About Refugees, By Refugees
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“My dream is to become a famous person… A poet or a singer,” says asylum seeker Mahdieh Hosseini (16) from Afghanistan. Now living in a refugee camp in Greece, she says that persecution caused her family to flee their home. “I only wanted to escape those problems and go somewhere where I could have security,” she recalls of that time. The journey to Europe was made even more difficult by her mother’s poor health. The boat they were in almost sank. “It was a tough feeling, a very bad feeling, feeling fear, feeling horrified,” she remembers. She still often cries when she thinks of it. Now, her work as a teacher and responsibility to her family keep her going. “It is because of them that I continue my life,” she says. “Now I feel I have become stronger.” She also finds strength in art, music, and writing poetry about her experiences. “I will remember what I was, who I was and who I have become,” she vows. “Because when you do not forget who you are, that is the key to your success.”
Trigger Warning: Death, sexual violence/rape, violence/murder, discrimination.
Please introduce yourself?
Hi, I am Mahdieh Hosseini, I am 16 years old and I am from Afghanistan.
Can you please explain the activities you have here?
Well, look, we …
Please relax and answer the way you want.
OK, look, we … two and half months … no, it has been three months. It has been three and half months since we have started this activity, we teach children at school, and we try to learn something and try to teach them something, as much as we can. We don’t have a strong educational degree to … have a diploma from a center, from a university, we just only try to teach children whatever we have. This is to not waste both our children’s time and our own time.
How long have you been here?
It is two to two and a half years.
Did you come to the island first or directly to Athens?
No, we came to Samos and we were in Samos but later, because of my mother’s mental health and depression, we were recognized as vulnerable and came to Thessaloniki. We were in Thessaloniki and then they took us to a hotel, Demitra Hotel. We were there and then, we stayed there for one and a half years and then we came to Ritsona camp and it has been a while since we have been here.
In Ritsona camp do you live in a house or in a container-house? How is that?
Well, we are inside a house and there are two families in each house. It means, the rule is that those families who have four members should live in one room and another family of four members should live in another room. For example, four and four. In each house, there are two rooms where four people live in one room and four people live in another room. But with the current condition of my mother who has got depression and really suffers from this condition, she has got heart disease and depression, this organization has given us the whole house.
They have given you a separate house?
Yes, they have given us an independent house because my mother is sick. Since my mother is sick and I have a younger brother, she cannot even tolerate his voice. And also, if we live with the neighbors, they will make noise and disturb my mother. When we are at home, we try not to make any noise so as not to disturb my mother because my mother is using pills, she uses anti-depression pills, sleeping pills, and in the best case scenario, she hardly wakes up at 5 PM. She sleeps until 5 PM in the evening and the pill that she is supposed to use in the morning, she takes it at night so she doesn’t have to wake up in the morning to take that pill.
Do you live with your family?
How many people are there in your family?
We are six people. It is my father, my mother, my sister who is younger than me and my two brothers who are younger than me. I am the first child of the family.
How do you spend your time every day? Do you go to work?
Well look, if for example it is a Monday, I wake up at 8 in the morning and since I do all the house chores, I need to clean the house and organize it. I get done with the house chores at around 10:30 then I get ready and go to solidarity class. The solidarity class is held three days a week and I have Mathematics on Mondays. Sometimes when my mother has a doctor visit in Chalkida or Athens, then I can’t attend that class because I have to take care of my brother who is younger than me and he is five years old. Maybe you are going to ask me why not my two other siblings take care of him, it is because they themselves go to school. The school that we ourselves have built here. The autonomous school where we ourselves are the teachers. I am one of the teachers there and they go and study in that school. And when they come back, they are very tired and they either study or sleep. So, they cannot take care of my younger brother. Then, I come home and if they are asleep, I wake them up and give them their breakfast. Well look, they can’t have their breakfast because they either go to school or sleep. I give them something to eat and then I help them with their studies if they have any problem. If not and if there is anything that I need to do, I do that until 5 o’clock. From 5 to 7, I go to the mosque and to the place where we teach. There, I teach students until 7 o’clock. After that, I come home and relax, I then make food and do any other things that I need to do. Until 10 or 10:30, I will be done with my work. Then I go out and play with my friends or walk or sit. Because I am on-time and I am off during those hours.
