[i] Is Farsi okay?

[i] Farsi? Dutch? English?

[r] Dutch.

[r] Farsi is not okay.

[i] Dutch

[r] Okay.

[i] I will…

[r] Uhm…

[i] [name]

Do you miss home?

[r] Yes, I miss my family and my “homeland”, my homeland.

[i] Do you have any memories of your homeland?

[r] Yes, everyone has a lot of memories of their homeland or homeland. When I was in Afghanistan, when I was little, I had such a good time with my family.  I was the favorite son of my father, of my mother. And also the favorite son of our family. Because, when I was little, when I was born. I was a little paralyzed. I couldn’t walk until I was five years old. Then my grandmother started looking for a doctor. Finally, I started walking. That’s why I was very… I was paralyzed and everyone loved me. I started walking and the family was very happy. My father, my mother and my grandmother. When I was little, I was always with my grandmother. I slept atlas with my grandmother. Always. When we went to bed, I slept with my grandmother. I stuck my hands in her sleeves. So far. Then… I have very good memories of my grandmother. When I was seven years old, I went to school for the first time. That was a difficult day for me. The first day to school. That’s how I got to know people quietly, quietly. The principal, our teachers. The first day they were not so friendly. I thought: Oh no. I don’t want to come here because they are not friendly. I want to play. I don’t want to go to school. I don’t want to read. I just want to play, play football or I don’t know what. So I started school. When I started school… When I was little, I can say it now: I was super smart. A very smart boy. Not only within our family, but also within the school. When I started school I was seven years old, until I was thirteen, until I was fourteen. I was the best student, I had the highest marks at school. And every year I had the title of Best student of the year And also at home. At home we had to read the Koran at our father’s because our father was very good at it. He was like an imam. Every evening, I with my two big brothers and my big sister. We went to our father and he taught a little bit about the koran. My two brothers and my sister, they didn’t remember so well. But I was super smart. If my father explained something, it’s true, then the next day I had everything in my head. And I could explain that to my father without looking at my papers. And he was super proud of me. When I was eight years old, I started training. Because my big brother had a black belt in karate. He did a little karate in Kabul. I was born in Parwan. Parwan is a province in Afghanistan. So, I was not born in Kabul. So not in the capital but in Parawan. Parawan is close to Kabul, about 160 km far from Kabul.

[i] Which city in Parwan?

[r] Which city in Parwan? Parwan is a province. So I was born in the Shaikh Ali district.

[i] Shaikh Ali?

[r] Shaikh Ali, yes. So I was born there. And my big brother did a little karate in Kabul. So he had his black belt. When I was eight years old… The TV that was … Our neighbour, he had a tv. He always had DVDs of Jet Li or Jackie Chan. Like action movies. So I went there every night, every night, to watch movies. When I went to watch the movie of Jackie Chan, I mean Jet Li, I thought: I have to learn to kick, I also have to learn gymnastics, somersaults or something. So one day I went to my big brother. “Hey brother, I want to learn something about karate or sports.” And he said, “Why do you want to learn that?” I said, “I just want to learn, when I go to school, when someone is a bit annoying, I’m going to hit.” He pulled on my ear. Ah-uh! If you want to learn karate, don’t fight. Because karate, karate starts with respect and ends with respect. So that doesn’t mean that if I teach you karate, you have to go to the street or to school and argue with other children or hurt someone else. That’s not possible. I said: “Okay. I’m never going to do anything like that.” So I started training. I was also super smart in training. I had 44 sheep of my own. 44 sheep, I was like a shepherd. So every day, an hour or two hours I got karate lessons from my brother. And I went with my sheep to the mountains, to the river or somewhere else. I was always busy pedalling, boxing, against the tree. I always thought that one day I myself… I didn’t think, I mean, I always challenged myself. You can’t kick there. You can’t kick that high. And I did my best to get there with my foot, or I don’t know, with jumping. So that’s how I started with karate. After a while, after a while… I got my blue belt. My big brother’s blue belt. And he said: “[name], you’re done now.” “You can enter competitions now.”

[i] “How old were you?”

