About Refugees, By Refugees
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“I used to dream of my dad coming back or that everything would go back to normal. But it just never did,” says Fay (pseud, 25), recalling her father leaving her and her siblings behind in Iran. A year later, five year-old Fay joined him in Sweden. But things were never ‘normal’ again. “I was a lonely kid from the beginning, and I was bullied in school… I was different. It made me feel like there was something wrong with me.” She often feels guilt and pressure to meet expectations. “I feel like I should be grateful. I can’t complain about anything. I feel like I am in debt and I need to pay that debt by doing whatever, fulfilling my parent’s dreams, the dreams they couldn’t fulfil.” Fay wants her dreams to be her own. “My goals and dreams are to be more comfortable in my own skin.” And she wants to follow her dreams without worrying “about my economical status and about what my parents might think.” She adds, “I have proven myself that I am capable of so much more than I thought.”
OK, Fay Khodaperest, so we went through all the information and I want to ask you what’s what’s your housing situation? What’s your housing like?
My housing in the current is like, it currently is stable. It’s never been stable ever before. But right now it’s stable.
OK, can you describe the conditions that you are living under?
It’s economically easy to get by with the house that I’m living in. It’s stable. It is long term. It is mine. It is just however I want it to be. And, I live alone, and that’s what I’m most comfortable with.
So that was going to be my next question. Who do you live with? So you live alone?
Um, and how do you spend your time?
I usually spend my time drawing. I draw a lot. They do a lot of artsy stuff. I knit on the winter half of the year as well as painting. I do kombucha, make my own vinegar. I’m going to start doing sourdough, but usually I like to invite my friends over to dinner. I don’t like cooking for myself, but I love cooking for my friends. It also gives me a reason to socialize. I’m a very introverted person.
Awesome. What are some things that bring you joy in life?
Being around people gives me joy, I get most of my joy from my work, my art and validation from my friends that they value me, they want to hang out with me, that I make their day better, that I matter, as well as like I said, in my art and work. I feel like I identify myself a lot with what I put out there and when that’s good, I’m happy.
How do you feel that that part doesn’t work?
I feel isolated and lonely, I feel alienated and hopeless.
And we’re mainly talking about your current time, the time you’re living in right now, um, has it changed throughout the years since you arrived in Europe?
Of course, it has changed tremendously. I was a lonely kid from the beginning, and I was bullied in school. I had no friends up until I was 18, 19 years old.
How did that make you feel?
That made me feel lonely and outside. It made me feel like I was an alien. I was different. It made me feel like there was something wrong with me. It made me feel like I was the problem. I was incapable of having friends or keeping friends or making friends, as well as I didn’t quite know, I knew what I wanted to do. I recently made a comic strip about this, since I am studying comics, about what I wanted to do growing up and all the things I wanted to do was in one way or another wrong. And I or my parents or society. And that also made me feel alienated because I felt like the things I wanted the way, I was, it was never right. It was never on the right path. So to come to a point where I am today, where I do dare pursuing the things I want to do, I do dare to hang out with people. Despite that, I say that I chronically suffer from a feeling of outsiderness and I still dare to hang out with friends and trust that they love and care for me. That feels like I achieved something. I’m on a good path at least.
Do you see a connection between the feeling that you felt back then and the feeling you feel now when things don’t go together.
Absolutely. And these are things that I’m currently working through in therapy at the moment and probably will for a long time.
Taking a step away from, you know, the negativity, in a sense, what are some good things that you remember about being here since you arrived in Sweden as a child?
As a child?
Well, since you arrived, that could be …
Any time, yeah.