What makes you enjoy your life a little bit or what makes you happy?
Well, frankly speaking, nothing makes me happy in the current situation, except for thinking about the future. I cannot even tolerate my own self these days. I don’t even like to wake up and don’t like to continue living. But, when I think to myself a little more, I say that even if someone else was in my place, they would also not give up. I am working hard and thinking about the future and I have to continue.
How has your life been from the time you came to Europe? What are its good aspects and negative points? Can you explain it?
It has got good points … It is good because I feel secure. From the time I have come here, I really feel secure. When I see there is no fighting, no argument, no bloodshed, no bombing, and suicide attack, it really gives me a good feeling. When I sleep at night, it is not with fear that if I wake up in the morning and see that, God forbid, something bad has happened to my friends and my family, and I will be just helpless. So, it is much better than Iran and Afghanistan.
How about its problems?
Its problems, well, everything has its own problems but it has been mostly pleasing to me.
How does living here make you feel? How do you feel living here?
In Ritsona camp or …
In Europe. How has your life been from the time you came to Europe and how does it feel?
Well look, this feeling when I see that … my current feeling … when I compare my current situation to the situation of those who are in war-torn countries like Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, I see that, even if I say that my life is not the way it should be, but well, I am secured, and that I am not afraid if I go outside, will I come back alive or not? I know that when I go out and come back, I will find my house safe and my mother is asleep in her room, my father is settled down, my brothers are playing, my sister is doing her studies.
Were you ever thinking you would be in such a condition and be able to control it?
Frankly speaking, no. I had never thought to come to Greece, I had never thought to migrate, I never thought to become a teacher and teach children. I had never thought about these things and when I think about it now, I have found that I have gained a really good experience. The fact that I teach children, I am really happy that this has happened.
Do you think the difficulties and challenges that you have encountered make you improve your skills and strengths? Have they made you gain a skill?
Well, yes. Now I feel I have become stronger. I feel if I was that Mahdieh from years ago and I would face these problems, I wouldn’t be able to control them. I couldn’t and I feel I could control my emotions and I know if I was the old Mahdieh, I would freeze in my place and wouldn’t be able to continue my life. But when I look at the situation of this camp, and I see the situation in Samos, it really has its difficulties. And I feel I have become stronger, my tolerance has increased.
The Mahdieh who is sitting here right now and the 17-year-old girl that you are, if you want to compare her with another 17-year-old, at what level do you see yourself compared to that person? With all the experiences that you have gained, compared to the girl who has lived a normal and common life?
Well look, if these incidents have happened to me, and if for example … how should I say it, I can’t explain it. For example, if I see that girl, I, a hundred percent, will tell myself “good for her”, she has not seen any war, good for her that she can easily go to school and come back, but well, I haven’t thought about it yet. I have not compared myself yet.
How about the positive points, the experiences that you have and she does not have?
Yes, for example, this exists. When I get into a bad situation, I can control it. I can tolerate hunger, I can for example, tolerate the fighting and arguments without fear. Well, fear does exist but I am able to control myself and to not easily cry.
Are you able to manage the situation?
Yes, I can manage the situation and not be terrified. And for example, I am able to both keep myself stable and calm my family. I am really better from this perspective.
How has Covid-19 affected your daily life and your emotions?
Well look, when we came here, it was the beginning of Covid-19 outbreak. Then, it was really hard. The days were repeating and for example, it was very boring. I was depressed and I sometimes would ask my mother if eating those pills give her a good feeling, and if possible, give some of these pills to me too, so I can also take some of them. But for example, look, depression comes towards me and I don’t like to wake up. But I have to get up, why? Because, it can be called … I am doing the house chores and if I do not be there and do not take the responsibility, there is no one to manage them. That is why, I have to wake up and I have to give hope to my father, brothers and sister so they can at least be hopeful when our mother is not there, there is their sister who can support them. It is because of them that I continue my life. That is why I continue my life. When it was quarantined, it was rainy every day and the weather was very depressing. All of these incidents would come together to make me feel alone.
Now I want to ask you about the past. Why did you leave your country and what happened to make you leave your country? Can you explain it?
Well, can I not answer this question?
As far as you can. I don’t want to talk about the whole thing. Tell me something in general.
