“Even though I was young, all I can remember from my early childhood is the war. During those days, there was a lot of running around for my family because the Soviets would target specific villages where they believed there was resistance or weapons that could target their convoys as they are passing by.
We kept going back and forth from our village to the eastern part of Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan. We would stay there for a few months and once we felt things were calmer we would return home but as soon as violence started erupting again we would flee.
When we crossed the border into Pakistan it was a whole new experience because we had never been out of Afghanistan prior to the war. Now we were in a new country. Since there is shared heritage and people in north-western Pakistan spoke Pashto, one of the two languages we speak at home (Farsi being the other), there was no language barrier for us. But it was still a different country, a different currency and most importantly for us it was a different kind of climate.
A lot of the education within the refugee community was heavily religious education and there was a reason for that. Conditions were so tough that faith and religion provided a safety net for everyone that you could lean on regardless of how tough things were. Holding on to our faith made life bearable. The camps themselves were these deserted areas that refugees had to develop on their own. When you first cross the border and arrive at the camp you had to build your own house on the plot of land that was given to you. These houses would be made of either mud or other natural resources available. Many of these refugees lived there for two to three decades. People would go about their lives happily making the most out of things. After ten years, the refugees turned these deserts into an oases. You would go to these camps and see a lot of trees, plants, and flowers… I cherish my educational experience and for me, it was a very pleasant and beautiful experience of learning my faith. Now looking back people see it as something negative that played a role in extremism and violence. I went through a madrasa education, there was no militancy, and no one taught me to go kill people or hate people.
Before coming to America I had learned English in Peshawar. If I had continued to live in Afghanistan I would have never been able to learn foreign languages like Arabic, Urdu, and English or get any kind of education. So this experience of being a refugee came with hardships but also with a lot of blessings.
For the first year every day, I kept saying to myself that next week I’m going to go back. It’s a healing process because you’re separated from your motherland and that takes a huge toll on you because no matter how great America is you will always miss your motherland.
A few things I would like people in the host countries to know is that refugees are refugees because they are literally seeking refuge and shelter. No one is doing this because crossing borders and oceans and risking your life it’s an enjoyable experience… The second thing is for them to look at the example of the previous generation of refugees that have come and have settled in Europe or America. For the most part, refugees have become an asset to their community and host countries. America is what it is mostly because it has embraced people, refugees and immigrants who have made America great.”
Read the full story on our partner No Lost Generation GWU's website.
The story was written by Kynat Ikram.
Photo courtesy of Imam Zia/ No Lost Generation GWU