I don’t think I’ve ever gotten over my first and only trip to Afghanistan. I don’t think I ever will. Those who know me know that I have a crazy obsession with that country. Maybe it’s because my ancestors lived there. Maybe it’s because my parents always preserved the part of my soul that was Afghan and didn’t let it fade into the background of the western culture I’ve been immersed in growing up. But I think it has a lot to do with that four-month trip I went on, years ago, as an 11 year old child.
I don’t think the concept of Diaspora was ever a relevant thing for me until I returned from that trip, four months later. After that, everything seemed familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, even now.
I don’t even know how to articulate the experience and memories that I was immersed in, and the everlasting impact they had on me. Here’s a feeble first attempt (which will definitely be tweaked 1294882848 more times as I keep writing in the coming months):
I remember getting off the plane in the Kabul International airport and being surrounded by men in turbans, wearing kohl in their eyes, and being terrified. This was the country known for being war-torn, dangerous, and scary.
My first car ride through Kabul consisted of child me witnessing children, mothers with babies, disabled afghans begging on the streets, knocking on the windows of the car, and being totally stunned.
Poverty was not something I had seen before, nor had raw exposure to. It hit hard. What’s even sadder is that I became used to seeing the poverty, until I didn’t see it anymore. Now imagine being a local.
War was not something I experienced in Afghanistan. I think it’s important to mention that my time in Afghanistan was extremely beautiful, peaceful, and emotionally healing. I can’t say the same for the present situation there, as I haven’t been able to return since. But while I was there, every stereotype that I had known about Afghanistan, broke.
This was the beginning of the seed that had been planted into my mind. The inaccuracy of the media, the fact that different worlds and cultures and lives existed outside of the ones we have become so accustomed to, gaps in equality and power were very much real, and that the world needed some serious healing.
The following weeks in Afghanistan consisted of becoming familiar with a family I didn’t know I had, playing with children who shared my blood, swimming in rivers that were my land, speaking in a language that my ancestors spoke before me. The 11 year old me didn’t realize it, but those interactions impacted me in every way for the rest of my life. I had found a sense of belonging; something I could never claim in Canada, the country I grew up in. I had found my people, my place, and my home.
Never underestimate the power of an experience. Even as a child, I began to search for an identity, struggling to understand what makes a person who they are, feeling nostalgia about something I never actually experienced, but heard about, and dreamt about…. A decade has passed and that single experience has shaped my heart, my soul and my future.
Coming back to Canada, nothing was the same. (Helloooo diaspora!) During class projects, the topic was always Afghanistan. I began writing poetry, and it was about Afghanistan. I didn’t understand why those four months in another country stayed with me so vividly. I didn’t understand why I didn’t ever feel like I belonged in the country I grew up in.
Perhaps one day, my travels will take me back to Afghanistan, and I’ll be able to figure it all out.
But for now, I’m just a girl, trying to find my place in the world, and make it a better place while I’m at it.