Both of us were in tears when my mother told me her life story, about her sacrificed youth.
She started with a smile, talking about her high school in Kabul and how she was living happily with the whole family. Afghanistan had been flourishing under the government ruled by the President Najibullah Ahmadzai until the war between different ethnicities started the separation of the Afghan population. Mujahidin succeeded and took over Kabul at night time while all the city was sleeping.
My mother’s life changed overnight. It was impossible for her to go to school or walk outside the house without a man. A person who could fly freely, place to place, suddenly got caged in a space with no freedom. However, this was not enough, another dark cloud — called the Taliban — surrounded Kabul. It poured over Kabul like poison which brought a flood of blood–particularly affecting one ethnic group: Hazaras (a minority Shi’a community who were persecuted by majority groups). My mother’s family was part of this ethnic group. Without any involvement in the war, their life was threatened, so all the relatives decided to move to one of the closest cities: Baghlan.
My mother lived in Baghlan for a year. Soon the Taliban took over Kabul and headed towards other cities. The fear of the Taliban, who raped girls regardless of their age and killed all men, was spreading, so everyone believed that “girls should be married because it is safer.” My grandfather convinced my mother to marry a man who she had never seen or heard of and as his wish. My brother was on the way soon after.
People were waiting for the Taliban to come and agree with them to peace, but the news came that “they have no mercy on Hazaras, run away as soon as you can.” My mother with a newborn child in her arms, my father and his family ran away. They walked miles, climbed mountains because roadways were not safe, and rode hidden in trucks because they were Hazara, whose life was in danger if they were seen outside.
Finally, they reached Pakistan where new struggles started. My mother’s life changed completely in three years, as she lost her educational opportunities, got thrown between a completely stranger community, and became a mother without even knowing its meaning.
The war in Afghanistan was a war for power but it caused an ordinary school girl to lose her identity and struggle with problems that are not meant to be for her age. This was not only my mother’s story but that of all the girls in Afghanistan with the same situation.
After my family lived in Pakistan for five years, the Taliban were defeated by the American military and a new president, Hamid Karzai, was elected to make the country “peaceful” again. Afghans longed for peace after 16 years but the day never came. The violent attacks were rare at first, but it got worse over time. The families lost the hope for a peaceful country after waiting for endless years. So many people decided to leave the country, my family was one of them. Earlier this year, we immigrated to India, in search of security.
There is no happy ending after all. Refugees have to continue their life in the new country and they are continuously challenged economically, culturally, and socially. Another impact is the struggle to hold on to their cultural heritage.
When adults and children are exposed to a new environment, rules, and traditions they start to change in order to fit in. They will feel judged for their clothes and appearance; Muslim women wearing Hijab is an example of it.
Furthermore, teenage refugees do not get the emotional and physical support that they need from their parents. “The absence of parents may increase the vulnerability of youth” towards their surroundings. They will become more sensitive about small issues, which will cause emotional harms. However, it is more than just emotional harm. Young refugees soon forget their culture as some cultural festivals are not celebrated.
I struggled to keep my identity when I was sent away from my home to pursue a better education. I did not only leave my friends and relatives back in my homeland but left the family in isolation from the homeland as well. It was hard for me to fit into a new environment because of the different language and traditions. Even though my mom told me not to forget my true identity just because I was away from home, I soon got influenced by the new culture.
Despite the age difference, my mother and I had similar experiences. Forced migration affected both of us emotionally. Both of us could not forget the beloved ones who were left behind; both of us lost our roots; both of us felt like outsiders who could never feel at home.
There I was, looking at her tears rolling down her cheeks as she said, “It is happening again, history is repeating.”
It is like a vicious cycle that nobody can stop. Not only my mother or my family but the whole 36 million Afghan population have waited for the day that our country would gain its peace again. It is not about the physical hardship anymore, it is the agony of unfairness that burns in me and this pain will persist until the grieved Afghans return back to Afghanistan.
Those who have not experienced such a scenario might think that when refugees settle down in a new country, their struggle is over. However, refugees are continuously challenged by new struggles. When one experiences such struggle, it is more than just a story to be read and told. This struggle will never be over until there is a peaceful homeland for them to return.
Edited by Kyumin Kyung