[r] I was about 9 years old. I was 9 years old when I was ready to go to races in Kabul. It wasn’t that easy to go from Parwan to Kabul for races and stuff. Still, I did. Once I went to Kabul for a match, which was a national match. I went there. I was on the first podium. So I had the gold medal. When I was nine years old. My family and my brother they were very proud. Family, I mean my grandmother, my grandfathers, my grandmother. They didn’t know what karate was. They didn’t know what competitions were. They had no idea of such things. They thought, “Oh, that’s nothing. Anyone can do that.” It wasn’t. You really had to train for that and I had already done that. At 9 years of age, when I was 9 years old, I won my first medal in Kabul. And then I stopped karate because I was not completely healthy. I had problems with my legs. I was not paralyzed. I could walk. I could walk, walk very fast. Sometimes I had pain in my knee. So my brother made me stop with karate. So I stopped. And then after a year, a little less or a little more, I started again. Then my father said, “Now you have to focus on your studies.”

[i] “Was it important in your family to study?

[r] That was very important, yes. My father, he had been an important man in our village. He was like a general in Afghanistan. He always had dreams for me, for my other brothers, or for my sister.

[i] And your mother?

[r] My mother, she was a housewife. She was always at home. When my mother was young, she didn’t have it so easy. It wasn’t that easy to go to school then. Then we had a very bad war with England, with Russia. Or with other groups like the Taliban, or others, I don’t remember. So that wasn’t so easy for my mother. She always had to stay inside. Not outside. No school. No training. Nothing at all. Only at home. But my mother could write and read. But in our mother tongue, not in English or any other language. Just in our mother tongue.

[i] And your mother tongue?

[r] My native language is Dari.

[i] Dari.

[r] My native language is Dari but I can… In Afghanistan there are several languages. So Dari is the first language of Afghanistan, Pashto is the second language of Afghanistan. I can speak Pashto, a little bit. But I understand Pashto very well. So I started school. When I was in the fourth grade, I decided… For the fifth grade I had to take an exam. I was not allowed to wait the whole year. I was allowed to take the exam and if I had passed, I immediately went from fourth to sixth grade. So that’s what I did. I did it; I passed. So I went straight to the sixth.

[i] Was it also primary school and then secondary school?

[r] No, there is a big difference between Belgium and Afghanistan. We start at the age of seven. When we turn seven we go to school. We start from the first class, and it lasts until the twelfth class. So when you’re eighteen years old, you’re done with your secondary education. It is completely different from Belgium. You don’t have to go to high school, or toddler or anything. That’s not the case with us. So you just have to persevere, one, two, three, four, … step by step. So I passed the fifth, I went to the sixth. That’s where I started… In the sixth grade, I had to work very hard for the school. In the fifth grade, I didn’t do the whole year because it was a bit difficult. I did take the exam because my father was a very good man. And my sister was also very smart.

[i] How many sisters?

[r] I have one sister.

[i] A sister and how many brothers?

[r] I have one sister and we are six brothers.

[i] Six brothers.

[r] Seven brothers, sorry.

[i] Together, yes.

[r] Seven brothers. I am the third son of my father. So my other brothers, they were smaller, or not yet born. I started school. I tried very hard. I was also very good at drawing. Very nice drawing when I was little. Fantastic. One day I decided not to draw anymore. Because one day my mother went to the market. And she said: “[name], look, here’s your little brother and you have to watch out for your little brother and I go to the market. There’s no one at home, you’re just here, you’re bigger than him, so you have to be careful.” I said, “All right, Mother, go easy, I’ll take care.” I was drawing and my brother had fallen from something. He had a big hole in his forehead. There was a lot of blood. When my mother came home she was superbang. What happened to him? I had my brother’s head in my lap when my mother came home. There was a lot of blood. I had a towel. I put the towel on his forehead. My mother was very angry and then I decided: I will never draw again in my life. Never again. Then I was drawing. I was not… I was working on my own papers, pen or pencil. Then I decided: I’m never going to draw again. Then I was very scared.

[i] How old were you?

[r] Around twelve years old. Something like that, yes: around twelve years. So I stopped drawing. I wanted to start training again. So I started training again. Training very hard. Always training. Always training. I couldn’t focus on my studies or anything. Always training. After a while I stopped again by my knee. So I stopped karate again, so again with study and stuff. When I was in the eighth grade, I planned to take another exam for the ninth grade. That way, I could go straight to tithing. So that’s what I did. Then I passed. I passed because my teachers and my director knew me. They knew I was smart, that I wanted to study. I want to achieve something. They had no problem letting me go from the ninth year to the tenth year. That’s why I passed the exam. I was also happy with my director.