I haven’t known anything else since I came here when I was four or five years old, I haven’t quite known anything else my whole life than this. And I do want to, I do remember one of my first memories being the candies. The Swedish candy was absolutely delicious. And it just felt magical to get to eat those. But I also remember feeling very confused and not sure why the whole environment had changed all the sudden. The adults didn’t really chip me in on the details. And when they did, they didn’t bother to do it in a pragmatic way where a four or five year old would understand. But I remember everything was different. The language was different. So I don’t know if it was better or worse, like I had no point of reference to be able to compare it to. But as an adult, I can tell that everything is better. I understand that, and that is a guilt that I have beared with me. That is something that I feel has been weaponized against me. The stories I’ve been told, the things I’ve seen with my own eyes, but mostly the stories I’ve been told of how life is on the other side.
How do you feel when you feel like it’s being weaponized against you?
I feel guilt. I feel a lot of guilt. I feel like I should be grateful. I can’t complain about anything. I feel like I am in debt and I need to pay that debt by doing whatever, fulfilling my parents dreams, the dreams they couldn’t fulfill. And as well as I feel like my parents felt, I don’t know if they still do that, but that they felt a lot of shame towards me for not living up to their expectations.
Can you describe the you the several aspects so far, but can you describe how living here, specifically in Sweden has made you feel?
It has made me feel, it has made me feel, hmm there isn’t much to compare it to as like I said, I came here at such a young age. It has made me feel – it is the home that I know it as, even though I will never feel 100 percent at home in my own home.
Why is that?
It’s because I guess I’m chronically just going to feel like an outsider, different, I have curly hair, I stand out and as well as having dealt with a lot of internalized racism towards myself, that feeling, I have allowed others to dictate how I should also feel about myself, because they felt a certain way about me. The question was how… what was the question again?
Um, how, you know, living here has made you feel?
Right. It has made me feel like. It has made me feel like it is that I would have hmm. It is so hard to summarize into a few words, but.
Use as many words as you want.
I am in many senses, a patriot towards my country, Sweden. I love so many things, but it I love that we have freedom that is so underrepresented and it has allowed me as a woman of a Middle Eastern, as an artist and so many other subcategories to pursue, speak and take space, in senses that I would have never gotten to in Iran. But that is not something I think every day necessarily. I think what I’m trying to say is that Sweden has made me feel like I’m never going to be one of them, even though I have this sense, I have like this image in my head, what home feels like. And part of the definition is Sweden and here right in my apartment. But when I hang out with my Swedish friends who are like born and raised here for generations, when I hang out with their families on land’s side and the questions they asked me, the way they feel uncomfortable talking to me like a normal person, it reminds me, oh, I am different. Despite that, this is all that I have ever known. I am still different. So, yeah.
So it’s it’s, you feel there is a very stark contrast between, you know, you feel like you’re a patriot for this country that’s giving you so much. But at the same time, um, you know, whenever you do meet people that have lived through for generations that you’re immediately seen as an outsider.
Uh, I want to go back to a point. You mentioned, you know, racism towards yourself.
Can you give me some more?
Elaborate on that.
I grew up wearing, I grew up being forced to wear the hijab for 10 years. I stood out in a way that I did not want to stand out, and then when I finally took it off, I not only realized that I did not know what to do with my hair, I had never worked with the texture of my hair. I had never cared about it before then. I thought it was just a shitty version of straight hair because it was just frizzy. I didn’t know it was curly because nobody had taught me that. So it began there. The texture wasn’t the way anyone else’s was. And then it was much darker than everyone else’s. So without the hijab, I still stand out in a wrong way, not in a way that I want to stand out.
Did that surprise you?
I don’t think I was aware of it at the time. I think I unconsciously started doing the things such as dying it crazy colors, because if I was going to stand out, I want to stand out for something completely different. I wanted people to not even be able to tell my ethnicity or nationality based on my hair color or appearance. It always annoyed me. Like, I could never tell how some people could tell that I was that I wasn’t from here because I have a Swedish accent, I have a Stockholm accent when I speak Swedish. I remember as a child since I grew up in the ghetto or hood. Because I grew up in the ghetto or hood of Sweden Tensta, I remember it all it had already started there because I stood out from the rest of kids from in my age because I was more into the punk scene and everyone was in hip hop scene, and everyone used slangs. And I spoke what I suppose was proper and already then. I wanted to create identity away from my ethnicity and background.
