Interview: Rozat chub Salvak! Good morning, Slovakia!2. 5. 13
Djevedan (translates as „satisfied“, 34y) is a tiny lady with almond eyes, wearing a headscarf. She is from Afghanistan. She has a brisk pace, a broad smile on her face and a beautiful henna tattoo on her hand. We are drinking hot black tea and her way of speaking is emotional, and accompanied with mimics and gestures. She speaks good Slovak. We are talking about the arrival of her family (husband, 39, and three children – 14, 12, 6) to Slovakia in November 2008, about her home back there and how is it to be at home here. She and her family consider Slovakia to be their second home, where they have found safety and serenity. They have friends here now. Their children attend Slovak school and you would not notice their background were it not for their black hair and chocolate-smooth skin colour. They have the same careless smile as other children; they have high credits in the school, and make their plans for future. Mum and dad have fought for their path to live safe and free in the heart of Europe. They feel at home here.
Why and how did you come to Slovakia?
This is a long story... How? We travelled different roads for 30 long days - by foot, by train and in the car. We crossed the mountains, left cities behind, and travelled alone or with groups. Firstly, we went to Tajikistan and then along the ancient Silk Road. But there was no time for sightseeing or history. Our steps were quick as if we would be followed by fire. This is how we felt. We fled the fear, straight into dreamy Europe. Why? For safety. Usually, people flee from war or famine. We were fleeing because of fortune. My husband, an orphan, had been left with large orchards and fields which produced a rich harvest every year. For this reason, for avidity and profit-making, the mafia had entered our life. Wealth and prosperity had turned against us and our lives had been in stake. Literarily...
This was your reason for leaving the country? When did you decide to become refugees rather than victims?
The ice-cold hand has been holding our hearts
and we were really worried about the future, when we were running away. The
decision was motivated by an almost tragic incident. The idea of leaving
Afghanistan to seek a secure, safe place elsewhere came into our minds for the
first time when our little son, 5 years old that time, had been kidnapped. They
requested 20 000 USD to bring him back. We spent 10 long days without our
son - days of fear and anxiety. Such days can never be forgotten. When our son
came home, alive and healthy, we were very happy. But, the happiness was over-shadowed
by worries. What if it will happen again? Such practices are very common in our
country, unfortunately. Very often it happens that even if the ransom is paid,
the kidnapped person is killed. As a mother, I could not bear such a
feeling; I was terrified. The final decision came after the bomb exploded
in our house. It should have killed us all. With us dead, the land and all
property would pass to our killers. There exists the unfortunate law of becoming
the one in power, no matter what. The bomb exploded when my husband only was in
the house. He had been severely wounded, but he survived, thanks to God! So we
sold gold and we put together about 30 000 USD. This is what we paid for
the new passports and visa to Tajikistan. This was in October 2008. And this
was how our journey for a better life began…
This sounds like something from a bad movie. But your story does not finish with “the end“, but “to be continued“... You paid smugglers to bring you to Scandinavia. And suddenly, you ended up in Slovakia?
We were really hungry, tired and dirty. We were waiting at the train station in the east of Slovakia, for the next connection to Germany. One by-stander noticed us and called the police. OF course, police wanted to see our passports and visa at first. And we did not have these. So they took us to police station than to reception camp and finally to accommodation camps. We spent days and weeks in anxiety and fear. We did not understand anybody, we did not know anybody. We had each other only. This knotted us together very strongly.
Did you know anything about Slovakia?
No, nothing. We did not have a clue where we were or what was going to happen. But some people smiled to us and were kind to us, so we hoped for better. Slovaks are hearty people with good intentions. They will help you for nothing else than a smile and a good feeling. Such situations helped us and moved us forward. Now we know Slovakia and Slovak better and I think we have some things in common – close family ties, respect to elderly and faith.
What are you memories of the refugee camp?
Days were passing and we were waiting patiently. We were in a safe place, which was most important. As for the rest, we got used to it, slowly. The truth is that I was crying almost constantly those first 3 years. I remember how my youngest daughter had high fever and they did not want to call the ambulance. Despair had been followed by hopelessness and anger.
