Photo Credit: Martin Gyce
“We fled from the civil war in Afghanistan when I was three years old. At that time we could not stay there, but even before it was difficult, since as Sikhs we were a minority in Kabul. With the Taliban-regime it became impossible for us to live there.
I don’t remember our escape since I was too young, but I cannot forget our early days in Germany. For two years, we had to move from shelter to shelter, until we were finally allowed to live in our own flat. We had very nice neighbours there. They helped us out – for example by accompanying my parents to buy furniture.
Of course we children learned the language faster than our parents. Therefore we had to help them a lot – for example in dealing with the authorities. Today it is an advantage for me, I can cope with the bureaucracy pretty well and am supporting refugees with that.
The time here as a refugee has not been easy. There was always that insecurity of will we be able to stay, how long can we stay and where? Our family is scattered throughout Europe, and before we had citizenship, we were not allowed to leave our residency-district so we could not see them. Now however, we have citizenship and I am happy to have family to visit all over Europe.
There was always a certain pressure. My parents had great difficulties finding work, but had to prove to the state that they could provide for us, that they were getting integrated. Therefore they worked a lot of hours, for very little money. Germany luckily introduced a minimum wage, so these things don’t happen anymore.
Even for us children there was the pressure to succeed, good grades in school were important. I was shocked when I even had to show my school report to the aliens department to prove my ‘special success in integration’.
My parents speak Punjabi to us, not Dari, because we are Sikh. Therefore I am not the Afghan woman people imagine. There is often rejection, but also a somewhat weird curiosity. My classmates and their parents often wanted to visit us. My parents welcomed everyone, but I think our visitors were slightly disappointed. We weren’t exotic enough.
Once a classmate brought a flyer about Afghanistan. Her mum told her to ask me, whether we were wearing burkas at home. I had no clue what a burka was and asked my mother. She explained the situation of women in Afghanistan and that it was one of the reasons to leave the country.
I’d like to call myself a cosmopolitan. I don’t really agree with the concept of a homeland, I think it is too stiff. My family has not been tied to a place for generations – so in that logic, we would be homeless. The urge to categorise people is very problematic, at least since it can lead to rejection. But I think one should simply let people be the way they are.”
This is a story by Christine Strotmann.