So you felt stigmatized in a way?
100 percent I felt.
Belonging for feeling like you belong to the punk scene. Um How did that affect you? Looking back at it now?
Like the fact that people didn’t you know, that you did speak proper, you didn’t use slang. You know, the you know, the way that people like or the stigma that the people had against the fact that you.
Spoke properly, or that you like punk, not hip hop.
Did that differ from the stigma that you felt for not belonging in Sweden in general, or is that more localized in the area that you were in?
I think it’s quite, it hasn’t been localized, at least to answer your first question. Sorry I have ADD, what was the first question?
The first question is, did you feel like you were stigmatized, that you you know, you felt stigma, you had kind of almost like discrimination against you for speaking proper or?
Right. I don’t think that’s a reason why I was bullied in school. I did stand out, but I don’t think it was because I always spoke proper. I think I stood out for, I don’t know, kids are kids. I will never be able to figure out why I was bullied or stood out from the other kids or never fitted in and then coming outside. I didn’t really quite experience racism until my late teenage years early adulthood were when I had run away from home and started to create a life of my own outside of my isolated life, because I grew up very isolated, didn’t have friends and wasn’t allowed to leave home when school was over.
How did that make you feel?
It made me feel like I didn’t have any integrity. I couldn’t even talk or do whatever I wanted on the Internet. I had always, I think my dad had this sort of app on my computer where you could see whatever I did. But I had zero integrity and zero freedom to explore my identity. So when I did run away from home, it was, it felt like I had just a couple of years to everyone else had like eighteen years of their life, minimum of like finding themselves, exploring things, going through phases. It felt like I had only a couple of years, I had to compress it all into a couple of years and just like let it all out, try a different bunch of different hair dyes or different clothes and different ways to speak and finally start to like read up on politics. And then realizing that I did not want to read up on politics because it was too tough to read about welcomes refugees that was going on at the time while I was trying to figure out my own um identity within it.
So is that how you, you have how you manage to overcome it, is that you started reading and studying more about these topics?
I started to, I overcame it when I started to get comfortable with myself. I started to get comfortable with my own hair. I started to get comfortable with calling myself Iranian or not get offended when someone could tell that I had a background. I started to question, why did these things make me uncomfortable? Why did I not want to associate myself with other people that are from Middle East and especially actively trying to avoid making friends with people from the Middle East? I had not realized how much of internalized racism it was until I started to get comfortable with myself. And I didn’t even want to have anything that would resemble my heritage in my home, in my clothes or anywhere. Because it felt like people would put me the first, the first chance they would get, they would put me in a category where I did not feel at home at. Because I couldn’t identify myself with my Iranian heritage at home. I was told whenever it benefited my parents, I was either like to Swedish for them or when it benefited them. I was Iranian kid that needed to respect Iranian traditions.
So in the sense that, um, you feel that you want people to see you for you, but, you never, you you were never given the time and space to find out who you were.
Is that about right?
I want to go back to the point you mentioned you ran away from home. Um How did you know, get being away from your family so how did that affect you?
I never felt a part of my family for multiple reasons, the home that I grew up in was chaotic and unstable and way before we even left, Iran. It’s always been destructive and it still is very destructive. The question was how it affected me, right?
And my family relations, um.
How did it feel being away from the family?
