About Refugees, By Refugees

Lilith

Pictures taken in:

From:

Nationality:

Photo and interview by:

Germany

Pakistan

Pakistani

Nooshin Sanjabi

There was a time I didn’t have any dreams,” recounts Lilith (34), a trans woman who left Pakistan for Germany as a refugee. “I was living day to day.” Life in Pakistan left scars: the trauma of witnessing suicide bombings and years of sexual abuse. And as an atheist, she was the recipient of threats after voicing doubt about religion; murders linked to anti-blasphemy laws meant they weren’t empty. The trauma still haunts her, especially since Covid-19 lockdowns: “All those people who are expats, refugees or they have been traumatized in their lives like me, we need people around us so that we stay sane so that we don’t lose our minds.” Therapy has helped: “It’s getting better,” she says, “but it’s been a long journey.” And after years denying her gender identity, Lilith came out to her family in 2015. Now, her dream is “to be a mother and a good partner and see that my children and their children grow up in a safe space where they don’t have to fear about their lives from nobody.”

Trigger Warning: Sexual violence/rape|Violence/murder|Self-harm|Suicide|Transphobia, Talk of dysphoria, Body image and appearance, Sexism

full interview

So what kind of housing do you live in and with whom and can you describe the condition of yours right now in the moment?
At the moment…

Yes.
Um, I’m living alone and it’s like a single apartment. Mm, before that, I used to live with a German guy. Like uh, we had a (WG) shared apartment . So three years, I lived with him. Before that I used to live in a student dorm. So uh, that was also like three years, four years. So yeah, and at the moment I am happy about the place I’m living in. It’s gonna get better and better, I hope. (Laughs) Yeah and, you know, the condition is good. Especially the neighborhood is very good. Like, I have access to park. I have access to all the, uh, grocery stores and then the people who live here, they are usually not judgmental of others.

Mmhmm.
Yeah.

Uh, how was before it? Were people judgemental about you?
Yeah, yeah. There were they were people who were very judgmental and I had to… I… because… I had to leave that place. That was a bigger place that was easy to live and, uh, having, uh, partner living with you as well. So (WG partner) roomate. It was also easy for me, uh, because somebody was always there if I wasn’t there or if he wasn’t there, then at least I was at home. But the neighbors were… they were very stupid, I must say, very misogynistic, sexist, and sometimes I don’t know if it’s OK, uh, very discriminatory towards women.

Mmhmm.
Very much. And I didn’t like it. I was harassed. Uh, I was called out. There were people who would whistle. Uh, my neighbor, he was one of them. And whenever I used to go home, I would not turn on the lights, because I used to live on the ground floor so that nobody should know that I live on the ground floor in that house. It was not easy.

How does it affect your mental health? How did you feel at the moment? At this moment?
Now, I feel better. Now I feel much better.

But, then back then?
Back then, it wasn’t good. It was a constant fear that somebody would know and they might like break in because living on the ground floor is also not good. It was and I… I had a room which was facing the streets (laughs). So, it was, uh… Yeah, it was… It was very distressing, honestly speaking. Uh, especially the men, whenever they were there, they would look at you as if you are a piece of meat and most of them they were from migration, um, background, most of the men. They would speak in their mother tongue, uh, whenever they were talking with one another and as soon as I passed by, they would say something in German to offend me. And this year, I remember it was, uh, June, I literally cried. I was like… I called a friend, a very good friend, and I cried and cried and cried because those two guys, they called me “here comes the… The whore of our street.”And, they said it in German, explicitly so that I should know that they are talking about me. And the reason was that all the women over there… In that that background… In that neighborhood, they would not show their skin. They would wear full clothing, sometimes even full abaya, and I was the only one who would be like naked legs, sometimes wearing clothes which would show cleavage or which would show some part of my skin. And, and, and without wearing anything on your head, no (Kopftuch) Headscarf, nothing like that. And, that was something very bad for… for other women maybe. That’s why those men were angry at me. And, there were also men who would chase me back to my place. Like I knew that people were following me. It’s not that they want… They live in that street. And there were also some times where they would come up and would ask me, “Hey, do you have your number?” or “Hey, how much do you cost?” And, it was constant, uh, stress. Like why the hell they are coming up to me or why are they calling such kind of things to me? And, the only thing that I could do was not to reply. Because, uh, being alone and being single, it’s like always a challenge. Uh, when I was in relationship, um, a couple of years ago, then the men look at you very differently. Especially if you’re with a white man(laughs).

Mmhmm.
Then you’re OK. Then they don’t even look at you with, uh, strange eyes or they don’t consider you as somebody to be worthy of, but they don’t even, uh, harass you. But if you’re a single woman, uh, in that area, it was very bad. And, I can tell you it was in City Name Redacted.

Mmhmm.
It was something… And other women, they would like, hide their legs, they wouldn’t show what they’re wearing. They even wear abaya. There are many women who wear that, and I was the only one, even in summers, who was wearing short clothes and just be yourself. And, just because of my… Uh, I’m sure it’s because of my, uh, skin color, because I’m not a white woman.