Well look, there, we were living in Behsood, in Maidan-Wardak. There, we are Shia and Sadat. And there, the nomad people do not respect us at all. They kill us, they do anything that they can, they steal our belongings, they rape. Trespass is not only about touching someone’s body, it is not that. Trespass is to cross your red lines and cross your limits. They were trespassing in our houses, our belongings, all of these incidents got together and made us leave our living area.
What were you feeling during the time that you were experiencing those incidents?
I was always telling myself that well, I wish I was not here at this moment. Why me? Why should these incidents happen to me? Why are these incidents happening to a girl at such a young age and not those who are living in other countries? Why me? Why am I not in their place and why they in mine? Why me? It was a question in my head all the time.
You said that you were born in Iran?
After you were born in Iran, you went back to Afghanistan?
Yes. I was born there in Iran. Then after … I don’t know how old I was; I was either one or two years old when we went back to our country.
Can you explain your trip to Europe? Can you please tell us about your experiences and the problems that you had?
The smuggling way that you came by or this trip that you took. How did you come?
Well, when we came to Turkey, in Turkey, for two months, I think it was two months, two months or two and a half months that we were on our way. It was really hard and we were forced to sleep in the park. There, for example, my mother and her sickness, it has been many years and as far as I remember, my mother has been sick. This is really hard for me and I always ask myself why my mother should be sick. Why can’t I take my mother’s hand and go outside? I don’t remember if my mother has ever taken my hand and we would go to the park. Why? Because she has always been sick. She has always been laying down in a corner of the house. And when we were coming this way, my mother’s condition got worse, it got really worse. When we were on the sea, our boat had a hole and there were 50 people in it. We were close to the beach. We were close to the beach and if we weren’t that close, all of those 50 people would be dead. It is very hard and I hope this incident does not happen to anyone. But, when I say no one, it is not possible because everyone is escaping their problems to come here. This is a wish that might come true very late.
What would you feel when you were on your way? What was your feeling?
It was a tough feeling, a very bad feeling, feeling fear, feeling horrified. For example, I was telling myself that well, if the police catch me, they might send me back to that country. To the place where I had once escaped, to the people whom I have escaped. This was my constant fear. This fear was always with me that I would be caught by the police, all of us, my family and those who were with us, they might catch us and send us back to our current country, our first country, where we were. I really had this fear.
Do you think about these incidents a lot?
I really think about them always.
When and what makes you think about it?
When for example, I get tired of life, which I am now. I lay down and think to myself, how could I come all the way here? How could I cross that big sea with my family and those who were “taking their lives in their hand” and come here, how could I do that? But when I think about the past, I tell myself that well, we were in a condition that we really couldn’t think of. Our only thought was to escape and reach somewhere that for example, has security.
How do you feel when you remember these memories?
I really sometimes want to cry. But I try to write them down in a notebook to not ever forget what has happened to me and one day when I become an important and great person, I will keep this diary, and when I become a great person, I will still think about my past and will tell myself who I was and who I am now, I should never forget my past because there are people who forget about their past and that past … when you forget your past, you will forget who you are, and this is really bad for you. I will remember what I was, who I was and who I have become. Because when you do not forget who you are, that is the key to your success. You should not forget who you were and who you are now.
The situation that you encountered, the difficulties of the way and before that, how have they affected your life?
Like what type of impact? Well look …
For example, now that you say you have all the responsibilities, it has made you a responsible person, a strong person in such a condition.
For example, my friends tell you that, “Mahdieh, how can you manage a girl who is your sister and two boys who are your brothers and your parents?” For example, sometimes they are joking with me and tell me that I can manage a life if I get married. Why? Because I am able to manage a house. For example, their eating time, you know when they should eat, you know when they should bathe, you know when you should clean up the house, you know when to do what. These things have made me more responsible.
Would you ever think to be able to tolerate this situation? The situations that you have overcome? I am talking about the conditions.
No, I never thought I would be this much responsible because I was really feeling I am a girl who for example, what do they call it … a girl who is not able to overcome these problems. And never, for example, how should I say it. When I was a child, I remember when I was a child and my mother was sick, then, my siblings were very young. That time, when I was 8 years old, I was trying to help my father and my mother with the house chores. But when I grew older, I was feeling that I will not be able to handle it. But again, now, my current situation has made me stronger from many years ago.
