Silk Reroute: Khalid
Taking a break to meet with some friends, fourteen year old Khalid wanders off from his father’s stall amid the squalor of Peshawar’s Board Bazaar to nearby basement. In the dark, half-derelict space he stands watching a class of young Afghan refugees warming-up for a karate class. As the group of teenagers around him stand on tip-toes, huddled together as they peek over the windows into the martial arts school, Khalid hangs back looking tired. A month after being deported from Turkey his days in Peshawar are long, “I wake up early to go to school and at midday I go to the help my father at his stall selling vegetables because he’s sick and can’t manage on his own. At five o’clock I go to college to study English and then have to go back to the market to help pack up. When I get home in the night I have to help look after my six younger brothers and sisters”.
“One year ago when I was thirteen my father asked me if I wanted to go abroad and when I agreed he just handed me over to the agent. I had listened many times before to the people discussing the whole route and it’s as if going to Europe has become like a custom around here. When I’m working in the bazaar everyone is talking about it and when the people come back they tell us all kind of fantasies so most of the teenagers are ready to go. I was thinking at my age it would be a good thing and never once thought I was too young”.
“When I started on my journey I tried not to be sad. The agent took me from the Haji Camp bus stand and from there I went by coach to Karachi. It took twenty-four hours and when we finally arrived we just had time to take a meal before we set off for Quetta. All the way we never stopped to sleep properly. We continued to Iran in a pick-up with twenty other Afghan passengers over hilly areas and mountains and desert. We didn’t use the official border crossing and the route we took was not safe. The guides didn’t care if anybody fell down and there was a big danger of death. All the way to Turkey we had to obey the agents instructions and any boy who protested was beaten harshly. It was a very difficult journey; we spent whole nights walking and many times we had to go without food”.
“In Van the agents gave me the Iranian passport of a fifteen year old boy called Haroon, only it had my picture on it. A car dropped me with five others on the road and we were put on a bus going directly to Istanbul. We set off at five in the afternoon but at one in the morning the police stopped us. When they boarded the bus and began searching I though I was OK because I had memorised everything on the passport and I could even remember what my father’s name was supposed to be. The trouble was that one of the other Afghan travellers was not so smart and he couldn’t remember anything so because of him they became suspicious and we were kept at a check post for the whole night. The next day we were transferred to a gaol in Istanbul. They took my fingerprints and entered all the information about me like my age and my nationality in the computer before putting me in detention. I was kept up in the second storey of the prison and out of all the refugees I was the only child. For sixteen days they didn’t let me out of the cell. Finally I was taken downstairs for an interview with a translator and he asked me all sorts of questions so I told him my whole story. I was really sad at that point and spoke to the man about how I spent so long travelling here and that I was really tired but there was no room for negotiation. I was taken straight to the airport and put on an Ariana Airways plane along with four men who were also being deported to Afghanistan. I had never been to Kabul before in my life but luckily when we arrived one of the passengers who had come from Turkey helped me to find my way to Torkham so that I could cross the border back to Peshawar. It felt very strange coming back, as if my whole journey was in vain. I was just thankful to be alive”.
Running home to fetch his books, Khalid navigates his way through the narrow, sewage filled lanes that zigzag between the mud-built houses of Sarkhodiana Camp. Dressed up in a bright pink lipstick for the Nowruz holiday, his mother greets him with a kiss as he enters through the ragged sack that serves as a purda across the doorway built from wooden crates. In their tiny yard, his thirty year old father Raz Mohammad lies wrapped in a blanket on a charpoy, keeping warm in the last rays of sun on a winter’s day. As songs of prayer waft through the camp, the family stay pinned down, too ashamed of their poverty to be celebrating. Leaving his little brother a strawberry chew that he places next to his father’s medicines on the table, Khalid does not stay long. Raz Mohammad waves him off proudly, “I was thinking for a long time that since I’m in very poor health Khalid should go abroad and get a proper education so that he could help the family. I’ve been taking medication for the last ten years because I have problems with my nerves. I constantly have to go to the hospital and find it hard to work or even to deal with my customers at the bazaar. Some other children from the camp were leaving for Norway so I thought that Khalid could go with them. I don’t have any money so I made a deal with a smuggler that if he reached Europe we would pay something then. I thought because he was thirteen he would be accepted in another country and could start school there at a good age. It’s almost now the custom of Afghans to send their children away for a good life because we have nothing here. Now even some of the elders want to go but still it’s the young ones who are the priority. Khalid is still a child and he went through many hardships on the way to Turkey. He was so close to his aim and it was his hard luck that his destiny was taken away from him. He wants to go again now and I will support him. I just have the hope that he can help us”.
On the dusty road outside the Afghan run Pamir English Language Centre, Khalid stands apart from his classmates as he waits for his lesson to begin. “Now I really want to go back. My dream is to be a doctor in Afghanistan but I think my only hope in life is to try again to go to Europe. Here in Pakistan the conditions are really tough because we are refugees. We have nothing in Afghanistan and the district where we come from near Tora Bora is all Taliban so we have nowhere to turn. If I could get a good education then I might have a chance to be somebody and be able to help my father. My world seems really small now in Peshawar”.
©Alixandra Fazzina | NOOR
Peshawar, Pakistan, February 2012
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- February 17, 2012 / 6:20 pm