Mhmm
They were maybe judging me. I am not sure what was the reason because nobody told me what it was. But I perceived that they thought maybe I’m from a Muslim country and why I’m doing this, because most of them, they were either speaking Persian or they were speaking in Arabic and then all of a sudden they would speak in German. So, targeting.

Mmhmm.
That we know maybe you come from a region where you don’t understand our language, but in German we are telling you that you are a bitch, you’re a whore. (Sigh) They have called me sometimes, uh, ” tranny”. They have also called me that. Uh, then there was this time when one of the guy he came up to me and he was like, “You asshole, you motherfucking bitch” in… in German.

Mmhmm.
And… That was funny. I replied back and he’d ran off. I was like, “Are you talking to me?” He was like, “Yes.” I was like, “Wait. Wait, let me call someone.” And he ran off. But I had, like, fear. He was a small man. I could say something. But if you… If the man is bigger than you and they are like muscular and you can see that they are powerful than you… and more than one man, then it’s not easy. You can’t just defend yourself on the street. And, I even in… In… In, uh, nowadays, whenever the sun goes down, I don’t usually go outside alone. I try my best to be back home around 6:00. Uh, so when the… when the rush hours, so everybody’s on the street and I try to avoid also streets which are lonely streets, like nobody goes there. And, unfortunately, my last place was like that. That had a very huge or very negative impact on me. I remember I couldn’t sleep through the night.I never slept like, uh not completely and.

Mmhmm.
Then wake up in the morning. I would always wake up, uh, during the night, like two, three, four times sometimes even. But since I’m living here alone in this neighborhood, I sleep always through the night. (Pause) I hardly get any nightmares. Uh, things like that. It’s getting better, but it’s been a long journey… Journey. And, I remember even in my student years, I would always get, uh, nightmares of, uh, getting raped or nightmares of having suicide bombers attacking, uh, like the city, even sometimes the City Name Redactedcity. I would see that, and (Pause)… might have to get that out… the City Name Redacted (laughs nervously).

No, uh, no, it’s OK.
Yeah.

We don’t publish it.
OK. So, um, so I would… I would see, uh, nightmares that there are some religious people following me, especially the Taliban, because I’ve seen that in my country. I have seen suicide bombings, uh… It was hard. It was very hard. Um, there were like two incidents where I just escaped with a couple of minutes. Like, if I were there before two minutes or three minutes ago, I would be dead today. Like, I just passed by those places and then I was 100 meters or 150 meters away and there was a suicide bomb. Especially Taliban, they attacked a lot, uh, Lahore city back then, 2007. And, I witnessed two of them. One was in Iqbal Town and the other one was in Cantt in, uh, Alay Bazaar, we call it. And, it was horrible. It was horrible to see people… (Long Pause) God…

Take your time.
yeah, to see them crying, yelling, and at the same time, you see the… The body parts, uh, spread overall. Like, it’s a… it’s a… It’s a mass slaughter, something like that. Like they do it on Eid, uh, all the animals are dead there and bleeding, and crying. So, the same was with people. It was, uh, women, women were crying and I still remember those cries. And, then there’s this burning smell of flesh and blood. It’s so (pause)… So bad, it’s like it goes direct into your… your brain and you’re like, oh God. Uh, you want to vomit. You feel sick because it’s… It’s something that you don’t see these things in your daily life and in your routine life, you… I was a student back then and we were studying in the university and we had a normal life. It’s like the… the way many people have here. You go to your work, you go to your university, you come back home, you meet your friends, family, gatherings, everything, and then all of a sudden you see people like that. Uh, then… Then, there was another attack where one of the friends we knew, he lost his life. And, his head was never found. You could only found his body and… And, uh, it was an attack on the shrine of Baba Ganjshakar is the name I guess. We call them Dadasa. And, there was this attack and then… There were so many other attacks and then there was a time when the universities were closed for like a month or two, forty five days, if I’m to be correct. Something like that. More than a month. So that the students were on the target, the universities were on the target. Taliban explicitly said that they would target all the universities. So, all the official – the public and private – all universities were closed. It was horrible. It was a horrible time. And at that time, because, you know, I’m also visiting a therapist since five years because, uh, I had to otherwise (laughs dryly) life is not easy (laughs). And at that time, um, uh, this is what my therapist also told me, that you are in the rush to save your life, so you are trying to, uh, be, uh, rescued or you are trying to, uh, get away from the problem, so you suppress everything. So, it goes into your subconscious and now in Germany, because I live in freedom, I live in peace, it’s relatively very safer than back home. So, here all those traumas that I had back home, they’re rising up.They’re coming back and in the shape of nightmares, in the shape of sometime even like when it comes to the rape I had and sexual abuse that I have lived, I still can not have proper relationship because it’s, uh, it’s it’s not easy. Um, and sometimes the body does not even react that way, it should, it goes the other way around, it goes into the, uh, protection mode, but you want to save and your your body and, uh, yeah, it’s it’s, uh… But I’m trying my best, um, um. And I am getting enough help and the, uh, the very needed support structures that are here. Uh, for example, having a therapy is not easy and it’s not paid so, but at least it’s paid by the government or the health insurance. And the therapist is really good. He has helped me to to uh work out my traumatization and we are still working on it. It’s not completed yet. It might take a couple of more years. I guess it’s still in the subconscious. I still sometimes if I hear a…a huge blast, kind of a sound like if a…a Tire burst or something like that, I get a really bad shock in my body. It’s like something happened bad and my first um thoughts they are not that a tire would be burst or some kind of balloon has burst. I don’t know. My first thought always comes to mind or there is a suicide attack. Or there is a bomb attack. So, it’s it’s related to the past experience that I had, you know.

