On August 15, 2021 when my country Afghanistan fell to the Taliban I decided to leave my beloved country. Then I boarded the plane with no idea where it would take me. All I knew at that moment was that I had survived death. I was now in the hands of the people who saved my life. On August 22, 2021, everything completely changed, I wasn’t home, couldn’t see my friends, family. Even I wasn’t sure were they alive or not? I had no more my beautiful language Farsi but, I landed in Pearson airport in Toronto, Canada – a land where I could breathe fresh air and smell freedom and peace. My mind is still overwhelmed by confusion. I am traumatized by what happened that much quickly in our country.
It was a bittersweet time for me. In the airport of Toronto, I didn’t see people running towards the exit gate. Every passenger getting off the plane quietly joined the queue, waiting for the Immigration officers to allow them to exit.
None of this was easy for me to process for a twenty-two-year-old girl from a religious country where my freedom of choice was severely restricted, including even choosing my own clothes and shoes.
I was experiencing the most difficult days of my life. It was all so hard. I felt as if my bones were breaking with every single step I took. But no, today I don’t want to talk about the sorrows of my life. Today I don’t want to write about my story, I want to write for a person who completely changed my world, my vision about life. I couldn’t find a better day than today to thank her for what she has done for me, and what a meaningful person she has become in my life. There is nobody else like her, Fiona. My supportive friend, my Mom. I call her ‘Mom’ because she is as kind and supportive to me as my own Mom. It is her birthday and I want to kindly invite some words to come together, to dance up and down and play a wonderful music role, to make a gift and celebrate her birthday.
I met Fiona at Toronto Airport on a beautiful summer day when I arrived after evacuation from Kabul to Canada. I knew her through another friend who passed my information to her. Before that, I’d been searching for a book to read, because reading books and writing makes me feel better and relaxed, and I had nothing with me when I came to Canada. I saw a pop-up for Afghan Newcomers. I was alone at the hotel and finding it hard to fill the hours, and that day I decided to go out for a walk. As I was walking, I saw a man holding his baby with two bags in his left hand. When he was one meter away from me, he asked: ‘Do you need the Quran?’ I nodded my head and said ‘Yes, but how can I get it? Do you know any bookstore close by? I need some other books too.’
‘You don’t need to go to a bookstore,’ he said, ‘two kilometers from here is a pop-up where you can go and ask them to give you the Quran and maybe some books too.’
I felt extremely happy and started walking fast, excited that finally I could find a book to read. But when I got there I found they had no books available except clothes. They took my contact details and promised to bring a book for me next time they came.
About two weeks later, on a dark night when I was absorbed in thoughts about my family back home in Afghanistan, someone called, asking ‘Is this Rukhshana?’ I answered, ‘Yes this is Rukhshana. Who’s calling?’
‘This is Siona,’ she said. I asked her to repeat her name. ‘Siona. S as in fish,’ she said. She repeated it more than three times, ‘S as in fish.’
It seemed funny to me, and I smiled as I wondered what that meant, ‘S as in fish’? Well, my poor language and my unfamiliarity with western names left me confused, and I couldn’t understand how to pronounce her name properly, but I said, ’Okay Siona, your name is so beautiful. Sorry for making you repeat it again and again. It’s the first time I’ve heard this name.’ And then we began to talk.
That night, almost two months after leaving my country, for the first time I had found someone willing to listen to my pain, to hear about my lonely life bearing the responsibility for five people on my shoulders. Talking to Fiona, I felt freedom and experienced the goodness of the world. I felt that, yes, there are still kind people, and humanity is alive. Fiona didn’t know me; I didn’t know her, but she was listening to me as carefully as my mom used to listen to me when I was sick and needed her help. It was the first time I’d talked to her, but it felt as if I’d known her forever. I poured out the words I’d kept in my heart for two months.
Days passed, and finally we met each other in person. I met Fiona and two friends of hers, Sonia and Marcella, at a coffee shop on another wonderful sunny day. That same day her friend Marcella gave me a cute yellow winter coat, and Sonia gave Fiona money to buy me some books. (By now she wasn’t Siona anymore; I’d learned her name was Fiona. At first I’d thought it was Siona because there is a huge difference between Persian and English language pronunciation.)
After that day we met up frequently. One day Fiona said, ‘Do you want to stay with me? I have space in my house.’ I didn’t say anything because I was not sure, and my documents were incomplete. When I got my PR status and my documents were finalized, I asked myself why I felt reluctant to stay with her. Would I find anyone better than her? No, absolutely not. I made my decision and moved from the hotel to her house.
Now I’m living with her, feeling as safe and happy as I was at home. Fiona takes care of me like a mom taking care of her kid. When I need her help, she knows exactly what I need without asking. Being far away from my family is not easy. I’m experiencing the hardest moments of my life but thank God for sending the kindest person in the world into my life, someone who with every single step is trying to change tough moments into enjoyable ones. When I am sad, she makes me smile; she gives me strength when my energy is low; gives me hope with her beautiful smile and encouraging thoughts even when I think it is the end of the world and I just can’t do any more.
Of course, every single second we have English class, and not small talk! Our discussions take days and nights to conclude. I’m a talkative person. Back home the longest talks I had were with my mom. At the end of our talk my mom would say,‘Rukhshana, I’m tired. Can we continue the rest of it next time?’ But here, when I’m talking with Fiona, she doesn’t ask if we can continue next time; instead she writes a note on a white board and tells me, ‘I just want to jot down what we need to do tomorrow, or I won’t be able to remember all of our talk.’
Wow, what an amazing human being. If I could write everything about her it would fill more than a book. I am so proud of her personality and the person she became in her life. I’m writing to show her what an important person she has become in my life, and how much she has taught me that I can use and share with the world. We don’t speak the same language; we don’t have the same religion; we are not from the same country; we do not have the same skin color, but we have kind hearts and a similar mindset. We are human and accept our religion’s humanity. Two strangers from different sides of the world making their lives meaningful.
Dear stranger Fiona, Happy birthday! Wishing you a long, healthy life full of happiness and the same kindness you freely give to others. I hope one day I can repay all your kindness and keep the humanity flag ascending.
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Rukhshana Ahmadi is a Hazara writer from Afghanistan. She is a storyteller and public speaker. She holds a degree in English Literature and Civil Aviation. In August 2021, after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan she fled to Canada. She will soon start studying Journalism at the Toronto Metropolitan University.