A life on the run. A childhood lived among human smugglers and violence, the cultural clash between West and East and the prejudices in our society. These are some of the reasons why this young girl has never felt at home in any country. With a surprising calm and strength she tells us her story.
My parents were both from Iran, they met while studying Business and Economics in Moscow and then moved to Afghanistan where I was born. We were a prosperous family but it didn´t last. When I was three years old we had to escape the country.
The Taliban regime, aided by the USA, fought the Russians and took control. Afghanistan, once an advanced country, fell under the Sharia law and everyone who helped aid the Russians was to be prosecuted. Since my parents had Russian friends and connections we had to flee the country as political exiles. We went to Moscow.
In Moscow I went to school and learnt some Russian. Since my parents weren´t allowed to work there, they spent the nights cooking and the days selling food in street markets. We were very poor – a family of four all living in a tiny room, my parents, my older brother and myself.
My parents heard that Europe was accepting immigrants, and with the money they saved they paid human smugglers to take three of us to Belgium, my father was to stay behind. I was happy my father wasn´t coming since he was an alcoholic and always beat us up; when I was three I was sent to the hospital after one of his beatings, but my mother and brother got hit the most, in particular my brother, who at times dared to talk back to our father.
So the three of us left Russia. The trip was mostly walking, but also with carriages and cars, and we always travelled by night. All our possessions were carried by my mother who had wrapped all our clothes around her body – since they didn’t allow us to bring bags. We were a group of about 50 people at start, but then we were divided into smaller groups with young people chosen to care of the weaker ones.
What I remember most was the fear of getting caught or left behind. One night while walking in the woods my mother’s foot got stuck and she tripped. Nobody stopped to help as me and my brother tried to get her back on her feet but couldn’t, I was panicking as I saw everyone fading away in the distance, but we couldn’t cry for help because we were forbidden to make noise. I’ve never felt so helpless. In the end my brother managed to get her up and we chased the group, but I don’t want to know what would have happened if we hadn’t.
Other times we slept in houses, once we stayed in a very small flat hidden with other people. We weren’t allowed to leave of the house, make noise, or turn on the lights or pull up the curtains; no one could know we lived there. Every week someone knocked on the door and left a sack of food for us, I think we stayed there for a month, and when I was finally feeling at home, they brought another group of people inside and we had to leave – back into the woods.
One time we got caught. The smugglers had lost their fear and decided to take the roads during the day, and when we arrived at a village everyone started taking fruit from the trees which drew lots of attention and got us sent to a police station, and from there, thrown on a bus and moved back to the previous country, I think that was in Czech Republic but I never knew exactly where we were as we never talked to the others because our mother had warned us not to trust anyone.
After seven months of travelling, one rainy day, a car picked us up in the woods then kicked us out in a parking lot where it was raining even more. We had arrived in Germany. My mom managed to call one of my uncles who lived there, he picked us up and we stayed at his place for two weeks recovering from the trip, and after that he took us to Belgium where we stayed at the house of another aunt for a month. During this time my mom had to make up a story to tell to the authorities in order to get a visa.
When we asked for asylum they took us to a centre where we lived in a metal container for another month as they kept questioning my mother. Apparently our story wasn’t sad enough so she had to make it even worse and they gave us the “A” status, meaning we were Belgian citizens from then on. We lived in three different asylums for a year, where they gave us food and we could go to school. We never had money to buy anything but one day we received lots of toys from charity – that was the happiest day of my childhood.
After that we finally got a house. We moved there thanks to social welfare and my mum got a job cleaning houses, which I helped with often. That went great for another year until my father came. He flew to Belgium and got his “A” status thanks to us, without having to suffer any of our drama. I hated him for that. As soon as he came the beatings started again and my mum finally went to the police. He got very violent when he found out and that day the police picked me up from the school. They took us straight to a police station and from there we moved to a flat, and then to a women’s shelter. I couldn’t even say goodbye to my house. Once again I was homeless and with no possessions.
Six months after living in a women’s shelter with other victims of abuse we finally moved to a house with a secret address. So it wasn’t until I was eight years old that I finally felt at home, and I started going to a normal school and there I found new problems.
When you are an immigrant in Belgium it’s very easy to notice that you are unwanted. Teachers never gave me the same chances that they gave to ethnic Belgian students, but I loved studying and spent all my time in the library. I also couldn’t fit in the Belgian culture because of my own cultural heritage, my mum wouldn’t allow me to go out with my friends, sleep over in other houses and all those things everyone else would do.
Time went by and when I was finally 18 and ready to go to college, I moved to another city on my own and finally started taking control over my life. I wanted to fit in from the very first day, so I changed my name, which is Persian, to a more European one. I did this because I become tired of the prejudice, I didn’t want to be judged from the very first day when no one actually knows anything about what I have gone through. I just wanted to be normal and blend in.
I always liked to be with other foreigners, international people who were as lost and clueless as I was, and since then things have become better.
I don’t have my own culture, instead influences from many. I have learned lots of lessons during my life and I’ve realised that I don’t need to belong anywhere. I’m never homesick because I never really had a home. I will always be grateful to Belgium for all their economical support and the shelter they provided me but now I must leave. I just want to travel around the world and keep developing myself. After all why would you attach yourself to just a place when you can make the whole world your home?