Zainab describes the added difficulties of adapting to another culture for those who have returned to Afghanistan from Iran.
Being raised in one culture and trying to adapt to another culture after 25 years is like being a woman in Afghanistan: exhausting and hard. I was an Afghan refugee in Iran. For 25 years I lived in Iran. I returned to my native country, Afghanistan, two years ago.
Life now in Afghanistan is different from my childhood memories. Street harassment is a serious problem for women in Afghanistan. There are many limitations to go outside. When I am walking on the streets each two steps I can hear men are saying words that no woman wants to hear. When I was new here, I thought something was wrong with me, but after a while I found it’s a normal thing in Kabul. That is why I always feel insecure.
Finding a job is very difficult here. Fortunately, I have a job now because one of my friends introduced me to the Linda Norgrove Foundation. But I have many jobless educated friends who came from Iran. They send many CVs to organisations because they don’t have a relative or friend working in governmental or private sector. After they applied for at least 100 jobs, maybe five or six employers invite them for an interview. At first it sounds good. They have good self-confidence, good knowledge of the job, academic degree – almost all of the organisations prefer to hire knowledgeable women because of the emphasis of their donors on gender equality.
So what is the problem? The problem is they are Hazara women who came from Iran – Hazara are the third largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, and they look different from the othr ethnic groups. They understand Dari and English very well, but because they grew up in Iran their accent is like an Iranian. Everyone understands them, but it’s a very bad sign in Afghanistan.
Even if they can talk Dari and English very well, there is another step ahead. The interviewee will speak to them in Pashto. They are Hazara, and Pashto is not their mother tongue, and there was no place in Iran to learn it. What is the result? Clearly they will be rejected. It made them feel discriminated and marginalised.
I lived in Iran for more than two decades of my life, but I never have the sense of belonging to Iran, because I am an Afghan. So I decided to come back to Afghanistan to achieve a sense of belonging which was lost in the whole of my life, but after a while I found that in my country I am a Hazara and Iranigag (the word Afghans use to call someone who came from Iran). Ethnic identity is more important in Afghanistan, and there is almost no national identity. And so my friends and I ask myself: Where is my home? Where do I fit in? Where do I belong?
I am still searching, trying to find my place, trying to find my home.