searching for a safe piece of land for life, where I can live peacefully,
where I can work, study, support my family,
where I can find my soulmate and get married,
where I can build my future and develop the economy of the land that I live in,
I couldn’t live and study peacefully in my country because I am Hazara.
I belong to a minority ethnic in Afghanistan.
Though I love my country and I love to learn,
the Hazara have been the target of genocidal persecution and torture.
I was forced to flee my country.
In search of a safe piece of land, I came to Indonesia.
I chose Indonesia in the hopes of transiting to a safe piece of land to live peacefully –
what I didn’t know was that I would be stuck in Indonesia for a decade.
In the name of green limbo, my youth was stolen.
I have been living without basic human rights for a decade.
When I arrived in Indonesia and I registered myself in the immigration office as a refugee, the immigration officer put me in a room. The door of that room was locked for 6 days. I wasn’t allowed to take a shower. The first time I could take a shower, it was with cold water.
Behind the locked door, the room had a small window that was too tall for me to reach. I couldn’t see outside, but just for an hour every morning, the sun was shining from that small window. Sometimes, I also heard music from that window, the music was probably from a van passing by. Even though the music was strange to me, it gave me some hope in a terrible situation. On the wall of the room, someone had drawn a beautiful face of a girl with big deer eyes and a sharp nose. I felt the beauty of art and was thankful to the painter. That art motivated me to learn art and draw from my pains.
Those 6 days may sound short, but they were truly terrible. I was so panicked, so worried but I tried my best to be strong and not lose hope. I just kept thinking of my dream. At that moment, my dream was that the locked door would open and I’ll taste freedom soon. In hope, I whispered these words:
>>Do not hug the knee of sorrow,
Move to be positive and creative,
No one will be able to detain your thoughts.
By your creative thoughts you could be the best one,
you won’t realize your detained situation
if you do not follow your dream of flying.<<
زانوی غم را در بغل نگیر
حرکت کن مثبت بیاندیش و خلاق باش
هیچ کس توانی این را ندارد که افکار شما را بازداشت کند
با افکار خلاقانه خود می توانید بهترین باشید
شما متوجه وضعیت بازداشتی خود نخواهید شد
اگر رویای پرواز خود را دنبال نکنید
After 6 days, the immigration officer opened the door and brought me elsewhere, where there were other refugees…
Here, a fellow refugee found a mattress and pillow for me that I could sleep on. As thankful as I was for the help, the pillow was dirty and there were mosquitoes everywhere. My body was covered in bites. I wrapped the pillow with my clothes and tried to soothe myself to sleep. Although I slept a bit better than those 6 nights in the locked door room, the situation didn’t end well.
I had so many questions: what situation are we in? When will our resettlement happen? I didn’t know the answers – nobody did. Everyone was restless: some were awake in the nights and asleep in the days, and some fell asleep early in the nights and woke up early in the morning. The situation was complicated and annoying. I was so dizzy from the hot weather, the stickiness of the humidity, the sounds around me – so many languages I didn’t understand.
Most importantly, I was so far from my home. I miss my family so much. I cried in silence, I felt alone. I wondered: when can I see my family again?! All the questions swirling in my mind made tears flow from my eyes. My tears wouldn’t stop.
A taste of freedom?
The next day, I went to the market. People looked at me strangely. I could neither understand nor speak Indonesian language and English. When I needed something, I pointed with my finger. I bought a handkerchief to cover my body from mosquitoes. It gave me some relief the next night.
After 3 months, the immigration officer transferred me to a detention center. I stayed in the detention center for 2 years and 11 days. Here, I was officially recognised as a refugee and got my UNHCR refugee card. I tried to spend my time with some positive things so that I don’t lose hope, and focus on my future freedom. I read books, joined an English class, and a writing competition. I also took part in futsal and running. It helped to soothe myself in the present.
Though I tried to have some sense of freedom, my situation still resembled one of a prisoner. At the center, the food provided triggered my allergies. My skin was itching and swelling and I felt trapped in pain. The first time I asked the head of the detention center to change my food, they didn’t pay attention.