What did you think about that time?
I had doubts in my mind several times. Did we take a good decision? What is going to happen? Long days and sleepless nights opened lots of unanswered questions. But we were together as a family and this was a great help. Not everyone in the camp had been that lucky. That feeling has been, in its own way, very rewarding. We shared all our feelings together, good ones and bad ones. By sharing, the burden seemed to be less heavy.
And your children? How did they feel about the change? Did they attend the school?
The children were crying a lot, at the beginning. And I was crying with them. It was a difficult time, for all of us: a new place, a strange people, a different language. We adjusted slowly. Our children started to play with kids from Ukraine, China, Georgia and Afghanistan. We watched them with my husband and we prayed to God for their careless childhood, their possibility to get an education and fulfil their dreams. They did not attend the school. All the time, they were with us. We were learning new words together, words that we caught coincidentally.
Subsequently, all your family had been granted subsidiary protection. What happened afterwards?
Yes, after 6 months of waiting we had become persons with subsidiary protection. We received a „little asylum“. With the new status, we received the benefit of 100 € each, altogether 500 €. We bought travel tickets to Norway for the money. Our initial intention had been Scandinavia; we wanted to reach our aim. Our friends were waiting for us there; they had secured the accommodation for us. But, 3 days later, the police came there to search for illegal migrants and caught us. We ended up at the police station once again.
Did they deport you?
Yes. No cries, no pleas, nothing helped. We spent 9 months in the Norwegian refugee camp, but the past has caught us up. I sat on the luggage and said that I want to stay. I could not stop my tears. But we had subsidiary protection in Slovakia, so they have returned us. We had a police escort with us all the time, like a foreign delegation (laugh). Now, with distance, I can laugh at it. That time, I was worried about us and our fate when we would return to Bratislava.
Where did you go from the airport?
There were police at the airport. Obviously, they were supposed to drive us, but we had 5 big pieces of luggage with us, and 3 kids. So we argued and we called a taxi. I remember that we paid 20 € for the travel from airport to bus station. So we returned to Opatovská Nová Ves. By chance, we received the same room as we had before we left to our adventurous journey to Oslo.
Did you start the new procedure? Did you have to apply for the residence again or did they sanction you?
No, we were not sanctioned. This was luck. Yes, the new procedure started again. We had a new interview, filled new applications and waited. Again, we received subsidiary protection. I understood it as a sign from God: to stay in Slovakia and find refuge and home here.
Twice you applied for asylum and received subsidiary protection. But you did not give up and apply for the third time...
Yes, we tried the Slovak proverb „All good things come in threes!”, And they did come! Even though I am not sure if the other reason was that my husband had been diagnosed with serious leukaemia.
One good piece of information, one bad. What was your reaction to such different information?
Being granted asylum filled us with happiness. The status of recognized refugee brings you stability, but as person with subsidiary protection you have to renew the process every 12 months. And you can never be sure if the status will be prolonged or cancelled. But the price for asylum has been too high. The doctors informed me that my husband had 1 month to live. Could you imagine? A strong man in his best age, husband and father of our children, was given 30 days to live. Luckily, God had a different intention. Hospitalisation and chemotherapy weakened my husband and I really did not know, what would happen. I tried to be strong and positive, but I had terrible fear. Doctors suggested transplantation, but we could not find a suitable donor as my husband is an orphan. The one possibility had been his sister, but she lives in Afghanistan.
Does your family like anything from Slovak cuisine?
Yes. Thanks to our Slovak friends we had the chance to taste traditional Slovak kitchen. We like potato pancakes – we prepare them at home by ourselves, with cottage cheese dumplings (without bacon), other different kinds of dumplings and soups. Soups are delicious!
So, could we say that Slovakia has become your second home?
Of course, definitely! We have found safety here, even though we had to undergo a tremendously difficult journey. We are poor, but happy. We have each other.
Do you know any other Afghans living here?
Yes. Not very long ago, one family came: they have 3 year old girl. We visit each other and also we visit my cousin, who lives here in Bratislava. The others are mostly single men and we meet them when celebrating Eid or Nawroz.