I remember for the first week I had so much energy, I had so much energy, I was –i t felt like I drunk ten cups coffee every day, every hour, I had, I was, I didn’t know what to do with myself having that much freedom. And now that I had all that freedom, I realized I didn’t quite want to go outside. I just wanted to stay depressed in my room. I cried a lot and I felt like I had betrayed them. I had let them down. I had, I would never be forgiven, for choosing my own path, which people seem to not quite understand with people who run away from home. It’s not just running away from home. It’s like years of abuse that lead to you planning running away from home and that you and also when it happens, when you do it, there’s also so much energy and work that goes into it to not go back and not let that guilt take over your conscious and let your parents convince you of otherwise, because so many girls in my age were so easily convinced. And it was my second time doing it and having the experience of the first time of my parents promising that everything would be better. I knew that I had to cut all contacts from them for at least a couple of months, and I felt lonely. And it was a loneliness that I had felt for a long while, for many years. But that. Sinked in I felt responsibility towards my parents that it was my responsibility, their happiness was my responsibility. So this guilt was killing me from the inside. And not knowing really what I wanted to do with my life the years after, or at least at the moment, I just didn’t know, and a few years after that, that’s when I had a mental breakdown. It was the result of everything that I had gone through that hit me a few years after that. And it was from that point that I started to process it all in a healthy way and move forward.
So looking back at you back then, like, could you have ever imagined that you would be able to handle everything that was coming?
No, Jesus, no, no, no, no, no, no. I never thought I would have this. I haven’t. To me today, I don’t feel like I achieved much. And I don’t feel like I have so much more to give and so much further to go. But back then, as an 18 year old, I couldn’t imagine really being this comfortable in myself. I didn’t know what comfortable was, but I couldn’t imagine having a stable home and friends and even being in touch with my father specifically. I could never imagine me having a good, decent relationship with him that I do today.
And the. The ability to deal with all these challenges, so you just talked about, do you think it’s something that, you know, you’ve always had or is it something that you develop?
I don’t think it was worth it. I think it is a defense mechanism that I developed as a child that helped me survive through the traumatic childhood that my parents put through me because they had traumatic childhoods back in their countries and with their parents. And that certainly at the time. But today they don’t quite serve me and I need to break those patterns.
Did you feel a connection between you know your struggles and your parents struggles, or did you have that understanding that you know.
I had to have understanding, I always had an understanding for their struggles ever since a child, because they would remind me every now and so often of their struggles. They couldn’t and still can’t see me struggling. They don’t understand. I do not speak of me going to therapy. I do not speak about my struggles. It is uh very, um. What isYtlig?
Yeah it is. I have a very shallow relationship with them.
How does that make you feel? The fact that, you know, you don’t talk to them about these things?
It makes me feel like I am holding on and gripping so ever tightly to the illusion of having a parent rather than actually having a parent, especially since my father is the only parent that I speak to currently and will probably forever, when I see my other pa-, other friends having fitka (Swedish tradition of drinking coffee/tea with a snack) or talking with their parents on the phone and get happy when they see their parents calling them, I guess it has become normal to me. But I every, every now and then it makes me feel jealous, especially the mother part, because I have never ever felt like I have had a mother, more way more so than a father. And these shallow interactions with my father makes me happy because I haven’t known really quite anything else. And this is quite an upgrade from what we had when I was smaller. Of course, I do wish, you know, in the next life that I’m born, that it will be different.
So thank you for saying that by the way is super interesting to hear. If you look back into your past, and your family and you guys arrived here in 2000. And can you talk a little bit about you know why, you know, the family left, Iran, what happened? That situation?
So I was four or five years old and I haven’t quite asked. Very detailed questions or nag them about it throughout the years, mostly because of all the guilt they put me through and how much I just didn’t want to hear about it, and especially since the years after it became so chaotic. But what I understand as my parents came here for a better future, especially for me, my father had already been married to a woman before my mom and had three children prior to me. But yet he came here alone first a year ahead. And I remember him leaving and I couldn’t understand why he was leaving. And I thought he would come back tomorrow and then he didn’t for a year. And I was heartbreaking to me as a child and having to being in the care of my unstable mother for that whole year was a torture. I understand now as an adult, I did not have a quite important reference back then, but I now realize it was horrible. And then coming here, meeting my dad. And within that year, I remember me as a child, I had developed so much before dad leaving. He was just dad, I was just happy to see him every day. And then when I met him again, he was he was kind of an asshole from time to time when he wasn’t smiling and I couldn’t tell why he was angry with me. But then I understood that they came here for a better future, economical stability. But also mostly what they’ve told me is for me to have a better future. And that’s why I was the chosen child that they chose to bring.
