09 Jun

Chapter 14: Discovering pathways of opportunity (2)

Earlier, I posted Chapter 1-13 of my new series of blogs, which will collectively form an online book. Below, I have attached Chapter 14. Chapter 15 is scheduled for publication in 2 weeks.


Chapter 14: Discovering pathways of opportunity (2)

Disclaimer: Disclaimer: Since this is primarily a fictional story, please do not take everything I write too seriously.

“You know, I remember it vividly: under the soft glow of the desk lamp, the screen before me illuminated pages of possibilities, each click a step towards a future I was desperately trying to reach. The school’s website portrayed a sanctuary for minds like mine, displaced and disoriented, offering solace through education. However, as the details of its location unfolded before my eyes, a daunting reality settled in. This special school was located nearly seventy kilometers away from our current home. This posed a significant challenge for me, given my young age and limited familiarity with navigating Dutch cities, particularly the prospect of traveling alone each day.

Navigating further into the depths of the site, I stumbled upon a page dedicated to a special program designed for higher educated refugees. My heart, for a moment, fluttered with hope. The program, designed for those who had studied at a university outside of the Netherlands and had the credentials to show it, was like a light in the darkness. Yet, as I explored the Webpage deeper, the criteria began to build walls where I had hoped to find doors. The program demanded applicants be over the age of 21 and holders of a foreign university degree. At 16, my college career had been forcibly disrupted before it could reap the rewards of a university degree, and I found myself standing on the outside looking in, my face pressed against the glass of an opportunity that was not meant for me.

Discouragement weighed heavily on my shoulders as I leaned back, the weight of my reality crushing down like the gravity of a universe I was still figuring out. It seemed like a cruel twist of fate to have gone this far only to discover the pathways forward blocked by things beyond my control. With a sigh that seemed to carry the weight of my journey, I surrendered myself to the fact that this was yet another door closed to me.

But fate, as I would soon discover, is a tapestry with strings of unexpected colors. As I prepared to shut down the computer, a sliver of paper on the edge of the table caught my eye. It was a newspaper, carelessly left behind, perhaps by my colleagues. The headline screamed of a world event that had captured the attention of every soul with access to the news, a disruption so vast that its ripples were felt in every corner of the globe.”

Curiosity awakened, I approached Elara, and asked a question that danced with the shadows of our shared experiences. “Can you guess what article I’m talking about?” A smile a rare and appealing thing, emerged on my lips, matching Elara’s own.

“No, not really,” she replied, her eyes filled with wonder. “But I think, since it was around 2001-2002, the entire world was watching Afghanistan. So, does it have something to do with that?” Her question, laced with amazement, hovered between us, bridging the gap of our shared unanticipated events.

“Yes, that’s correct,” I affirmed to Elara, then continued with a somber tone, “The news everywhere was saturated with updates on Afghanistan: its swift collapse, the harrowing reports of daily explosions, and the Western world’s earnest but faltering efforts to restore peace to the war-torn country.”

“You know, I forgot to mention something earlier,” I added. “When I was young and traveled frequently, many people I met didn’t even know where Afghanistan was on the map. Each person I spoke to would ask, ‘Is Afghanistan even a country?’ which astonished me. People around me genuinely had no idea where Afghanistan was on the map. That’s why I often carried a map with me, showing people where Afghanistan was located before I came to the Netherlands. Then, 9-11 happened, and suddenly the whole world knew where Afghanistan was, but they only associated it with oppression, lack of education and music, and absence of human rights. Many people didn’t realize that Afghanistan had a rich history, was full of minerals worth trillions, and once enjoyed freedom before the wars began.”

I took a deep breath, my voice filled with disappointment, as I recounted, “I remember vividly being in the Netherlands, watching TV when breaking news not only shocked the world but also deeply affected me. It was March 2001, and on the national TV of the Netherlands, I witnessed the destruction of the largest Buddhas in Afghanistan by the Taliban. These statues had stood for over 1500 years! Can you imagine? For 1500 years, the great Buddhas in Afghanistan had weathered fires, wars, earthquakes, including conflicts involving Genghis Khan and many others throughout modern history. Yet, after more than 1500 years, individuals who likely had little awareness of events from even a century ago, let alone a millennium, made the decision to destroy these iconic symbols known to the entire world and humanity. This event deeply hurt me, even when I was a very young girl.”