And how does that make you feel? How do all these actions make you feel?
Like, the…the…

Like mentally?
Sometimes very stressful. And like, I don’t know what to do about it. The only thing that I have learned or my body has learned is like shut everything down and just go to sleep or try to sleep. And since a couple of weeks, I’m also on antidepressants because thanks to the Corona pandemic, I had distractions in my life. I would meet friends, I would go out clubbing, I would go for dinner, I would meet people, uh, different gatherings like go to museums, go to evenings when there are like book reading evenings, things like that, and engage with other people. It’s all gone now (laughs). So I was left alone with my thoughts and with the traumatization that I had to work it out. And it was, um, six weeks ago that I literally had suicidal thoughts, once again. I have tried that already in my life three times. Didn’t succeed, thank God. But thank to the gods (laughs). Uh, but that was like and…and being in therapy for five years, you know, it’s…it’s not a good thing. So, I contacted immediately my therapist and asked him, I can’t do anything. I can’t meet my best friends, uh, they are not, uh, like people are scared, people are scared to go out. People are really scared to meet other people. And OK, I understand they have a right as well because of the pandemic. But all those people who are expats, refugees or they have been traumatized in their lives like me, we need people around us so that we stay sane so that we don’t lose our minds. And that’s where I started to lose my mind and I wouldn’t even go out of my place. I was not even ready to go for groceries or even to get out of my bed. It was that dark and then they had to put me on antidepressants. It’s working. It’s getting better, uh but it’s not the final solution. It has to change. And I was thinking finally, OK, this year, because I applied for my nationality and I also achieved and accomplished a lot of things. So I was thinking, OK, uh, 2020 would be the year. I would do a lot of things and I would get a lot of things and then everything is (laughs) disturbed. Everything is…almost impossible. You had to meet your friends and then I asked one…two of my really best friends to pleeeease let us meet because it’s getting on my nerves. I can’t live like this anymore and thank  God they agreed and I would be visiting them soon, uh in a couple of days. Yeah, it’s it’s not easy. Mentally, I would say it…it was…it was something that I never thought it would come back like this. I never talked about my even doing therapy, I never talked about my sexual abuse and rape for a very long time. It took me four years with my therapist to come to that point that I could explain that what actually happened. And, yeah, he’s of the opinion, it’s not good. Yeah, it was never good, and then we had to work on it. Like, I met a guy this year and that’s how it started, um, we were in bed and then all of a sudden my body became stiff. Like everything was jammed and I didn’t know what to do, and he was also confused. He didn’t know what happened to me. And after he left, uh, I was crying and crying and crying for, like, constantly. I…it was like..the…all the trauma from the rape, it just came out um almost after 16 years. Took me that long. Uh. Yeah, uh. And those…those guys, they were family people, there were a couple of them are married, even uh children…they even had children! And they were like God fearing Muslims. And I always question this thing like how you can call yourself to be God fearing and then at the same time ruin the life of somebody else. Um, it still haunts me. It’s like…but that was the point like this year when it really struck me, “OK, I have to talk about it now. I don’t have to keep it to myself.” It’s been way too long that I was keeping it to myself, that I told my therapist and he was very much alarmed. Because I…I wouldn’t stop crying. It was…I was sitting and I would start…start crying. I would go to my work and out of nowhere I would just simply start crying. Because I felt disgusted about my body. I felt disgusted about what happened to me. I felt disgusted about how could they do that to me? Like…like the act itself. I didn’t want to engage in that uh sexual uh intercourse, but they wanted to. They made me to do things, and…and they…they...they used me like a slave for a couple of years. It was…it was not easy.It was, uh, I like I tried myself to keep shut. Don’t tell anyone so that I could live, so that they don’t kill me. And um one day, they…they…they said, OK, we will tell your family uh if you don’t come with us. And I said, “OK, tell my family. I’m done with this. I cannot do it anymore.” Nobody told my family. But that was something I now 17 years old back then. And I thought to myself, OK, they will tell my family and my family will kill me because that’s what happens (laughs). That’s what you call honor killing. And they my… My uncles, they still have, like fire guns at home to keep it uh… I know how they are. Some of them are really religious and if they are not religious, then they have this…this…this pride in themselves that they are Muslims. They belong to a very prestigious family just because they are Muslims and everybody else in their family should be pious and everybody should be the righteous person ever. So, I was afraid of them. I have seen them. I have grown with those people and…Yeah, and then it stopped all of a sudden they stopped, uh, sexually abusing me because just I said, OK, tell them because I can’t do it anymore. If they’re going to kill me, let them kill me. I don’t care. So nobody did anything. Nobody said anything. Then I was relieved. And then I started my university’s, uh, studies further. I did my bachelors. I, uh and during my bachelors, I found out that I’m an atheist (laughs). That was another blow to myself because I studied Islam, and then Islam was like, no, it’s not the religion that…They tell us. It’s…it’s manipulation. It’s completely mind…”mind fuckery” I call it. They fuck your mind with shame, that sin, and with pride, and you think to yourself “Oh, I have to be ashamed of my body if I’m going to do anything, it’s sinful act, like everything is sinful act. All you have to do is pray five times a day. And if you pray seven times a day, it’s even better (laughs). You should do all the time the (wird) prayers on the…on the…What do you call it? The tasbeeh (prayer beads). And you should fast, uh, you should stay at home. You should not indulge in…in anything which is like lustful. You should not have any body contacts with other people. It’s haraam, everything is forbidden. So, for me it was like, why do they want to control everything? Like it’s a control. For me, it was obvious once I was twenty. Uh, that everything is being controlled. It’s not right. Something is wrong there.Everything they tell us that Islam is the best religion. Muhammad was the best prophet. It’s wrong. He was the warlord. They tell…and all these stories are written in their own books. That’s the most astonishing thing, that…that it’s not written by some Aristotle or some Plato or some German guy from, I don’t know, from Thomas or Miller. Everything has been written by Arabs and Muslims, and they tell their own stories with pride that Muhammad did this, Muhammad did that. And if you critically analyze that he was warlord like a Genghis Khan. There is no difference between him and Genghis Khan. He was not a prophet. He was invading people. He was looting them. Slavery was allowed and all those things. So, my mind started working like what’s going on in the society. And then I told a couple of people whom I thought they were friends that I’m an atheist and that was also very wrong to tell them.