[i] Anyone specific you remember from your school?

[r] From my school?

[i] A teacher or someone.

[r] There are a lot of people in my head. I always think about them. My headmaster and my teachers… I have always been very polite to my teachers. But I once had a fight with a boy in our class. It was about a colored pencil. We were arguing about a crayon. Because if we had to draw something, we would have a big box of crayons. That was very difficult to…

[i] Whose is that?

Yes, whose is it? It was hard to agree with that boy. I had said, “That’s what I need now.” He: “No, I need it. I want to go first.” He said, he wants first. In the end, we had a fight. The director came to our class. He gave us a big punishment. In Afghanistan, if you argue, if you don’t do your homework, you get very severe punishment, not like in Belgium. Or a task… They are going to hit you with a stick. On your hands or maybe on your feet. Then they hit me a few times with the stick on my hands. I was in a lot of pain then. I was sad. I’m not ashamed to say that I also cried a little bit. A little bit! A lot! When I came home, I was angry with everyone, with my mother… And my mother said: You had a fight at school. Why are you angry with me or your brothers? That’s over and no more fighting. Then they won’t hit you. They’re not stupid either. There are a lot of people I remember from school. Almost everyone. During the sports hours we had so much fun with the students. We have been through a lot, a lot. Sometimes we just walked out of school. We did not always go to school. Sometimes we walked away from the school. We left home. “Bye mother, bye! I go to school.” We had everything in our backpacks: food, papers, books, almost everything. Then we didn’t go to school but to the mountains or the river. A little swimming and all that.

[i] Did you have a role model?

[r] Please?

[i] A role model.

[r] A role model?

[i] Someone you admire.

[r] A role model. No, I don’t think so. A role model: what does that mean?

(i) A role model, for example: In my childhood I had a book, a biography about Albert Schweitzer. That was a man, a Swiss man who had gone to Africa. He helped the African people… Helped with a hospital and education. So he was someone I admire. I’m going to be like that person.

[r] Ah yes! Look, role model. Now I can say, my father, he was my role model. My father, first my father. For he always had a nice costume from the military and always salute. That was perfect for me. Every day I went to his room and I put his cap on my head. I made a selfie and stuff like that. Then I had a Nokia mobile phone. A small mobile phone. I couldn’t make a selfie. I always tried to take pictures. We had an old camera, a very old camera. My father was a role model for me. And after my father: Jet Li! Jackie Chan! That’s why I started with karate. They were my role model.

[i] How old are you?

[r] Now I am nineteen years old. Nineteen.

[i] How were you when you left Afghanistan?

[r] When I was sixteen years old, I left Afghanistan. Yes, when I was sixteen years old. I was in school and all of a sudden, I don’t know what happened. Bad people lived in our village. And my father, he always worked. Nobody knew he was working as a general. By the government, I mean. No one knew that. If anyone asked us, our mother, we would say… My father always worked in another province. The most dangerous province in Afghanistan. Not in our village, but in another province. He sometimes came home. But not with a military uniform or anything. Just, in plain clothes and stuff. So that no one understood that he was working for the government. That was not normal in us … If someone knows that you… My father calls Abdul Hakim. If someone knows that Abdul Hakim works with soldiers… He fights against bad people. That is super dangerous. So one day, I don’t know what happened, someone from our neighbours saw my father in his uniform, in his car. After a week, I heard that all the people in the village now know that my father works there. We also had good people and bad people in the village. We were a bit of a rich family in Afghanistan. And our neighbors, they were always arguing with us.

[i] Why?

