From "Prisoners of Hope: The Story of Our Captivity and Freedom in Afghanistan." With permission from Doubleday.

August 3, 2001

Dayna: I was already behind schedule when I pulled the Aamirs' door shut and stepped into the courtyard. The air was hot and dry, and the late-afternoon sun played over the dirt yard. The gate to the alley, which the family usually left open, was bolted. Soofia's mother, who was washing clothes in a plastic tub, unlocked the gate and let me onto the mud alley.
She was the only family member out-of-doors. I had left everyone else in the room with Heather watching that film, which was playing in the DVD drive of my laptop.

I looked both ways before stepping from the alley onto the dirt road to make sure no Taliban guards were out. We always took this precaution when leaving Afghan homes, as the country's ruling Taliban forbade foreigners to visit with Afghans. The street was quiet. My taxi driver, Abdul, was waiting for me at the bottom of the hill. I quickly slipped into the back seat and we started down the unpaved road toward the Taliban checkpoint marking the entrance to Sherpur, the name for this Kabul neighborhood of mud houses.

The time was 4:30. I was due to meet Lillian and the others downtown before having to be back in our neighborhood, Wazir Akhbar Khan, by 6:00 for a meeting with my Shelter Now International (SNI) coworkers. At Lillians, I was to meet an Afghan woman whom we were considering introducing to our Afghan friend Rashid. I would have only a short time to visit and was thinking about the meeting as Abdul started down the bumpy road out of the Aamirs' neighborhood.

We hadn't gone ten feet when a young man dressed in civilian clothes and a colorful skullcap approached the passenger side of the car. He ordered Abdul to stop the taxi, but Abdul continued on. The young man repeated himself several times in an angry tone: "Stop! Stop!"

Finally, Abdul relented, and the stranger got into the front seat. I remembered having been warned that if an Afghan man ever got into my taxi I was supposed to get out and find another taxi. You were never to ride in a car with an Afghan man, and especially not a strange one.

Chera?" I asked Abdul in Dari, or Afghan Farsi. Why? Abdul was one of our regular taxi drivers and had been taking Heather and me around Kabul for months. He knew better than to let this man into the car.

Before Abdul had time to answer, the stranger turned to me and said, "Where's the other woman?" He spoke first in Pashtu, the language of the Taliban. Then he asked again in Dari so I could understand.

"I don't know you," I replied, unsure what was going on. "It's not right for you to ask about another girl. Who are you?"

The man ignored me.

"I'm going to a meeting," I said politely, though making it clear I was upset. "I don't know where you're going. I don't know if we're going in the same direction. Maybe I should get another taxi."

"Be quiet," the man snapped. "You don't need another taxi." He turned around and looked at me. His piercing blue eyes stunned me with their hatred. I had experienced the same feeling a month earlier when an Arab man standing on a corner in downtown Kabul spit in my direction as I walked by and then pelted me with a clod of dirt.

The man in the front seat took a walkie-talkie from his pocket and spoke into it, and within seconds a white Toyota Corolla hatchback pulled out in front of us carrying half a dozen men wearing large white turbans. These, I realized with a growing sense of unease, were the religious police from the Taliban's Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice--the men who whipped women begging alone on the street and beat men off their bicycles for failing to be at the mosque during prayer.

Now, with greater urgency, I told the man in the front seat as we drove on: "I have a meeting. I have to be there. Who are you? Where do you work?"

He didn't answer.

"Who are you?" I repeated. "Who are you with? Where do you work?"

The man seemed greatly annoyed with my talking. "Ryaasat, ryaasat," he said sharply. Government, government.

I changed my approach: "Please take me to my boss. He lives just over here in Wazir. I am a girl alone. This is not right."

"You can see your boss later," he said.

Abdul kept a cool expression, but I saw fear in his eyes. He looked at me apologetically in the rearview mirror.

We came to the end of the neighborhood road and slowed down to take a right into the main street.

Many taxis waited at the intersection. I thought I would try to get out of Abdul's taxi and into another one. I opened the car door while we were still moving.

The man in the front seat saw what I was thinking and radioed to the Toyota of Taliban in front of us. We stopped abruptly. Before I could make a move, one of the white-turbaned mena got out of his vehicle and came around to the back seat of our car. He got in beside me and laid a whip across his lap.