With disappointment heavy in my heart, tears welled up in my eyes as I continued, “I remember shedding tears while watching the TV and witnessing the destruction of the great Buddhas. I began to question how mankind could have come so far. I wondered to myself, how is it possible that there are individuals out there who make the decision to destroy the greatest achievements of our ancestors? How can there be people who possess the audacity to erase the footprints of our history, hoping to alter or obliterate it entirely, imposing their own ideologies onto humanity? I earnestly sought to understand why some humans had strayed so far, becoming fearful of their own history. They failed to grasp that history is what shapes us, and we ought to cherish the remarkable accomplishments of those who came before us. These contributions have shaped who we are today, and we must appreciate our history and learn from it, instead of attempting to erase it.”

Elara shouted “I completely agree with you!”

“Yep,” I said. Then, I stopped looking outside and continued, “And then in 2001, in the same year, 9-11 happened, as I mentioned before. Suddenly, everyone seemed to know where Afghanistan was located, and many sounded like they were experts on Afghanistan. This event also had a huge influence on me because suddenly everyone around me was talking about Afghanistan, about the roots of terrorism in the country, and about how cruel the Afghans were portrayed to be. It truly saddened me because Afghans had been suffering for so many years – invaded, their homes destroyed, their rights stripped away, oppressed in countless ways. For years, Afghan women had no right to even leave their homes, let alone work or pursue their own lives, often facing starvation when they had no man to support them as women were not allowed to work at all. Yet, so many people around the world were seeing these innocent Afghans as cruel perpetrators. It became clear that these Afghans were victims of a much larger political agenda playing out in the region, a reality that persisted until just a couple of years ago. As we’ve seen, for more than 50 years, Afghanistan faced war and cruelty.

To be completely honest, this was one reason why I didn’t feel very connected to the people around me in the real world back in the early 2000s. Every time I had to defend myself and the innocent people in Afghanistan, explaining the complexities of the situation, it was exhausting, especially when I was young. Throughout my experiences, I’ve frequently encountered the need to educate those around me about the reality of Afghan women: they were, and are, capable of modernity. Often, I found myself in discussions where I had to dispel misconceptions, particularly regarding the role of burqas in Afghanistan before the onset of war. It was essential for me to clarify that before the nation became engulfed in conflict, burqas weren’t as commonly prevalent as perceived. However, repeatedly explaining this to various people around me drained my energy. Yet, in the digital world, I felt safer and more connected because my Afghan identity remained unknown. That’s why I chose to be more active online and less in the real world. In the digital world, there was no need for as many explanations.”

After pausing for a moment to gather my thoughts, I added, “My father continually emphasized that older generations in the Western world, particularly in the Netherlands, had a strong understanding of the difficulties faced by Afghans during those times. The turbulent events of the First and Second World Wars left permanent marks on the collective consciousness, serving as harsh reminders of the devastation caused by two major conflicts. These experiences instilled in older people a deep sense of empathy and understanding, as they had personally witnessed the effects of war and displacement. My father’s observation rang true, as many older individuals I met were well-informed about global situations and were not as judgmental.”

I paused again, then continued, “However, as time passed and memories faded, both I and many refugees around me noticed that newer generations seemed to have lost touch with this historical viewpoint in the Western world. The passage of time dulled the sharpness of those traumatic events, creating a gap between the past and the present. Consequently, until some years ago, many young people and even individuals with higher education beyond their thirties struggled to empathize with the plight of migrants and displaced people, unable to grasp the seriousness of their circumstances. Some of them even completely lost empathy and failed to recognize the struggles faced by refugees around the world.

To be honest, I often felt deeply disappointed when encountering young people who seemed completely unaware and unwilling to understand the plight of refugees. Many showed minimal interest in politics, economics, or history, demonstrating little willingness to educate themselves on these matters. Yet, they were quick to pass judgment on refugees, hurling derogatory names and making light of their desperate flight from their homelands. It was disheartening to witness their lack of empathy and ignorance about the harsh realities faced by those seeking refuge.

