"My dreams are gone."
"It is already too late for me."
"My life has been destroyed."
At first, the words pouring from the mouth of the girl with jewel eyes hemmed in kohl sound like a typical teenage lament.
Her tone is plain and without melodrama - she believes what she says. And there are plenty of reasons she should.
In the span of about one year, the 15-year-old, named Sitara, has been yanked out of school, off a path that hinted at promise, and sold by her father for 700,000 Afghanis (about $15,000) into a marriage that, already, she has "nothing left for."
"It seems like men take women as servants, so they can be abusive towards them," she explained in a hushed on-camera interview conducted secretly in Kandahar while her husband was at work. "It's not just the husband, there's also the mother-in-law, sister-in-law and brother-in-law, and they all rule over me; … whenever I do something bad, anyone who gets angry with me beats me."
Rather than poring over textbooks, Sitara has spent most of her sophomore year willing herself to feel love for the illiterate, middle-aged Kandahari who is now her husband, learning to look after his family's livestock and reconfiguring her singed plans for the future into a form compatible with her new life as this wife.
"And even now, I don't want my husband," she said. "I come from a very open-minded family, but since I've come to this family, I feel that my life has been destroyed."
Having come of age in a time of great transition and new hope in her country, Sitara is keenly aware of how she was felled by its old traditions. Over the past eight years, Canada alone has spent $10-billion in its effort to rebuild Afghanistan; improving the situation of women in Kandahar - the most fundamentalist of Afghanistan's 34 provinces - was originally an intended byproduct of the mission.
But lately, deteriorating security has forced Kandahar's women to began forfeiting gains they only recently won: They are quitting jobs instead of seeking them, dropping out of class rather than signing up, slipping on burkas instead of shedding them. And despite constitutional guarantees and legal changes aimed at providing equality to women and ending practices such as bride buying, the status of women these days is little changed from that of their forebears.
With the help of a local female videographer, The Globe and Mail set out to capture the lives of women who live in Kandahar, one of Afghanistan's most conservative, volatile cities. A combination of long-held traditions and poor security have long prevented the city's women from talking freely to journalists. For years, their stories have largely gone untold.
Over five weeks, 10 "average" women, ranging in age from 14 to 50 and in education from well schooled to illiterate, sat for on-camera interviews with an Afghan videographer, allowing The Globe unprecedented access. Each was each asked the same basic slate of questions (which were written by a Globe reporter but posed by an Afghan interviewer without the reporter present), exploring everything from their daily rhythms and hopes for the future to their thoughts on politics and whether they had ever driven a car.
Ten complex portraits emerged, offering a rare glimpse into the mundane - and sometimes disturbing - aspects of daily life in Kandahar. While no two stories are the same, the women all share a suffocating sense that the boundaries of their lives are predetermined and impenetrable.
This is partly a result of the war raging in their country. But it is chiefly because they are women rooted in the country's most conservative place.
Even Kandahar's most progressive females, some educated in the West, have been in retreat, slipping into traditional dress and roles to mute the progressiveness that - emboldened by slow reform in their country - some had begun to display. The reason? A surge in violence in Kandahar highlighted by a chilling series of assassinations of their female colleagues and friends.
It's difficult to determine whether women in Kandahar are actually being targeted at an increased rate. But the answer is irrelevant to the city's women, who see themselves as more vulnerable now than any time since the collapse of Taliban rule in 2001.