[r] For we are rich. We had a large garden. We had a large garden, almost 500 apple trees. 500 apricots, I do not know, almonds and so on. So we were a big family, the strongest family, we were the strongest family in our village. And also the richest family in our village. And my father was also an important man. Sometimes they wanted more than us. They wanted to get richer. That’s why they said to the bad people… One day when my father was not at home, one day we received a message from the people: Where is your father? We need your father. We need to meet your father. My mother was super smart, she knew what was going on. She didn’t do anything at all. No reaction. After the second day, third day, fourth day, … I was with my big brother, Bismillah, he had a car. We went to the market. That was around noon. Then we left from home to the market. When we came back, that was around four o’clock or so. Four o’clock in the afternoon. We had bought things like rice, I don’t know, flour and stuff like that. And we were in the car. Suddenly, we saw that there were four people. Four people, they said to us, Stop! Stop it! We said: Okay. They asked where we came from. We said about the market. He has asked: “What is your father’s name?” We said that our father’s name is Abdul Akim. Then I made a mistake. I didn’t have to say that my father works in the military. When I was little, around sixteen or so, I was smart, but also a little crazy in my head. Sometimes people forget some things. So our family wouldn’t let us do that when we said that our father works for the military. So they said, they asked, “What does your father do?” I said, “He’s military.” Suddenly… They said, “Ah, okay.”

[i] Those people were from the Taliban?

[r] Yes. In our village you can’t say: he’s from the Taliban or he’s a normal person. When they came to us, they had nothing at all. They had ordinary clothes, they were wearing a thick scarf. They were always wearing a thick scarf, a thick… I don’t know how to say it, a hood or something. Then I said that my father is a soldier. Suddenly we have seen that they have taken arms. From under their scarves. Weapons, big weapons. And they said, “Okay.” They asked me, “Go back.” I had to sit back, in the back of the car. He was with my brother, he hit my brother twice. They took us to our own place. After a while, I don’t know where my mother heard that they had taken us. So my mother went to the old people of the village. She went there. To ask them to go to the Taliban. Because sometimes bad people have a little respect for old people. With a long beard, a white beard. They have a little bit of respect, but a little bit of respect. And my mother, she had to give a lot of money to the old people to bring her there. And to release us. They took us with them. We drove the car for half an hour. They told me to get out there. My mother, my brother had to move on. So we were not together with my brother.

[i] How old was your brother?

[r] My brother, he was about nineteen years old. Around nineteen years old. I was 16 years old.

[i] Were you afraid?

[r] Definitely. I was superbang.

[i] Did you know what was going to happen or nothing?

[r] I didn’t know what was going to happen. I knew it, they are not normal people. Then they hit my brother and I saw that weapon. Then I thought, “Something’s going on.” They took us and I was with the bad people for three nights. They have me in a castle… Castle, where the animals live. They threw me there.  A stable, sorry. They threw me there and I was there three nights and three days . Every day, every day, they come to me every day and I always get pain from those people. They have cut into my three fingers. A finger every day. I still have the scars here, look. Every day they cut my finger. They always had the same question: “Where is your father? Give him his mobile number.” I didn’t have my father’s mobile number. Really, because my father was an important man. He deleted his mobile number every week, every week. He never had, he never had a mobile number for anyone. Every day a new mobile number. Every week a new mobile number. Every week a new mobile number. I didn’t have his last mobile number. And I didn’t have a mobile phone with me either. Then they kidnapped me. Every day they cut my finger to ask “where is your father?” or to succeed with the stick on my feet or on my knee and so on. They also destroyed my three teeth. Yes, now I have to laugh. But then I was in real pain! They hit my mouth with the stick like that. That’s why my lips are a bit thick now. And my three teeth, I’m still in pain. I can’t drink cold water or eat hot food. They broke my teeth. They have cut my fingers. At last we have… One day they came to me and they said, “You are free now. Go home.” When I came home, the old people, they took our car, they took a lot of money. They released us. And the old men, they have written on a piece of paper like a proof, “Release the boys and his father will come to you within a week.” They were expecting a lot from my father. At first they expected him to help with the bad people, not with the government. And then, if not, my father is… Well… So they released us. When we came home… When we came home, my mother said, “No. It is no longer safe for you here. You must leave tonight.” She didn’t say where. Kabul, Mazari Sharif or Kunduz. You must leave. She has said: You must go to Kabul, where your father’s best friend lives. He lives in Kabul. He knows that you are coming to Kabul, so he will take you to his house. So we had to leave. I took my backpack. My mother has a few pills, like paracetamol, and she put them in my backpack. I didn’t know we were going that far. All the way to the other side of the world. Thousands of kilometres from Afghanistan. I really didn’t know that. Neither did my brother.

[i] Do you remember that moment?