The kids went through it with you. What was their reaction?
We told them after two months, because we had to explain his long stay in hospital. I visited the hospital every day, the kids on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Firstly, they cried, but then they got used to it and later they become a great support for my husband and me. The children bear the ability to live for the moment. They can be happy for the little things and their laugh is contagious. This is very good. That is the reason why they say that laughter is a cure.
Another life trouble awaited you in 2012?
That time it seemed that we would have to move out from our flat, so we went through this uncertainty. But we have very good people around us and they joined forces with us. However, maybe the stress and fear caused my youngest daughter to start to have health complications. We ended up in the hospital. After some examinations, the diagnosis was the same as my husband’s. I could not believe that! Impossible! I knew the process of examinations, which we went through with my husband, we asked for a second test. After all, we are just people and people make mistakes. It was useful, because another doctor and another test disputed the previous results. My kids and I, we apparently suffer from a lack of red blood corpuscle and since that time we go for regular checks.
How did you learn Slovak? And how did the kids adopt in the school?
I learned with a teacher of Slovak language. At the same time, communication was necessary every day too - in the shop, on the street, in the offices and when watching the TV. This all improved my vocabulary. But at home, we talked to each other in Farsi. Both older children passed the zero year of elementary school in Bratislava. They had basic Slovak knowledge from the playing with fellow Slovak children. During that year, they learned good Slovak. After that, my older daughter went from first class to third directly. For the reason of spending time in asylum camps, they have a little age slip, but nobody minds. I think they have been received well in the school and they are really trying hard. They have the best credits, making me the proudest mother. Teachers and pupils are good, they do not make difference based on religion or origin.
Did you face any difficulties for the reason of being Muslim?
When we came to Bratislava and started to walk around, my husband asked me to put down the headscarf - because of the looks and possible attacks. But I could not do it. The headscarf belongs to me as any other part of my dress. Sometimes I notice “Allah Akbar”, or “Mohammed”, but I do not pay attention. I am proud on my origin and my faith. The students from ninth grade sometimes call my daughter “Bin Ladin”. And she asks me: “Mom, who is Bin Ladin?”
Imagine that you have lot of money again. Would you return to Afghanistan?
Certainly. But only for holidays. We would travel every year, so our children would have the chance to know their country of origin better, its culture and people. But we would not return. The feeling of being in Slovakia in safety - I cannot find the words to describe how good that feels. I fall asleep knowing that we are in no danger, that nobody will attack us in the night and we will meet each other for breakfast.
What does a typical Afghani breakfast look like?
Scrambled eggs with mashed garlic and spring onion, accompanied with spicy. Or “none roghani” – dough covered with sugar, similar to your “langoš”. Also, there are “bolani” – potato pancake filled with leek. Of course, there have to be cherry or apricot jam, olives, milk and sweet black or green tea.
Today is advent. What is your perception of Christmas in Slovakia - the Christmas markets, decorated streets and atmosphere?
It is very nice: especially in the evening, when the lights are on and you hear Christmas carols. My teacher of Slovak language has become our close friend, including her mother. We will spend Christmas Eve in her mother’s home – Ms. Eva. Even though we do not celebrate Christmas, the festive dinner is something we have in common with Slovaks. Ms Eva’s festive dinner is magical! She prepares chicken and beef meat balls; I help by preparing grilled eggplants and baklava. They are followed with traditional gaufre with honey and a pleasant evening. And during the holidays, we will visit our family in Austria, with the children.
Is there anything you wish for the future?
We have everything. We only miss a Mercedes to park in front of the house! (big laugh) (The oldest daughter screams and so we laugh altogether).
Now seriously, is there anything you wish?
No, I just wish my husband would be healthy again.
Interview made and edited by: Zuzana Hasna
This article is one of the migrants’ contributions to the project Migration to the Centre and was created with the cooperation of the Human Rights League, Slovakia.
The article has been written with support of the Europe for Citizens Programme of the European Union and the International Visegrad Fund. The article reflects the views only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.