Why?
Because I got instant threats. Uh, it’s haram. You’re Murtad (apostate) and you are liable to be killed like “wajib ul katl”, they call it. I was like, why? No, you have to “ustughfirullah” and then you have to do the Shahada once again, so be a Muslim once again. And I was like, yeah, but listen to me. Just let me talk and complete. No, they don’t even want to listen. And I think deep down, everybody knows it’s wrong. Because they don’t even want to listen to you and just because they are afraid that if they will lose the God, they will lose everything in this place. They will lose the concept that they will meet their dead ones after they are going to die, and that the people who have…who they have loved, the people they like, their children, their own children who died at early age of your parents or your siblings. And they believe that after dying, they will all go to Paradise (laughs). So, they…they have that um delusion in their mind. And just because they are afraid of letting go of their delusion, they don’t even want to listen to you. And then there was an incident that happened which made me leave that country.

Can you describe why you left the country?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, I was teaching at a school after my bachelor’s degree. And on January 2011, we heard the news that the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, has been killed by his security guard. He was shot uh point blank and the reason was, he was criticizing blasphemy laws in Pakistan. And there is this very famous case of Asia Bibi, who was a Christian woman accused of blasphemy, had to be put behind jail for more than 10 years and at the end, they couldn’t even prove that…that she did any kind of blasphemy. And he was supporting that woman because she said, “I have been accused wrongly. I did not commit any blasphemy.” And he was telling the authorities, please relook at these laws because these are black laws and used to silence the…the minority groups and to silence the people with whom you have some sort of, um, what do you call it…uh feud. So, he was against the law and we were all cheering him. Very good. Somebody from the politics is talking about these laws, because nobody even talk about them. You’re not supposed to talk even about the laws that are made by human beings. And he called them black laws and draconian laws that they are being used to kill people, accuse them wrongly and put them behind jail or mob justice. So, if somebody get accused, uh we have Mashal Khan in Pakistan, he was killed by his own university fellows. He was accused of blasphemy and they killed him. We have people who were even mentally ill people. They were killed by the…by the mobs and many of the people are killed and nobody even knows about it because it doesn’t go into the media. Those are just reported cases. So, if there are so many cases where we know women get killed, men get killed, children get killed – even young children, teenagers – uh just because somebody accused them of blasphemy. Somebody said something about, “yeah, he has said wrong about our prophet” or “he has called our prophet…” I don’t know anything, like some sort of abusive words. Nobody will even cross-check that if that happened or not. Just an accusation is enough to get somebody killed. And I was already atheist, so once I saw that and I heard that, I was like, no, they can also kill me any time because I talk about these things openly and I talk about these things with my family. I talk about sometimes. Let’s reflect on things. Why are we even sacrificing animals? Do we need to sacrifice animals to please a God? It…if you listen to that carefully, it looks like as if the God needs the blood of that animal. So, it’s a blood ritual (Interviewer: Hmm.) . It doesn’t sound like that God is All Merciful, All uh Motherly and the God is…is so kind that he doesn’t want to hurt anyone. So I just once said about something about the Eid ul Adha (sacrificial Eid) , where they sacrifice the animals. Uh people were against me. How the fuck do you even criticize that? And friends and family, they tell you…you are not allowed to criticize anything. The people whom you actually are supposed to trust.