[r] Sure! Everyone was crying. Everyone was crying! My little brothers, they were asleep. We had to leave at three o’clock in the morning because during the day, that was difficult. That was super difficult. Around three o’clock in the morning. Everyone was crying. My sister and my mother, my brother, my biggest brother, did not live with us. He lived in another province. He was married, he had children. He had a job in another province. Me and my brother Bismillah, we were responsible for our family. Because my father was gone too. My big brother was gone too. Me and Bismillah, we were responsible for our brother, for our garden (farm), for everything. We had to leave at three o’clock in the morning. I took my backpack. I asked my mother, “Please give me your headscarf.” And she said, “Why?” I said, “If I miss you, I smell your headscarf, I think of you. She had to cry very loudly. She has me… She gave me a hug, a big hug, a super big hug. I was in her arms for almost five minutes. She has collected all the important papers. Like id-card and passport or something else. She gave me 500 dollars. 500 dollars to my big brother. And put it in our backpack. And she said, “Maybe you need this.” On the way if you need something to eat and stuff. And yes, we left. I didn’t know it would take that long to see my mother again. I thought maybe we were going for a week or two. But my mother knew that we wouldn’t see each other that easily. We cannot see each other so soon. We have left. If I knew that we would go so far from our mother, from our family, from our homeland, I would never leave my mother. Never. I was my mother’s favourite son and I love my mother, my family, my garden, my sheep so much. And I suddenly left everything behind. I have come here. The most important thing is, if I knew I would go this far, I would never say goodbye to my mother. Never. I would never leave my mother in such a difficult situation.

[i] Is it possible to see your mother and your sister and your brothers again? Now that you stay here.

[r] That is not possible right now. Because at the moment we have to wait for our citizenship or nationality. Only then can we go to Afghanistan. But I am never optimistic that I can see them again, that I can see my mother again. That I can see my little brothers again. That I can go back to my own home. Back to my own village or garden. I’m not optimistic about that. And there is no reason to be optimistic. Because the situation is worse than it used to be. Now it’s worse than it used to be. When I talk to my mother via mobile phone, via internet, I don’t know, I hear… She doesn’t want to show me that she’s having a hard time. But then I hear, I have a feeling, that she still has the same problems as before. And my father, my father, I haven’t heard from my father in almost six years. It is also difficult because he was in another province. He was in the most dangerous province. He was fighting the bad people. It’s almost six years, I haven’t heard anything about my father. Neither was my mother, nor was my big brother. We have no news at all. Is he alive? Did he die? Because in Afghanistan, in Afghanistan, almost 200 or 300 people die every day. Because of the war. I know that for sure. I am not optimistic that my father is still alive. I always want to remain positive. And I always say to myself: “Maybe he’s in a prison, maybe he doesn’t know where, maybe he’s busy.” But that’s not possible! In six years he has never called me or my mother. To say that he is still alive. Or that he is in this province. Or that he is working, or that he is in prison. So I’m not optimistic that he’s still alive. My father was a very brave man. He was really a brave man.

[i] Is that something cultural for Afghanistan?

[r] To be brave?

[i] Yes, for men.

[r] For men? Men who work in a few groups, like bad people, I can’t say: “they are brave.” They are not brave, they are super stupid. They have no feelings. I think so. I don’t think so, I’m sure. They have no feelings, they always want more and more. They want everything for themselves. Not for someone else. But I can say, that my father was a daper. He was always ready to help people. He was always ready to help people, in all situations. And the other men from Afghanistan, who work at the Government, who teach, the director or I don’t know what, Excuse me. They are also brave. They are also brave because it’s not such a short period of time that we are busy with the war. It’s been a long time since we’ve been busy… I don’t know exactly how long. We have been working on the war in Afghanistan for a very long time. They still live in Afghanistan. They still support their children to go to school. To learn good things. Like my father. My father did his best. He also had a difficult situation. He also had… Yes, that’s true, we were a bit rich. But we still had a very difficult situation. Another difficult situation with such bad people. The other men from Afghanistan, they are also brave. They are brave too. Not all the men.

[i] So you and your brother left?

[r] We left Afghanistan, that was…

[i] From Parwan?

[r] From Parwan yes.

[i] To Kabul, did you know how it will go?

