Women Refugees: Our Journey Into the Unknown…
March is declared as women’s month and women’s achievements and contributions to history and society are celebrated worldwide. This year MEWC is dedicating the month for women refugees, and creating a space for them to share their stories. Our aim with this project is to showcase the resilience and survival of what it means to be a woman refugee, and impact the perceptions of the media and the public about them.
I am anxiously awaiting Nowruz this week, the new year and new beginning. I’ve decorated my apartment with spring flowers, cleaned the windows and made an appointment to get a radical new haircut (because that is what we traditionally start the new year with – dignified and full of respect for what lies ahead). During all this, the memory of a particular line of a Farsi Nowruz song that we used to sing as children pops into my head: “this is Germany! (crowd response: shake it!) Nowruz is free! (crowd response: shake it!)” This part makes me wonder about the complexity of Germany and the repeated use of a concept as abstract as freedom. Freedom. Such an elusive and delusive idea it is. Coming from a war-torn country this is all my family ever talked about for the first years – آزادی Āzādī. I remember one thing that I was constantly told: “This is Germany. You are free, you have the right to express yourself the way you want. Do not ever be afraid, because this is Germany.”
Stepping into freedom, coming to Germany, I had to be grateful. My gratefulness had to be ready and on display, leaving no doubt. My every move was watched, as I was never moving alone, my movements were intrinsically linked to those of my people. I had to try to be the good migrant, the one that is grateful, the one that is integrated enough, understands Western culture enough, and is Western enough – “oh no don’t worry, I am not like them”. I am one of those who are worthy of freedom. I am worthy of freedom. I am worthy of this free life.
My friend coined the term argumentative survival and it reminded me of the first lesson I learned from my parents: If there is a table full of men, you approach it and you sit with them and you speak. You always make sure to have a place at a table, ANY table. You always have to speak and you can never be silent or let people silence you. Make sure you read more books than they do; make sure you have absorbed all the knowledge to gain power, make sure you work harder than they do. We did not come here for you to be silent, we came for you to speak and hold your head high while you do. And when you speak, you do not speak for yourself only, you speak on behalf of other people who experience injustice and are invisible and do not have the same opportunities to be heard as you. And this is the first lesson many immigrant children learn in argumentative survival, the burden of representation, the burden of achieving, the impossibility of depoliticizing yourself, the impossibility of an identity detached from your community and history you carry with you. I am worthy of freedom. I am worthy of this free life.
I took these lessons to heart. Sometimes I float between the part that believes in my power, strength and abilities and the part that tells me that I am nothing, that I am not worthy, not smart, not capable. My family suffered an ordeal for me to be able to speak and I feel responsible. Yet, when I complain about discrimination and oppression my mom reminds me of our times when we used to live in Iran. She laughs and says: “We were treated like dogs and trash in Iran. This? I don’t care what these Germans say behind my back. I am free here! This? This is paradise!” Freedom.
As the years went on, we were able to create a stable life for ourselves in this country. My mother no longer had to clean the houses of white German moms nor babysit their spoiled children any longer. We moved from our social housing and bought a house in a sketchy area. Instead of living next to working class people of color we now lived with working class white people. Just as we thought that this was it, this was freedom and we got to have our fair share of it, a personal turmoil of the past came back to haunt us, making freedom not only a public but a private issue. Isn’t the circle of freedom strange? The trauma of invading a country, denying people’s right to self-determination, degrading and destabilizing their countries, their identities, their bodies, culture and feeling of self-esteem? How are these things manifested in the everyday lives of our children and future generations? How does structural violence become an issue of violence against our bodies? The bodies which are supposed to be free? How does structural violence make countries, communities, families and individuals feel defeated inside and out? Freedom. You gain some, you lose some. A strange perception indeed when I hear people talk about freedom and human rights and equality. Everybody speaks about it, but for some of us it is something we are told we have to earn and fight for just to end up realizing that freedom is empty, it is a delusion for people like us.