So you had siblings, so they left and…?
They came many years later, like about eight years later.
Did they ever go into to why?
He didn’t have the ability and economy to bring them. That’s why he says, that he had to save up money, he had to get a lot of paperwork done, et cetera, and he needed to first have a stable life here before he could bring them. And that is something I believe that they, everyone, has resented me for, even though it wasn’t a choice I made.
You mean your siblings?
And your parents?
My siblings have definitely resented me for being the chosen child that was taken to Sweden.
How did that make you feel?
It made me feel even more alienated, as if it was my fault.
But you’re four or five years old?
And I didn’t make the decision.
Hmm How was how was the journey to Europe from Iran?
It was quite a struggle. I just remember us waking up in a new place every day with a new language. It was quite a ride. I think we went through Morocco to Turkey and then maybe Germany or some other place and then finally coming to Sweden. It was. My mom had to dye her hair to look like the woman in the passport, that’s the passport that she had acquired some way. I have no idea. And she was romantically involved with this man, all of a sudden, and that made me also confused.
Was that during the trip or after?
During the trip it’s she started an affair and she had many others. Uh in the years after coming.
So how many years between the time you left you arrived to Sweden and how long did it take?
Um, I think it took a few weeks.
Was there any specific event that you remember from that from those weeks?
I remember my mom when we were still in Iran and I remember my mom sneaking around a lot because her father was very abusive. He was addicted to hard narcotics. And all he ever thought about was money. And they were very poor. He came, she came from a very, extremely poor family. But I remember there was a lot of hush hush going on. And I have like this slight visual memory of she had some stuff at her father’s home, I guess, and she needed to somehow sneak it out. So she had to arrange with her siblings that they would somehow, would have rope hiss (from the Swedish word hissa ner, meaning lower/elevate) down like, like, slowly give the suitcase through a window and she was there with a taxi. I just remember there was a lot of like secrets and there was a lot of stress. There was a lot of a lot of things that could go wrong, horribly wrong. And I was just supposed to do whatever my parents wanted me to for us to come to safety.
Uhum do you remember what you felt back then when your?
I felt anxious. I felt I was so tired. I was so sleepy. Why did we have to get up at three a.m.? Sometimes I did not understand a thing. I was so confused and then coming to Sweden and, I didn’t quite understood that we were in a different place. I didn’t really think that people look different as a child, they didn’t, things were different, but I didn’t really think of, these people look different. Um, I did think about that. The woman did not wear hijab.
Hmm Do you think about those times like in these days? Do you think back to those times, a lot like during the times where you did make the move from Iran to Sweden?
It happens rarely. I think it is not because I do not want to anymore, but because my social circle is mainly predom- uh, dominantly of white people and they don’t dare asking the question or they’re just not interested. And it just my heritage and who I am and those stories never come to subject a they do rarely, but with people who also have a different heritage or in therapy.
You think you know, the events that he went through affect you today.
In what way?
You mean the events of moving?
I don’t know how my parents would with the capabilities that they had could have made the experience better for me. I don’t think they had the tools to. I was taken away from all that I knew, even though I do not have that many memories of it today, I was taken away. I had friends. Apparently one of my parents tell me I was a very social child. I was very arrogant. I was very rude. I was very energetic. That is the opposite of everything I am today. And I had friends. I had a family, I guess, because everyone else besides me and my siblings and my parents lived there and a few cousins and then suddenly being taken away from that and I just had to adapt without knowing that I had to.
You followed your instincts.
Do you think you developed some coping mechanisms during that times?
Today? or then?
During during then or you know all the years that followed after your arrived to Sweden?
