do my best for Afghan health and wellness.

This only lasted for one year.

The Taliban came and gave me a warning. They told me what I was doing was not allowed in our religion. God made our faces, they said, and you are not allowed to make changes. But I did not stop. Because of that, they came and broke my machines.

After that, we moved to Kabul, because Kabul was still safe. I contacted Arizona State University (ASU) for help. I had taken a business course, 10,000 women, which was linked through ASU, and they helped me escape Afghanistan. The dean of Thunderbird (Thunderbird School of Global Management, the business school at ASU) is a very good man. I found him on social media, and he said he wanted to get me out. So they helped me. We left in August, 2021.

At the airport, it was very bad. There were so many people, everybody was trying to leave. There was a long dirty river, like a trench, and everybody was moving around in it, trying to push through and show their documents to the officials. We showed our documents to a soldier, and got out. But we only had one backpack, and were only allowed to bring diapers and baby formula. I could not bring any other documentation about my work or anything. We flew to Qatar, to Germany, and then to the US.

I have not been able to practice medicine since I came here. I have tried to find some creative solutions, some way to work, but the US won’t accept my credentials. I’ve tried to do some paperwork, and tried to find a way, but I’m not sure how to do it.

And my patients still call me. I have a different number, and still I get messages from women who ask, where are you, doctor? I want to come to you.

My son has some health problems too, and that can be difficult. He has a seizure disorder. Also my baby got sick, and we went to urgent care, or something like that. They couldn’t find a vein. 10 people tried to find his vein and couldn’t. For me, it is very easy to find a vein! I respect all doctors, because they spend a lot of time becoming a doctor. But that was a bad memory for me.

But I am glad I am here. It’s so crazy what the Taliban have done to educated women in Afghanistan. They don’t allow them to go outside unless their hands and their faces are covered. I also worry about men who are educated. It’s a very hard time for them too.

I had to leave everything, but I’m happy that my family is safe and that my children have a future here.

They will grow up here, without war. We will try our best to be positive in an educated society.

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