After she came from Afghanistan with her parents and her sister some 5 years ago, Jagdeep (18) obtained her primary school degree (in French!) after a year of hard work. Right now, she is in High School, and her dream is to become a heart surgeon. The only problem: Belgium still has not given identity papers and work permits to her family.
What do you remember from Afghanistan?
I must have started to figure out about life in Afghanistan when I was about 8 years old. As a little girl, I did not go out enough to get an idea of the war that was going on. We had a garden in Kabul, and we went to the Gurudwara (Sikh temple) where I got Punjabi lessons, and a private teacher came at our house to teach me English and some general courses. That was about it.
Later on, the situation got worse, and my father decided not to let us go out anymore, not even to go to the temple. Afghanistan has been at war for 37 years now, but there is also a war against young girls, and it is even worse: a girl can get raped or kidnapped, and even the police can be an accomplice.
Before the arrival of the Taliban, Afghanistan was a bit like Belgium: women could go to work, and dress the way they wanted. Ever since the Taliban arrived, we lost all our rights. If they saw a hand peeping from under a burqa, they would cut it off! Most of the Afghans think it is useless for a girl to go to school. She just needs to get married and that’s all. However, my father wanted me to study, and the only way was by getting private courses.
Are you happier here than in Afghanistan?
Afghanistan is my land, my country of birth. But when I look at the future and compare it to my past, I feel much happier here, in Belgium. People often say that Belgium is a small country. But apart from a few political complications, I think this country is just perfect. An example: during my five years in Charleroi, I have never encountered racism, everyone wanted to be friends with me. Even if my religion, Sikhism, is not very well known here, I have always felt accepted by everyone.
What are your dreams, your passions?
I would like to be a doctor, and get specialized in heart surgery. I think the functioning of the body is absolutely fascinating! I would like to understand as much as possible about it, and especially about the heart, because without a heart there is no life.
I also enjoy reading, I read everything. At school, they ask us to read one book per month, and then write a summary and an opinion about it. So whenever I am reading, I switch everything off, even Facebook! Lately, I have been to the Book Fair with my Latin teacher, and there I found the most wonderful books in English. Especially the book ‘I am Malala’ caught my eye. It is the story of this young Pakistani girl that got shot by the Taliban. I would love to write a book one day, and tell everything. I dream of being able to say all the things you can not read in the papers or see on the news. Right now, I am participating in a writing workshop for refugees: we learn how to write our story down, and it will be part of a collective book. Each person writes their own story and in the end we realize that they all have one thing in common: we came here because we fled a country where we were in danger.
Do you miss Afghanistan?
I don’t have any more family in Afghanistan. But in any case, we did not leave the country to go on a trip or for a vacation. So, no: even if I did have family there, I would not want to go back. I have spent my teenage years here, I learned about life here, it is here that I started to figure out what humans are about…
Do you have a message for our readers ?
Whenever you come across an immigrant, do not judge them before you know their story. It is true that not everybody is honest, and I understand that Belgium can not accept everyone. Try not to judge us too quickly. Among the Sikhs that I met in Belgium, all of them want to work and be responsible for their own lives. It is like with Flemish people: not all of them are racists! And not all Walloons are lazy, right? So let’s drop our preconceptions for a minute and listen to the other.
Just a last thing: it feels so indescribably awful to get a letter ordaining us to leave the country, after having done our best to integrate and become decent members of Belgian society! Have our 5 years here really been totally worthless? A Minister or State Secretary would not do that to their own daughter, I am sure…
Interview by Marlene Nuhaan
Article en français ici