But let’s refocus on the main topic,” I interjected. “As I sat alone at 16, a trainee in the office, surrounded by a newsletter lying on the table, I began flipping through the pages. I couldn’t help but notice that they were filled with stories about Afghanistan—its wars, explosions, and the imposition of Western rule.

This prompted me to reflect on my own situation. Was I content to remain silent and passive, doing nothing about the insanity engulfing the world, simply because certain organizations and people told me I wasn’t capable of making a difference? Or could I do more, contributing to the establishment of human rights as I had always desired? I had to be honest with myself; the images of Afghanistan’s suffering, the innocent victims of violence portrayed on those newsletter pages, ignited a fire within me. I resolved to take action, opening a new Word document on the still-on computer and began to write.”

Pausing for a moment, I added, “Honestly, before the destruction of the Buddhas of Afghanistan and 9/11, Afghanistan wasn’t on my mind much. I had even forgotten that I hailed from that country, that my roots were deeply entrenched there. As a young girl, I was even ashamed of my heritage, not fully aware of how it shaped my character, interests, and even my DNA. However, the news articles in the newsletter before me, coupled with the global attention focused on Afghanistan, changed not only the world and its geopolitics but also transformed me from that moment on and my perspective on the world and my own identity.”

“Interesting,” Elara said, leaning forward with curiosity evident in her expression. “What did you do with that blank Word document?” Her eyes sparkled with excitement as she waited for my answer, curious to learn more about the adventure I was going to take.

“Well,” I continued, “the room was quiet, so I gathered all my knowledge and ventured to write a letter. Beside the fire inside me, something urged me to at least try to enroll in this special school for highly educated refugees. Even though I was merely 16, my heart, overflowing with passion, refused to be confined by the conventional pathways laid out before me.

In this Word document, intended to become a letter, I began by addressing the main director of the school at the top of the page. Writing to the main director seemed like my only opportunity to stretch beyond the confines of my current reality. It felt like my only chance to express my concerns and seek opportunities and support from someone in a position of authority. My fingers flew across the keyboard, each word bringing me a step closer to the future I envisioned. I began by chronicling everything that had happened to me since the day I arrived in the Netherlands. I wrote about how I quickly learned to speak Dutch fluently and passed all Dutch exams in less than 1.5 years. I explained that I was often absent from school because I didn’t feel it was the right path for me, yet despite my absence, I still received the highest marks in the class. I detailed how I hadn’t been given any fair tests or examinations to prove that I was capable of more, and I described all my dreams and the obstacles that were stopping me from reaching them.

I remember that the letter eventually spanned almost three pages,” I smiled, reflecting on how much that was for a 16-year-old girl. “But this letter felt like more than a request; it was a declaration of my refusal to be constrained by age, distance, or circumstances.”

Then I smiled again and continued, “As I sealed my dreams and obstacles in that letter, and inserted it into a blank envelope, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was my pivotal moment. It was the opportunity to accelerate my journey, to leap toward reaching my goals. Even though this path was fraught with uncertainties, the fire within me burned too brightly to be extinguished by doubt. This was my chance, and I had to seize it. Shortly after, I got up, wrote the address on the envelope, and decided to take it to the nearby post office so it could be sent immediately to this special school for highly educated refugees.”

“Very interesting,” said Elara. “What happened next?” she asked with curiosity.

I looked outside and saw that it was already getting too dark. I said to Elara, “That’s a story for next time we see each other. I think it’s good for both of us to go home, eat something, and get some rest.”

“That’s a great idea,” Elara said. “Your story is so interesting, I even forgot that we are starving!” She laughed.

“Yes, I understand the feeling,” I said, smiling.

Elara then suggested, “Let’s meet tomorrow evening at the Lubcov café near the central station. They have great coffee there.”

“That’s a great idea,” I said to Elara. “It’s also good for both of us to change the environment a little bit,” I admitted.

“Then so it shall be. See you tomorrow at 6 PM?” said Elara, standing up and kissing me.

“That’s good,” I said. “6 PM tomorrow. See you at Lubcov’s place.”

Then we said goodbye to each other. I gathered my stuff and started riding home.

To be continued…

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