Updated: May 1
Tanha shodam tanha
I'm left Alone, Alone
Asooda az ghawgha shodam
I'm left relieved of any chaos
Az bas ke khordam khoon-e dil
So much I took from this pain that
Chun ghoncha az ham shodam
I started to develop like a flower bud.
- Ahmad Zahir
Words by an incredible Afghan musician that echoes throughout our history. This particular piece speaks to me, as it reflects on my mother’s pain of leaving her homeland to be able to grant her children a chance to grow. And just like the flower bud develops, we grew, as she was left with only the thought of her homeland.
To this day, what I admire most is my mother’s endless courage and her love for where she came from. My mother always made an effort to remind us of our homeland; she spoke a beautiful language which is now held close to my heart, and she would often tell stories, reminiscing about her time in Afghanistan with her family. Hearing these stories became a sense of comfort for us all. In wonderment of my culture and heritage, I was intrigued to find out more. After all, I was born and raised in the U.K and understood the privilege I had, so I didn't want to allow myself to forget where I came from and the struggles that the people of Afghanistan faced, and are still facing.
Reflecting on the hardships, this is where my mother's journey and mine unfolds.
My mother lived a humble life, as many Afghans did and still do. She grew up in the stunning valleys of Panjshir, by the waterfalls and mountains, with the crisp air that was often a reminder of the peace that was present in the moment, until it no longer was. In Afghanistan, with a blink of an eye, your whole life could take a turn into a state of chaos, and all that you knew could soon become a shattered memory. That is exactly what happened to many when the Soviets invaded in 1979 and many Afghans were displaced from their homes. During the nine-year long conflict, it is estimated that one million civilians were killed, as well as thousands of Afghan troops. It was the starting point of a never-ending war within the country.
My mother came to the U.K in 1995, after travelling to Pakistan and Libya, in hopes of finding a better life for her children. I would often find my mother with marbled eyes, glazed by her tears, trying to find a sense of belonging in lands that were foreign to her. “Coming to the U.K. was completely foreign to me. I didn’t know the language and learning it at the time seemed impossible, with so many children running around- all I could really do was take care of you and your siblings. I wouldn’t change that for the world.”
Wrapped up in guilt, I would often seek the comfort of Afghanistan through my mother's eyes. Beautiful memories of our homeland, later turned into an ocean of tears, due to the suffering of its people.
I visited Afghanistan for the first time when I was just a child, aged seven and trying to understand where I was, while meeting aunties and uncles I had never seen before, only heard of. Greeting each person I met with my broken Farsi and feeling oddly small with the lack of knowledge I held about my own country. A memory I still hold of my visit to Afghanistan, is the love that one of my Uncles- Merakbar Mama showed to me. He would often take my sister and I out for burgers, while smiling from cheek to cheek, making sure we were happy wherever we went.
Passing the busy streets of Kabul, I found myself feeling like a foreigner in my own country, it’s a feeling I will never forget. Strangers and faces I had never seen before, would welcome me in with open arms, as if I had always been there. It was a beautiful yet bittersweet moment, as I felt like I couldn't give as much love back as I wanted, due to my broken Farsi. This was my barrier and my strength.
I didn’t know it then, but as I grew up, I came to realise that the footprints of colonialism were heavily embedded in me, and had become a state of mind. Almost as if growing up in a completely different country from my mother had made me forget about my Afghan roots. Colonialism is acquiring political control over another country while occupying the people of that country, to further exploit them and their economic development. I found myself in a constant limbo of knowing too little and losing too much of myself. Learning about Afghanistan’s history and meeting others within the Afghan community here in the U.K, gave me the resources I needed to learn more about my Afghan heritage. This was the baseline of me growing into the woman I am today. Through every story and every picture, I found myself and my love for my country.
Almost feeling alien to the scent of my own homeland, I often found myself clinging onto something that reminded me of Afghanistan. For me it was the clothing, its unique embroidery and the precious jewellery that I would often get gifted from family members. Family members that held onto the memories of me as a little girl, hoping that we would all reunite one day- given that peace and prosperity finally comes to our homeland.
These small reminders and pieces were special to me, as every detail held a history beyond space and time. To think that every thread of the clothing was handmade, allowed me to understand the depth and love the people of Afghanistan held for their textiles. It’s being proud of who you are and where you come from. That's what these pieces were and still are to me. The colours in the jewellery and clothing, remind me of a happiness that still thrives in our country. We find peace in these colours and they are a symbol of hope and goodness. A tradition that can never be forgotten. Unique and beautiful in its own way, Afghanistan holds many traditions that should be celebrated beyond the country. From it’s people, to its food, attire and music- Afghanistan is a country filled with magnificent history that should never be forgotten.
A Colonised State of Mind
As I search for a sense of belonging, fitting neither here nor there- I remember the beautiful words of Mahmoud Darwish (an extract from ‘Antithesis to Edward Said) that goes:
“He says, I am from there, I am from here. And I am not there, nor here.
I have got two names that meet and depart. I have got two languages, I’ve forgotten in which I used to dream…So, carry your country wherever you go. And be a narcissist if necessary.
Exile is the outside world, exile is the inner world.
So, who are you between them? I do not define myself, lest I lose it. And I am who I am.”
I hold these words close to my heart as they remain a reminder of how I felt and still sometimes feel as a child of diaspora. A broken mother tongue that is twisted into a bitter sweet language.
This is my colonised state of mind.
As if you are trying to unlearn or tear off the layers that once had you hiding away from your own culture. I remember even as a little girl, I felt almost embarrassed by who I was in this land and even in my own home country. There was no in-between, because here, I wasn’t British enough and in Afghanistan, I wasn’t Afghan enough. The internal conflict I faced only pushed me to learn more about my heritage and motivated me to be unapologetically Afghan. Embracing my country, while writing stories and poetry that would connect me to my roots, I found myself in the social realm, connecting to those in the Afghan Diaspora and those that experience Afghanistan first hand. It’s a blessing in disguise to know that social media as well as my mother's endless love of home, granted me the confidence to embrace my Afghan roots. I feel as though through the years, I've lived through my mother's story, while being in my own story-almost as if I am going through my own character development in my own storybook. The more I grow, the more I fall in love with my roots.
You see, unlearning and peeling back these layers takes time and dedication, meaning it is our duty to learn about who we are and where we came from. Why is this important? Because we need to remind the generations to come, what it took for us to be in the positions we are in now and the sacrifices our parents made. This isn’t just my story but it’s the story of you and I.
Through the strength of my mother’s wounds, I found a thousand hidden stories that allowed me to create my own. My mother would always say, “Never forget where you came from and the war we are still going through, for it is a history that should never be forgotten.” And this history is one that many Afghans are still facing. War and death still seeps into Afghanistan, with many losing homes and losing their lives.
Forgetting our roots would be a crime to our own country. So I ask of you, to learn your history and never forget about your people- for their stories and their pain is what brought us here.
We are the children of diaspora, decolonising our state of minds and returning to the roots that we had once forgotten.
This is a generational story. So learn about your story and speak of it to the world.
Edited by Palwasha A.