[r] When we arrived in Kabul, we were in a restaurant, to eat and stuff. We were also a bit sad. I was also hungry. I was in so much pain. I had bandages everywhere, my teeth… I had a lot of pain in my teeth. But still I tried to eat something. We were in a restaurant… We had seen our father’s friend, he came to the restaurant. We had seen our father’s friend a few times before. When I came to Kabul, I had seen him and he had been home once so he was a visitor, he was with us for a week. He enjoyed nature a little bit, the river or the mountains or our garden. So, I knew him. We knew him. He came to the restaurant and took us to his home. So we went there and stayed there and…

[i] worries

[r] Yeah, worry about it. They have said: “You are leaving. You have to… Your father called me. You don’t have to stay in Kabul. For Kabul, at the moment it is the most dangerous province in Afghanistan. Right now. Yes, it is true that Kabul is the capital of Afghanistan. There are a lot of ministries, soldiers and so on. Still, Kabul is the most dangerous province in Afghanistan. That was the case back then. Every day, two or three or four bomb blasts. That’s an English word: bomb blast. And so almost thousands of people died every day. By the bomb blasts.

[i] Attacks.

[r] Attack, sorry. He told us, your father called me. You can’t stay in Kabul, you have to leave for another province. He didn’t say, you are going to Pakistan, to Iran, to Turkey. And finally, I don’t know, to Europe. We were sad. We said ‘No, you can’t’. We can stay here, when my father comes here we will tell our father to rent a house in Kabul. Then we bring our family here, our mother. Then we will live here. But my mother was also brave, and a little bit stubborn. But I can’t say a bad word. Stubborn is not a bad word. I can’t be rude about my mother. She wasn’t stubborn. She had… She was brave. She said to us a few times: I will die, but here. Not in Kabul, not in any other province. Here is my house, here I have worked so many years to build something for you. I made the garden. 500 apple trees, that’s not so easy to make such a big garden. She said: I will never leave my house, my garden. For our neighbours, for bad people, they are going to take everything away. I will never do that. I will die here but I will never be anywhere else. But now I can’t say stubbornly about my mother. She was brave!

[I] Loyalty?

[r] Yes. Yes, she was brave. And she said: Look, I’ve worked so much, all my life I’ve made everything and that’s for you. When I leave, that is, I, I have lost your livelihood. livelihood, like food, I do not know. How can I say that? Cost of living?

[i] How long did the whole journey take? From Kabul to …?

[r] To Belgium?

[i] Yes.

[i] A long journey?

[r] So we departed from Kabul, at night. The friend of our father, he took us to a special place where people left for other provinces, to Kandahar. So we left with a big bus to Kandahar. Someone else came there. They took us with them. With his car, to Quetta. Quetta is a province of Pakistan.

[i] Which one is that?

[r] Quetta.

[i] Quetta?

[r] Yes, Quetta is the province of Pakistan. So, Kandahar and Quetta is like the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. A border province. Borders. So we went to Quetta. And I thought, we thought: Quetta isn’t in Afghanistan, is it? So we’re in Pakistan. That wasn’t easy either. When we left Kandahar, I had to put on a hijab. Because we wanted to cross the border, without a passport, without papers. That is very difficult to go to another country. So I had to visit a hijab. And my brother Bismillah, he had to go in the car, but in the back. How can I say that? The suitcase! He had to sleep in the suitcase. And I was wearing a hijab. I had to laugh a little when I put on the hijab. And I thought: Oh, thank God I’m not a girl. So we left. That was a bit fun but we had a hard time too. The weather was super warm and I was wearing a hijab. We left, we arrived in Quetta. We spent two days in Quetta. Then we went back to Baluchistan. Baluchistan is also a province of Pakistan.

[i] Iran.

[r] Pakistan also has a Baluchistan. Between the border of Iran and Pakistan. Here is the border, Pakistan here also calls Baluchistan. So is Iran. So we went there. And we had to stay there one night. At night we left for Iran. To cross the border. So at noon, two o’clock in the morning. We left on foot from Pakistan to Iran. To cross the border. We walked for almost five hours. We had no water. And the weather was also super warm.

[i] At night.

[r] At night, yes. That was also super warm. Baluchistan is always warm, I think. So we did everything on foot, we had no water, I was super thirsty, everyone was thirsty. Everyone was almost, almost dead.