Mmhmm.
Your…your support group and your…your social network. And if they are against you, you don’t have anything in that society. It’s gone. Everything is then…

How did that make you feel?
Oh, it was…it was horrible. I was scared. I was scared to death. Honestly, I was also accused once uh by one of my colleagues, and they were like, if we could kill you, we would have done that, but we can’t do that. So, you’d need to repent. You need to do the ustughfirulla once again and accept Islam once again for this revival of Shahada. So, I did that (laughs) just to save my life. But it made me sick. It made me really sick in my…in my body, as well as in my mind.And it was very stressful because those are people that you are helping, that you are working together. You have so many memories together, and all of a sudden they turn against you just because you criticize their religion, you criticize their practices, and they don’t allow you to criticize that. I was sick. I remember I even went to hospital and the doctors were like, what happened? I was like, I don’t know what happened. I’m just sick. And I can’t explain that because my body was reacting in a different way. I felt really, uh, tired. I felt extremely weak, like as if I don’t have any power in my body and I had to stay at hospital for, I think, two days. Yeah. So after that they released me. They were like, OK, you are fine now because the reason was I did not feel secure anymore in the university. And thank God, that was my last semester. And after that I didn’t have to face those people again. And it…it was after that, uh, threat, I would go there just to take classes and wouldn’t even talk to other people and straight away leave the classrooms as soon as the class ended and leave the university. It was horrible. It was not…I don’t even wish to…to…to my worst enemies such kind of life that they have to be afraid of people they know and they trust are trusted at that time. Because it’s it’s something that makes you hate yourself sometimes. Why are you the one that that is different than the others and you don’t find any connection with them? But as I said in 2011, I found out also people on Facebook. Their were like Facebook groups for atheists for meeting. So, I joined Facebook in 2009 and in 2010 there were people who added me in a couple of groups.

In Pakistan?
In Pakistan, in those online groups. And then it was a bit of a relaxed environment, I think it was October or November 2010. Something around there. So I was like…all of a sudden I was happy and amazed, “Oh! There are other people like me (laughs). They are also atheist. Uh, they also don’t believe in God. They also criticize religion and very openly criticize religion in those groups.” So, it was like a safe space for me. And then came this news of Salmaan Taseer and then I was like, “No, uh you have virtual safe spaces but you need real safe spaces.” And even Corona (virus) has shown us now that everything turning virtual is not the answer. People need that real life where they can meet real people, go out with them, share their thoughts with them, tell them about what…what’s going on in their mind, and exchange those ideas. Just having a very healthy exchange of ideas. And you can’t have that exchange of ideas in that country. It was so hard. It was like so hard finding somebody who would listen to you and lend you a ear. OK, you can talk to me about if you feel like talking about anything. For example, just why a woman has half the witness, that of a man. You need to criticize that. Uh why a woman get half of (Erbe), um (clicks tongue) the inheritance as compared to a man. Why is she half? Why is she not a full woman? And that’s a woman who is bringing a full, complete life into this world and she’s not complete and she’s half. And you can’t talk about these things with those people because they will say, “Allah said so in Qur’an and the last word is Allah.” And if they say, “Allah said so”, you cannot argue with them. Forget about it (laughs). It means…It was…So, it was like living in a I have never been to jail, but I can imagine it’s like living in a jail with people who can kill you any time and you are always worried about your safety. You’re always worried about if I would say something wrong, maybe person XY would kill me or person ABCD would kill me because that person doesn’t like this thing or that person doesn’t like things…this thing. So, there is no openness. There is no…no…no life. Honestly, it’s not life living in constant fear of being killed by somebody. And that was something that I had to face uh, you know, it was…it was hard. It was very hard.

