My name is Nargis Jumahan. I am from Afghanistan and came to America in July 2003.
I was a kid in 1998 when the Al-Qaeda regime took over the northern part of Afghanistan. There was genocide against Hazara race. My dad was in hiding for four months in a basement and then he had a Pashtun friend who literally smuggled him through the border to go to Turkmenistan. It was probably more than a year before we heard from him; we had no idea if my dad was alive or not until someone came back from Turkmenistan with a simple letter simple letter that he was OK. I went to UN agency and registered myself as a refugee to go to either Canada or to America.
The situation in Afghanistan was pretty hard for us. All the men would be slaughtered and women were sometimes taken for sex slavery.
As a girl, we were not allowed to go to school. We’re not allowed to make noises. Pretty much around like 7:00 in the evening, everybody had to be drop dead quiet so you don’t attract any Al-Qaeda members.
It was very dangerous. I was, I think, in the 4th grade, going to school and then they said no more school for girls so we were just at home, basically.
It took us almost three years before we left Afghanistan. My mom sold everything for really low money to get enough to pay the drivers to take us to Pakistan. In Afghanistan, they weren’t giving any passports for women because a woman could not show their face for the photos. And then if you don’t have a face, you cannot enter other countries. We had to actually cross the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan illegally. Then once we get to Pakistan, then we went to Afghan embassy to get our passport there.
My dad was here in the US. He was registered with the UN and then he got accepted as a refugee into the United States.
He told us to go to Pakistan and then from there he we will let the UN embassy know that his family is in Pakistan and file papers to get refugee status in the US.
It took three years to get our visas to come to the US. My dad left Afghanistan in 1998 and I did not see my dad until 2003.
I couldn’t go to school while I was in Pakistan. Since we’re Afghan refugees, the schools are not actually offered as free. You have to pay to go. And if my dad sent enough money, we could pay the schools to go and if he doesn’t send enough, then we can’t. In order for me to go to school, I did a lot of embroidery and weaving of scarfs, doing handwork to get some money. They paid me the equivalent of twenty cents to do one scarf. I used to do five scarfs a week so I could get one dollar. The monthly payment for the school was two dollars but that did not include my notebooks.
I have always been wearing the hijab. My teachers and stuff were okay with it, but some of the kids would make fun of me.
I got my high school degree here. I had to get 180 credits in order to graduate high school and pass the high school exit exam. I was taking almost like ten classes. I was doing independent study and then doing regular study during the school from 8:00 to like 5:30 in the afternoon in the school and then taking the four independent courses, which was US history, geography and algebra and economics. Once I got my high school degree, then I started going to college. I took the elective courses as an LVN (Licensed Vocational Nurse) to work.
I also have phlebotomy and IV training certification, which you can give IVs or do blood, draws or blood transfusion. I’m still working on my degree basically taking care of the elderly.
My ultimate goal is to become a doctor. But because I’m the only one who works and supports the family, sometimes it’s so hard because I don’t have a stable financial background. My dad doesn’t work here very much. My mom doesn’t work either. They’re not educated.
The current immigration policies affect us. One thing I would say is if we were having a sustainable life, a stable life in Afghanistan we could have just stayed. If there was education available for women and if there was better chances for us to have a better life and a stable economic education and to grow up in a peaceful environment and not be afraid of bombs exploding now or a bomb exploding a minute later, then why would I come all the way here to America, in a place that I don’t know the language, I don’t know the culture? Go through all the struggles that sometime you don’t even know if you can make it here or not. And then I also don’t agree that every immigrant that comes here has bad intentions to do something horrible to other people. We’re running for our own lives.
Some people mock you. They look at you differently, especially if you wear a scarf. They say whatever they want to say. But we have to live our lives. We have to get along with people.
There was a person in one of my classes cursing like, “You people are here and you guys are destroying our lives and this and that.” I explained to him that if I had an okay life, then there was no need for me to come here. And if you think that we are horrible people then nobody is a real American. Everybody came here as immigrants and some might have come a couple of generations ago, some just come recently. America is like melting pot.
I hope that people become more aware and people don’t live an ignorant life. People just don’t take whatever they show in the media to generalize how Muslims are. I practice my religion and I don’t find anything in it that encourages me to go kill. God is only merciful if you are merciful to yourself and others.
Culture is what creates this entire dilemma. Actually, the religion itself is very simple. God says be good, do good and that’s the only way to live a good human life. But it’s the culture that says women are not allowed to do this, one man is allowed to marry four women and women are not allowed to divorce their husband, this and that. This is all culture. It’s not part of religion. There’s misunderstanding. People don’t really understand the true meaning of what religion is and what role cultures play in a religion.
In America I have learned a lot. I had a very narrow vision of what the world looks like and now my eyes have opened and I have seen that there’s so many different people here– any part of the world you want to meet, you can find those people living in America along with their culture. You don’t have to travel that far, just make good friends. Just be open-minded and have friends from different countries, different cultures, different ethnics, different backgrounds and you’ll learn. That way, you will appreciate each other more.
People believe everything they hear. Seeing and feeling is different than hearing. You have to see it, you have to feel it to find out the truth about us– we’re girls. We like to have party. We like to paint our nails. We like to put makeup on. We like to dress up. We’re just like any woman could be in a western country. It’s just that opportunities are so slim in Afghanistan and a lot of times, people actually don’t even get a chance to live.
I am independent and I want to become helpful to the community. I want to continue my education and I want to do a non-profit program where I could bring education to mothers and children back home and educate them and make women realize that they are powerful, they are not useless, they are not a product, they are not a property. They are a human being as equal as a man. That’s my ultimate goal.