It was an autumn night in Mazar-e Sharif. We were all sitting around the sofra [i], having dinner. Ehsan, my 14-year old brother, cracked a joke by telling us about his friend who had been deported from Bandar-e Kabul, the station where coaches from Mazar leave for Kabul. He made us laugh by saying that Afghans are usually deported from Kharej i.e. foreign lands, but his unlucky classmate only got as far as Bandar-e Kabul, the coach station.
His friend actually escaped from home. Before leaving, he took with him some money. He hoped that when he arrived in Kabul and then Nimruz, he would put his parents in front of a fait accompli, with no option but to send him money to support the rest of his journey to Europe. But his parents quickly discovered his disappearance and immediately went to the coach station. The coaches usually left at 2am so they managed to bring him back home, before he was able to depart.
Since then, Ehsan started teasing us by saying that if we were not kind to him, he would leave home the next day at 2 am to go to Kharej. One evening, I told him that I could help him to go to Europe legally if he wanted. I told him it would be silly of him to take the dangerous route of going by land and illegally. I knew he was joking, but deep inside me, I got concerned and I wanted to make sure he consulted with me first.
He said that many of his classmates left home and they were already in Europe. He showed me pictures of his friend in Germany who was in his same class, just a few months ago. I asked him why he wanted to go to Kharej. He said: if we were safe here, Mazar would be the second Los Angeles and I would never leave it. But Mazar was not safe. I did not continue the conversation as I knew that he was referring to an attempt by a stranger to kidnap him. I asked him how he knew about Los Angeles. He said he saw images of the city in his video games. Ehsan is the last child of my mother. They shared one bedroom as he was quite afraid of the dark. My parents also restricted his mobility for security reasons.
One evening he fell asleep in the living room. I brought his blanket to the living room so that we would not need to wake him up to go to bed. In a few minutes, he woke up and he realised that he was not with our mother. He dragged his blanket and went to his bedroom. My siblings and I were all watching TV. I asked him how he could go to Kharej by land and illegally when he could not even sleep one night without his mommy. We all broke up laughing and he just gave us a smile.
Most evenings, he said goodbye to us before going to bed. He implied that he would leave home at 2 am the following day, and that we wouldn’t see him again. Yet, in the morning we still saw him in bed, deeply sleeping. He later explained, half jokingly, that his alarm clock did not work and he over slept. But he would try to go the next day at 2am…
[i] A cloth we spread on the floor in order to have food on it. It is like a tablecloth but instead of putting it on a table, one puts it on the ground.
Khadija Abbasi is a PhD candidate in Anthropology and Sociology of Development at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. Her research is an auto-ethnographic account of her refugeehood as well as of her community (Hazaras of Afghanistan) in Iran, Afghanistan and the UK. Simultaneously, she works in a joint research project studying Uzbeks in central Asia. She is now in Mazar-e Sharif, Northern Afghanistan, conducting field research on Uzbeks and their interethnic relationships.
This article was first published on the Becoming Adult website