What was your resilience? How did you manage the situation?
Oh, in my case, um ah resilience came when I started to hang out with same minded people. And I found a lot of same minded people after that. Once…even after the death of Salmaan Taseer, there were people who were like, “Let’s meet together. Let’s talk to one another. Give each other that support that we need because we can be the next ones.” And it’s…it’s uh it’s a day to day work over there and there is a case of Junaid Hafeez. He’s a guy who is behind the bars and he said something in his classroom. He was a teacher. And one of the guys accused him of blasphemy and he is in jail for more than almost six years now. He’s behind bars and he went to uh USC. He’s a Fulbright scholar. He came back to his country, to serve his country, to do better in his country. And that’s how the country is repaying him. So we were all, like, afraid at that time. So the resilience came from those groups meetings. And then I had a very workaholic life. So, in…in I…Now I see how I have actually survived. I have always created distractions for me. That’s how I could survive. Otherwise, it was very hard for me. So, I would work two jobs and then I would sleep because I was too tired (laughs) after doing those two jobs. So, I was teaching in the morning at a school and in the evening I was going to a college and I was teaching over there. And then I would…when I would come back at nine in the evening, I would be dead. So, I need to sleep after that. And then on weekends, I would always meet friends or I would stay with the family, cook food with the family, spend a lot of time with them, go out with them, do things so that I don’t have to think about those things. And I always did that even in Germany, I did that. So, that’s where the resilience came from. But it’s not as such resilience, it’s actually running away from the problem. So, you’re creating distractions for yourself, so you don’t have to think about it.And I wouldn’t think about those things and I would always be like, “OK, so I need to work. I need to check papers. I need to give lectures tomorrow. So, I need to prepare myself.” So, my mind was always occupied with those things instead of with uh what’s actually happening in the society. But once I came here, it all changed. Because being here newly arrived, nobody’s here who is…who is speaking your language, first of all. English speakers we have, but we don’t have enough English speakers and…finding same minded English speakers was also very hard. It wasn’t easy. Um, yeah. It was like…like the first three years, I didn’t even know if I’m going to stay in Germany or not. I was not learning the language. I was not interested in anything. I would go to my courses, take the courses and then come back, try to do my assignments and my project. But I was always thinking, “No, I…maybe I made a mistake coming to Germany” because Germany seemed to me in those three years, the first three years like it…it’s not a welcoming country.

In which way?
When it comes to foreigners, like migrants uh…And then I realized, “No, it’s not that.” It’s actually I’m not speaking their language. So, they cannot…actually they are not most of the Germans that I knowing now in person…in person has. But they do not feel confident enough to speak in English language. That was the thing. But I had a very different perception. I used to think “They don’t like people of migration background. They don’t like us. They…that’s why they don’t talk to us.” But no, it’s a different country, different rules, very different culture, um, very composed people most of the time, and they keep their business to themselves. So, they don’t interfere in your life. If you’re an atheist, oh good. That’s it. If you are homosexual, they don’t care. If you are trans, if you’re inter, if you’re black, if you’re white, if you’re anything, they don’t care. And I told my couple of friends in the beginning, “Oh, you know I am atheist.” They were like, “Good for you” (laughs). It’s like nothing happens here. They were like, “No, we don’t care.” The God doesn’t play any big role or even the religion doesn’t play any role. And I was like, but you celebrate Christmas. They were like, yeah, we do. But it’s a family festival. It has nothing to do with err…uh Jesus Christ. Like, OK, so the…the people who study here at the universities, they were different people than I had back home. And then I started to learn German language and it became easier. The life became easier once I started the language and speaking in that language with people. So, you can communicate with everybody here, doesn’t matter. But um since the so-called wave of the migrants or refugees since 2015, uh there was a welcome culture in the beginning. They were going to train stops, they were picking up people, they were taking them to the refugee centers, they were doing their paperwork, all the bureaucracy, and then happened the New Year’s night of 2015 and 16. In Berlin, in Cologne, in Hamburg, in all the major cities in Europe, and after that, everything changed. All of a sudden the migrants were bad. They were not good people. They abuse their women. And it…it it…it…it made everybody a victim. So, everybody…everybody who is a migrant, uh who lo(oks)..is brown in color who is not white, they are all bad. They are all sexist and uh…and after that, AFD (german right-wing party) got lot of voters the…the…the right wing party. Uh but in my life, it everything changed actually after that. It became better (laughs) for me personally

How?
Uh because I started working for refugees. I completed my studies. I did my master degree here in Germany, and I got a job. Um, after like six months of doing my degree and I was allowed to do that job as well. So, it all helped me to make my life. So, I was uh already, uh master’s degree in climate change and migration. So, I had a degree, you can say, when it comes to migration, how does the international laws work? How does it affect the people who are migrating? And for me, the Syrian war was actually a climate change war (laughs). Personally, I tried to prove it, but you don’t have enough, uh, scholarly uh research work on that. But maybe after a decade or two, we will talk about it, that it was a climate change war because of droughts and then the uprise in the cities and then all of these militia coming against Bashar al Assad, all of that. But now back to my story. So, I started working. And since then, I have given a lot of, uh…uh, counseling myself. I have done a lot of sensitization workshops. I do a lot of lectures and these days. So, my personal growth happened to that faith. And now the focus is mainly on, uh, LGBTI refugees and people who are, uh, trans or inter or homosexual. So, gays and lesbian, bisexual. So, I work in that area. So, it’s like you have a specialization in that because work give you way much more in depth insight than anything else. And that’s where I realized people coming from most of the countries, especially in MENA region – the Middle East and North Africa – um, many LGBTI people are atheists. Very few of them are religious. And those who are atheists, they have to face two different fronts. They have to combat about their sexual and gender identities, as well as their atheism. And they are being persecuted by every section of the society, may it be the family, may it be the government. The media talks such bullshit about atheists and LGBTI people, like “Kuffar (plural word for disbelievers), they need to die.” Why do “Kuffars” need to die? All this is…all the technology, most of it is coming from “Kuffar”. The person who…who made the first computer, he was a gay man. The women behind uh the technology, uh the apps, they are most of the time non believeing people, they don’t believe in God. So, you believe you use their technology, you use the technology provided by people who don’t believe in your God. And then you tell your…your believing people, your believing masses, actually, that they need to die. They should be killed. They are shameless people just because they show their bodies or they are not covering their women with abaya and I don’t know…It’s…it’s all so…So, I listen to those stories as well, when people come to me and they tell us that they are persecuted by their atheism, they are persecuted by their gender identity or sexual orientation. And I think to myself and then I’m very lucky to be alive. I could have been killed, honestly. Uh, those those rapists, they would have killed me after that. Many people get killed once they’re raped, just to remove the…the evidence and the witness, because you are the evidence and you are the witness in that case. So, I…I survived and I…I am still trying to survive (laughs). I hope I thrive very soon, that it gets even better than I’m doing now, because I have…I have dreams. I have dreams now. There was a time I didn’t have any dreams. I was living day to day. I would think about, “OK, I have done my things for today and let’s see what happens tomorrow.” But now I plan things about the future.And it happened after my last attempt of suicide. It was in 2016, because my mom she got beaten by her brother and he was of the opinion that she has brought shame to the family because I’m her…her child, because of me. My mom was beaten.

