The immigration officer checked my passport one more time and asked me a few more questions than he had asked the other passengers, so it took a bit longer than it did with everyone else. He told me to put my veil behind my ears so they would be visible to the camera, and I did so. He let me go, but his eyes remained looking at me above his glasses.
I went outside the airport and saw a person standing with a pink board saying “Woodstock School.” I was told that he would be waiting for me, so I went to him and said, “Excuse me, sir. Are you here to pick me up?” He replied, “Yes, yes, are you the student from Afghanistan?” He looked lost and mesmerized meeting me … but I could not care less because a whole new world was waiting for me on the Mussoorie hillside. Coming from a place like Afghanistan, where freedom is a myth, I could not wait to create a new life at a new school. But things do not always go as we want.
As soon as I got to the school, I realized that my life, actions, and decisions had already been decided. “Yeah, I heard about Afghanistan’s situation. I am sorry,” they would say with pitiful eyes looking at me. “Yeah, thanks,” I would reply, thinking, “What else could I say?”
In classrooms, eyes would look at me when the word “Muhammad” came up; as if they could see something in me. Teachers would ask me, “Being an Afghan, what do you think about this issue?” expecting a different answer than everyone else. Their eyes would desperately wait for the words to come out of my mouth so that they could nod their heads and say, “That is great.” And I would answer such questions wondering why they never asked other students.
Is the perspective of a girl from a war-torn country like Afghanistan really that interesting and shocking for them to know? Or it should be that way?
Once during homeroom, students were doing an activity: whoever agreed to the statement proposed by the teacher would go to the right corner and whoever disagreed would go to the other. One of the statements was as follows: “Swearing is okay sometimes.” Everyone went to the left corner, except for five people.
I went to the right.
One of the students called me and asked, “Muzhgan! You agree?” I said yes. I heard voices whispering, “Muslim, Mus…slim.” I asked the people standing next to me why. They said, “Do you agree with the statement that it is okay to use curse words,” and I was confused. I responded, “Isn’t it like promising, like making a solemn statement?” And they laughed.
Then I understood what was going on, so I ran to the left side. Yes, it was funny. Even though it was a misunderstanding, I realized how my actions were already predicted by everyone: if you are a Muslim, you do not curse. I was expected to be on the left side, regardless of my thoughts and opinions.
There is a saying among Afghan people: “If you go to the river, you drink from the river.” Even though it cannot be exactly interpreted in English, it means: whoever goes to the river, it is obvious that he or she will drink from it–as a fact.
They thought I was the one “going to the river,” so I should, as well, drink from the river. Drinking is not the issue; the problem is the fact that they expected me to drink from the river. They were even telling me to drink from the river and would judge me if I refused to do so. They thought they knew every step I was going to take. They believed they could predict me.
I said, I have pain in this heart and asked what should I do about it? They told me to share it and it will be reduced. I accepted it. I shared my experiences, thoughts, and opinions. Feelings like happiness and sadnesses.
When I said this wound in my heart hurts, they said it is beautiful. When I showed them the agony I went through, they said that is special. When I cried in pain, they said it is amazing.
I wondered how I could turn it into pieces and show it to them so that they understand me. I turned it into pieces and showed it to them, they said they are flabbergasted. So I was convinced that maybe, humans are just humans.
These days, I am starting to think that my wounds are actually beautiful and my agony is interesting.
These days, I am starting to think that I am not seen as an individual but as a stereotype of how an Afghan girl should be.
One thought on “Identity crisis: expectations confuse even me”
Thank you, Muzhgan. I hope you can keep being you, with your brave sharing of your individual story and wounds. It is you yourself who are beautiful, despite the pain and agony.