"It was really exciting: I saw the schoolteacher; I saw the school uniform, with the white scarf, the white pants, and the black top; and I loved it when my mother bought them for me," she says. "I knew – these are mine."
Now in college, she shares a room with three other girls from different ethnic groups and provinces. None of them play on ethnic stereotypes; all are fierce defenders of a single Afghan nationhood. "We are all so optimistic," she says. "We want to do something for Afghanistan."
Zahra Khawari, a senior in English literature at Kabul University and simultaneously a freshman in business at the American University of Afghanistan, is an Afghan national who grew up as a refugee in Iran and didn't arrive here until 2005. But she's seen dramatic changes in the educational opportunities for women.
Like many Afghans, she worries the Taliban will return and reverse all of the gains Afghan women have made. But she thinks Afghans are more educated now and less tolerant of a backward and ill-educated government.
"All the people worry, but I won't leave," she says. "I want to do what I came here to do, and that is to serve my people. The Taliban won't be so successful with the new generation. [It is] very tired of war."
IN PICTURES – Inside Afghanistan: Remnants of America's longest war
CORROSION OF CORRUPTION
When the Taliban were in power, Abdul Bashir was a university student with few job prospects. The Kabul he lived in at that time was mainly an empty city of bullet-pocked homes, shabby mosques, and dusty unpaved streets. White sport utility vehicles dominated the roads, driven by foreign aid workers, although Taliban pickup trucks also spirited through town full of bearded soldiers heading off to war in the north.