Because you’re an atheist?
Because I’m an atheist and I’m a transwoman. So, they were like, “you should kill her.” And my mom, she cried and she told me that this thing happened and I thought to myself, “OK, then I am not worthy of living. I should be dead.” So, I tried to commit suicide, but I failed.

It’s good.
It’s good! It’s good! But then it worked. I got a therapy. I got a therapist, uh a psychiatrist who is helping me to move with the life on different steps. So, he has worked a lot on me. If you have met me a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t even be talking like this. I would keep everything to myself. I wouldn’t open my mouth. I would mostly be “OK, let’s see what happens. Let’s about…observe things.” I used to observe a lot, and not talk, and always calculate if it’s…it’s safe to talk or not. I (laughs)…this is so strange, like you have to even calculate about the safety to open your mind. That’s how suppressful this society was for me then. Don’t open your mouth, don’t tell anybody who you are, don’t…don’t talk about your identity, don’t talk about your atheism,…and it was…it was a nightmare compared to what I’m living today. I…it’s…it’s a 180 degree turn. It’s all different. It’s all beautiful. It’s all better. I wouldn’t say it’s the…it’s the best thing because I’m still struggling with a lot of things, but it’s way much better than it was at that time. And I never thought to myself that I need to reflect on things, I need to talk about these things, and then I started talking about things and it got better and better and better and better. So, first I talked to my therapist about things and he suggested what I need to do and what I don’t need to do. The first thing was never, ever think of going back to your family. Stay here, which is also something, uh, I miss my mom. I miss my younger sister. Uh, I don’t miss the country, honestly speaking, not the people, not at all, because they have given me nothing other than scars and…yeah, nothing else. They have always, like, misjudged me, tried to silence me, tried to put me behind of everything, even when I was teaching, they were like, “Why don’t you hit the children?” They…they were…they were the teachers, my colleagues, they were like, “Why don’t you hit the children?” I was like, “Children are supposed to be protected. They need to feel safe with us. They don’t need to feel be afraid of their teachers.” But teachers were hitting students. And students were…they’re helpless! They’re small human beings! They are our version, but they’re very small and they…they are not that powerful to hit you back or retaliate. And hitting children is something that I hate. Uh, I used to get hit in the school, even at home, for doing things which all children should be doing. That’s the beauty of being child (laughs), just playful and be themselves. And that was not possible. And that country where you…your…your…your good gestures and your good deeds are not even respected. And you are supposed to be bad teacher (laughs). They want you to be a bad human being. Hit, “please hit them.” I was like, “No, I am not going to hit anyone. If they are going to do something wrong, I will tell them that this is wrong. Please don’t do it again.” They were like, “Teachers are not supposed to say “please” to their students.” Like, no, you should give them respect and they will respect you back. And I know at least two of my students from that time, they are still in contact with me. And one of them told me last time you were the best teacher I ever had. He’s now a university graduate.