I realized that the food was brought to the detention center by a man and a young girl from outside. They came 3 times a day and I thought they may help. What else could I do, anyway? Early in the morning one day, I wrote a small letter in the Indonesian language and gave it to the young girl. I showed her my scratched and swollen skin and she was sympathetic to me. She wrote my name on the back of my letter and she said that she’d change my food.
2 days later, she returned and gave me my food first, before anyone else took their food. Her English was getting better day by day and she asked about my skin. My allergies subsided and I was grateful. Less pain, more connection, more hope.
This was a small reminder, amidst the darkness: our world has kind people and beautiful hearts everywhere.
Glimpse of freedom?
After 2 years and 11 days, a happy day arrived. I was released from the detention center. I was transferred to the community house.
Soon after moving to the community house, while walking, I came across an old and poor woman, begging for money. From the little I had, I gave her some money. She looked at me and started to pray. There was a sense of heartfelt gratitude and I was happy to see her happy, even if for a moment. Both of us had little and at once, we chose generosity in care towards one another. It was at this moment that I made a commitment to God that whenever I attain true freedom, I will continue to do charity.
As I write this piece, I am still living in the same community house, waiting for resettlement. Little did I realize, moving to the community house meant that I was transferred to another prison. Hope was fleeting. Currently, my status grants me no basic human rights, no right to education or rights to drive a vehicle, no right to work or even to travel to other cities. I wish soon for the day when I can be resettled, to use my freedom to do good for others.
When I think about the man that I was when I came to Indonesia and the man I am now, these two men are quite different. I’ve fallen into a hopeless depression amidst all the challenges. My thoughts can’t stop spiraling into the uncertainty of my life. I don’t have any clarity on what the future looks like – job, income, bank account, budget. These are things many people around the world take for granted but not me.
The pandemic meant even more uncertainty – especially when my roommate got COVID. Whether it’s taking care of my health or housing, I had few options.
I don’t even have a legal entity outside of a refugee card. Where do I belong? Perhaps hopelessness and adversity are all I can cling to.
If you ask me about my youth, I would find it difficult to answer.
I sometimes even forget that I am alive.
What does it mean to be strong? Can I be strong? The strands of hair on my head turning white and the creased skin around my eyes tell me another story.
Sometimes I think of marriage. Will there ever be hope for me to find my life’s companion?
What hurts me the most is that my family is still not safe in Afghanistan and I am thousands of miles away, in Indonesia, helpless. Unable to help myself or them. The pain this causes me is immeasurable, like a thousand knives. When I talk to my mother, I don’t want to add to her pain, I hide my sorrow. I always tell her: “I am good, everything is well, my life is comfortable, don’t worry about me”.
It takes the little strength I have to say these words and almost like a reflex, my eyes well up with tears and my throat feels tight. I can’t say more, I can’t lie more, I hang up the phone. I call back an hour later with an alibi. Maybe she knows something is wrong, I don’t know. All I know is I can’t add to her sorrow.
My mother has a grandson, my nephew, Omid. Although I never had the chance to meet him in person, he asks my mother if he can chat with me over the phone.
His voice is so sweet and hopeful – hope that only a child can have in abundance. He always says that he will pray for my freedom, for me to reach the destination I desire. It makes me emotional – as tears stream down my face, I am so thankful for him.
I ask my mother how Omid knows about my situation, and remark that his prayer is so beautiful at a tender age. She answers that Omid learnt from her prayers for me.
These prayers bring light to my heart. This is what is most valuable to me now. I have grown up with difficulties and there were times I almost gave up. It is little glimpses of hope like this that keep me fighting.
It is in this meandering path of difficulty that light gets us through.
If you liked this story and would like to help more writers like this publish their work, please consider supporting our writers and artists by becoming a member HERE.
Juma Khan Behroozi is a Hazara writer from Afghanistan living in Surabaya Indonesia for the last ten years. He is a painter and creative writer. His writing is based on his life experience in detention, and wishes of freedom.