How could you overcome these problems and fade away these bad memories that you had? Or forget them? Did you yourself use any technique to vanish those memories a little bit or did you find any place to support you?
No. Look, I am; at home, when I am not in a good mood or cannot control myself, I sometimes cry. I feel light, by crying. After crying, I feel very good. But sometimes I tell myself that these have passed now, I should put it aside. But not that far to forget who I was. That is why … I have a notebook at home. I have two notebooks, one where I do drawings. I haven’t gone to any painting class yet. The paintings like … I can sometimes draw sketches of eyebrows and eyes. Doing charcoal drawing really makes me feel good. I sometimes listen to calm music to calm my mind. These things help me escape my thoughts.
Writing, drawing …
Writing, writing. Can I say something? I, besides this school, love singing. I love singing. Then, I write poems. I write poems and writing poems gives me a good feeling, even more than the times when I do painting or cry. Writing poems is so good for me that it makes me … Sometimes, I write about my days and make a poem out of it and read it in front of my friends. And when I see them appreciating me so much, I write and I have a small notebook with black cover where I write my poems. I write about my feelings from that day and it gives me a good feeling and I feel like I have been emptied.
Wonderful. Before you decided to leave your country, leave your home and come here, what was your dream for your future? Use this sentence when you answer “My dream was …”. Use this and say your dream.
Ahm. Well, frankly speaking, I had no dream.
You had no dream?
No, I didn’t have one. My dream was, for example, to become a well-known person. To become a person … how should I say it … to become someone who is able to help everyone. To help people who are like me, have the same problems as mine, those who need help and be able to help them that way. It was my dream. To be able to be useful to them, to my family, to my friends, to society, to the people. Being useful was very important to me.
When you left your home and your country, what was your dream at that time, for your future?
I really had no dream at that time. I only wanted to escape those problems and go somewhere where I could have security.
Before you left your country, I know that you were young, but do you think that you had strengths and skills in yourself?
No, I really don’t think it is that way. But well, as I said, my mother was sick when I was a child. And I was somewhat …
You were somewhat responsible.
I was somewhat responsible. I was being responsible because it has been in me and I didn’t know about it. Then when we came here and it has been many years … it has been two and a half years we are here, I got to know myself further, I further understood that I have more of this feeling responsible in me. But I didn’t know about it and I discovered it.
The things that you said and the problems you mentioned, they are really hard. Do you think that these difficulties have made you grow? And it has created a positive thing in you? So this has hundred percent happened to you?
Honestly, it has happened to me, definitely. My self-confidence is increasing, it has increased. And I have learned to love myself. I was always, for example, telling myself … how should I say it … I was telling myself if I were this way, it would be better. But now, I have learned to accept whoever I am. My self-confidence has increased. My strengths are that I can plan a condition that might happen to me, I can take it under control, and it is no longer hard for me.
What is your dream and hope for your future now? Start with “My dream is …”.
Well look, my dream is to become a famous person. And as I said, I like to … I said that I write poems, I loved to be a singer. A poet or a singer. You might ask me now that if you want to become a singer then what do you do here at school? Well look, when I came to the director of this school I told him that I wish it was a place where I could learn guitar, or learn piano, or there was someone to nurture this talent in me and work on my voice so I could sing better. But when I saw that there is a school but there is not such a thing, well, let me be a bit useful for this school. And transfer the things that I know to the students and learn something from them.
Thank you very much for answering my questions. I am very proud of you. You are a strong, artistic and committed girl. And I want to ask you if you have anything to say to the people in Europe to let them know more about the lives of immigrants here. If you have a question, or anything that you would like to talk about, or else, I am done with my questions.
I am very thankful to you for coming and allocating your time and that you were thinking of us. I am very thankful to you. And I would like the whole world to understand the migrants more. We need to be understood, we need to be, for example, seen. Not everything is about financial issues all the time. For example, you say well, if I give them a package of food and a house, it is done and they don’t need anything else. Our thoughts are like … they should search around among the immigrants to find those people who really have good brains and are able to use their thoughts for the better management of the country, for the management of this … how should I say it … this … yes, discover our talents so we can make better progress.
Thank you very much.
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.