How does that make you feel?
Ohhh, it…it was like, you know, when you are a mother and your child succeeds in the life? That kind of joy! I was like, wow. So, they still he…he at least remembers me in…in good thoughts. That’s what’s important. They don’t understand what’s important. Important is that people should remember each other as pleasant thoughts, as something worthy of thinking about. So, when they sit alone in…in I don’t know…talking to themselves and going back in their memories and you pop out in their memory, then they have a smile on their face. That’s what you need in this life. The life itself is not easy. And then you make it hard with such stupid things as hitting children, making them more Islamic. I was told to put everything in Islamic version as the teacher of geography and history, and they were like, even in geography, you have to come up with Islamic things. Like, “Where is the geography in Quran, where it has been mentioned?” Or in history, you cannot talk about other gods of other people. I was like, “No! I will talk about what’s written in the book. So, let’s talk about that.” And they were not happy about it. They…there were like parent-teacher meetings where I would be called and they would be like, “Yeah, the teachers have problem the way you teach students.” I was like, “What’s problem?” “Yeah, you told them that there were other gods before Islam.” I was like, “Yeah, there were.” And then the children said, one of the child told me, “But our God is the true God.” And I said, “Yeah, but for you. For them, their gods are the true gods.” And it was like, “No, but that is Kufar.” (laughs) And he told his parents and his parents were so mad at the school that “what are you teaching our children? They should be taught according to Islam and uh there is no other true gods.” And I told…and I had to explain myself, “those gods were true for those people. So, you need to understand that.” “No. But the child told us that you were saying those gods were true gods and their God is not true God.” I said, “No, he’s lying.”

And back then you came out as a trans woman?
No, I did not. I did not. It took me a lot of years.

But you knew that.
I knew. I knew that. I knew that. I knew that all my life, actually, that there is something different about me. The first time I told my mom and that’s all…that’s also my second attempt of suicide. I told my mom that I’m different and I don’t know what it is because I…I’m from, uh, rural background or countryside background. Our part of the city has now been included in the city, but it used to be countryside. We had fields, we had farms, we had everything. It was so beautiful. Uh and as I was 16, I told my mom after the puberty that something is different, I don’t like the way I am. It’s not what I wanted. I don’t know what it is, but I think it would be better if I were a woman. And she was like, “Oh, it will go away in a year or two. It’s a phase.” And then I kept it to myself for a couple of years. Then I tried to,…when I found out about the atheist groups there, I also met a couple of transwomen. And then I…the war came. People can be trans. There…there…there is a thing from men to women, and that was the time when I also started thinking about it, but not thoroughly because I was afraid, because being trans is not easy. Believe me, it’s the most difficult thing leaving that…manly privileges (laughs) that society gives you just by the virtue of you looking like a man, that’s it…and not a woman. Uh I had that and now I don’t have it. Now I’m afraid. I’m afraid of so many things I’m afraid of…as I told you, I’m afraid to go out after the dark. And it’s because of the experience I had. There…there have been men who just came out of nowhere and they were like, “Boo.” Oh God, they scared me. They literally scared the hell out of me, out of nowhere. You’re just walking and then they…they were uh maybe walking behind me. And then they came to for…in front of me. And for them, it’s a joke. And for you, being a rape survivor, a sexual abuse survivor, it’s not a joke. It’s something that will traumatize you. So, yeah, I…Then I came out as a trans woman to my family in 2015.

In Germany?
In Germany. I told them that I’m different. I’m not what you think I am. And my mom, in the beginning, she didn’t like it, like all other moms of so many trans people are. But now she’s like, “Oh, I have two very beautiful daughters.” She accepts it. She even…she told me two, three days ago, she like cherishes it, like now we have a different connection with my mom. We are more open about things. We’re more like friends. She’s not that old as well. She’s like 17 years older than me. Not that much. So, when we sit together and do the face time in the evening or maybe in the morning, whenever we have time. Uh I also feel she talks to me differently. She talks about her fears as well. She never talked about her fears before, when I used to be a boy. No, she wouldn’t talk to me about her private things. She wouldn’t talk to me about her day to day life. How is that going on? But now she talks about everything. Even do dirty talks (laughs) and she loves that. She’s like, “Good. You’re enjoying your life. I see that.”

I love listening to you, but I have to wrap it up (laughs).
It’s okay, it’s okay.

So, uh, the most important question…
Yes?

What was your dream, back then in your home country? Please answer me the way: “That my dream was…blah blah.” It could be personal, it could be stupid, it could be funny.
It was stupid. It was stupid. Let me tell you my dream. OK, so I was I was in denial of me being trans for a very long time. I had to really go through a lot of (takes deep breath)…like thought processes for years and two years. So, my dream back home was I should get married, I should have children (laughs), I should become a university professor, and try to live in Pakistan. That was uh when I was like around 21. And after that, I stopped dreaming. Honestly, I was like, OK, I have to do a lot of couple of things that I have to finish. And in Germany, I have started dreaming since two years. I am…I’m dreaming about my future here. Um, I hope I find a nice guy. Let’s see what happens. Uh, as a partner, I don’t believe in marriages. I believe in love. If the love is there, the partner will stay. If it’s not…a piece of paper cannot keep them. Uh, and then I want to adopt two children. I still want to be a mom (laughs). I still want to be a parent. It doesn’t matter. I love children. I love them. I have a very beautiful nephew, we’ll show you later. He’s so cute, squishy,…

So, uh, your dream in one sentence now?
Oh, I want to be a mother and a good partner and see that uh my children and their children grow up in a safe space where they don’t have to fear about their lives, from nobody. I don’t want that.

Thank you for doing this.
You’re welcome (overlaps with interviewer)!

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.