Like I mentioned, I remember having to listen to my parents, mostly my mom, and during the journey to here, because if I did anything wrong, it could go horribly wrong. I had to contain myself and my will to play or do this or do that because I had to be hiding, we had to be catching planes, we had to do this and that, and as well as she was having an affair in front of me and I was not, I wasn’t allowed to ever talk about that. I think that feeling follow me – the question was how I cope or?
If you developed any coping mechanism?
Or strategies, mechanisms. Something to get through the hard times?
I think my coping mechanism was to shut in and shut off because the way that they described me as a child was completely different when I came to Sweden. I remember I had even drawn a picture of my parents, I think fighting or with an ambulance or something in school. And the teacher had asked questions of my parents and my parents confronted me and told me to not do that. They didn’t ask me why I did it. They just told me, don’t do that. So ever since the journey and that is my earliest memory of like being told to, but I can’t talk about anything I want to freel, that I need to be careful about what I say and especially just be calm and just listen to whatever we say. I think that following me through my whole childhood and that became a coping mechanism of just shutting in and shutting off and not letting anyone in. And I think that creates an even harder time for me to connect people when I write, when I don’t know anyone in that country.
So where do you find the strength you know the support you need to get out of that or in general these days?
I have to every now and then remind myself that people love me, especially when I have been self isolating for a couple of days due to studies or other creative projects or just pure anxiety. I had to remind myself that just because I haven’t spoken to someone for a week, they haven’t forgotten about me. They haven’t replaced me. I am still valuable to them. I try to also deal with it by socializing, being open to new people, by putting myself out there and. That the world isn’t this scary place that my parents taught me that I. Can open myself up.
Do you remember if you had any dreams or any ideas of the future, when you were four or five? Or any time before you left Iran?
That’s that year, my dad was gone and before we came to Sweden. I remember dreaming of him a lot and right before he left, I had made him promise me that he would, because I every night when I went to bed, I was so I couldn’t fall asleep unless they read me a story. And I had asked him and made him promise me that he would buy me a few new books because I had gotten quite tired of the ones that I had. And I was also obsessed with these little train toys that you just turn on. They just, you just turned them on and they just go choo choo around by themselves. And I was like, so amazing to me that it moved by itself. And I was so obsessed and I wanted one of them for myself. And I made him to also promise me to buy one of those. So that entire year I used to dream of my dad coming back or that everything would go back to normal. But it just never did. When I did arrive in Sweden he had bought me one of those trains.
Hmm that’s nice Um, what about today? Do you have any goals, dreams ambitions for the future?
My goals and dreams are to be more comfortable in my own skin. To be feeling more fulfilled and feeling like I am following my passions and my dreams without having to worry about my economical status and about whats my parents might think or how it will affect my father, if someone finds out to not care about those things because I have come this far and it has been perfectly fine, I have been perfectly fine, and I have proven myself that I am capable of so much more than I thought that I would be capable of. So I hope. To be able to also dare to represent people who can’t be represented. I always felt a sort of guilt whenever I mentioned that I was forced to wear the hijab for 10 years because I felt like the wrong people would use that as a representation for why Islam is bad. Meanwhile. That was just my story. That was just my experience. And I hope to be able to have the tools and energy to be able to, and dare to, take the space to talk about these things more openly.
Sounds nice Um, yeah, I can’t imagine most of the things that you’re going through, um. I think we covered pretty much everything, um, in a short phrase, what would? One dream that you haven’t mentioned for the future, they you have now what would it be? Like my dream is.
My dream is ultimately to create a platform and space for others to share their voices. Whether that is a creative path of their own or something else where they need business tips or help to move forward with their dreams. I want to create that platform for other women and underrepresented groups, but mainly for everyone. So I hope to achieve that. Someday.
That sounds beautiful. I hope so, too. Thank you so much.
For doing this interview.
Many 1000 Dreams interviews were not conducted in English. Their translation has not always been performed by professional translators. Despite great efforts to ensure accuracy, there may be errors.