[i] Were you with a group of people?

[r] We were with a group. There were five or six cops. They accompanied us, go here, go there. On the way we had to sneak a few times because there were soldiers and they were watching, is there someone or not. So we had to run as well. I didn’t have any good shoes myself when I left the village. I didn’t have any good shoes, I just had nice shoes. That’s good for going to a party or going to school. But not to go to the mountains to walk or anything. I was cold too. We walked for five hours. Until we arrive in Baluchistan, Iran. There it was also very difficult. They were not so friendly, the people of Baluchistan. We had to take a bottle of water… We had to pay a lot of money to get a bottle of water. Very expensive. They also have a few times, that was not so friendly, that I will never forget. From Quetta to Belgium we were on the road for about 31 days. From Pakistan to Belgium. When we left we didn’t know we were going to Belgium. We also did not know which country. But we knew, when we came to Quetta, and my brother said, he was a bit older, a bit smarter than me. “[name], we are super far from our family, from our mother.” We had to give a hug to each other, and we had to cry. He said, “No, we’re not in Afghanistan anymore.” I could read that too. On the board of the […] everywhere. The number plate of the car. And he could read that too. When I was sixteen years old, I finished school. I had my secondary school diploma in my hand when I was sixteen years old. Because I took the exam for two years. Normally, you have to be ready at the age of 18, but when I was 16, I was ready. I had my secondary education diploma in my hand. My brother, my big brother Bismillah, he worked, when he was in Afghanistan he was already working as an interpreter. In Afghanistan with American soldiers. When I was in Afghanistan, my father had a dream for me. He wanted me to be a pilot. Because in Afghanistan we don’t have enough helicopters or planes or pilots. To help people during the war or something. So he always had the plan, I had to… He had a plan for me. When I finished secondary school, he had the plan to go to… He had the plan that he would send me to India to study for pilot. Like a scholarship. He had such a plan for me. He had money. My father had money. He could buy me a scholarship. So he had a plan. I also had a plan to become a pilot. And also champion, world champion! So we were on the road for 31 days. We went to Iran, from Iran we went to Turkey. The border between Iran and Turkey was difficult. All borders were not that easy. Everything was super difficult, everything. So the border from Iran to Turkey was the hardest, the hardest. We had to stay in the mountains for five days and five nights. And that was also a bit cold. There was also a little bit of snow. I didn’t have a thick coat myself. I didn’t have any good shoes myself. I had no food, no water. So three nights. One day, I was super hungry. I was super hungry, I didn’t have anything with me. And the cops, they weren’t with us either, we were with a group. My brother was asleep, I had always been sad. Every day I had to cry for my mother, for my family, every day. Not about the bad, difficult situation. Because I was born in the village, I grew up there. I also walked in the mountains with the sheep. I was fit and healthy. Then I had no pain in my knee. Only my hands and teeth. I was super fit. But my brother, he didn’t do any sports when he was in Afghanistan. He was a bit lazy. He had a hard time walking or walking but I was fit. I was always sad about my mother. I tried, I always asked someone else, “Please give your mobile phone.” I want to call my mother. But there was no one to help me, no one. So one day I was super hungry. I was sad too. I had seen that Bismillah was sleeping. My brother. Also the other groups. The other people from the other group. They were also sleeping. So I saw a tree. And I went to the tree. I knew the other people had food. They were super smart, they had taken food. They had almonds, such things. Taken in the backpack. I was too small. My brother was a bit sick. And I didn’t know that I had to get food when I left. We didn’t have any food with us. So I went to the tree. I took a few leaves. And I ate them. That was good! That was good, because I was hungry. When you’re hungry, everything is good, I think. I was super hungry and I ate the leaves. My brother was sick. I had money with me. We had a lot of money with us. When we left Afghanistan. When we left the village our mother gave us 1000 dollars. And also the friend of our father, he gave us a lot of money. Almost 3000 to me, 3000 to my brother. On the way you could use it for water and so on. We had no problem with money. But unfortunately, we weren’t, we’ve never, experienced to leave for a trip or something. Such a difficult situation. Without papers, without a passport. We had no experience, I mean. I forgot what I had to say.

[i] You were hungry, your brother was ill.

[r] My brother was sick! My brother was sick. So the cops, they had three horses. They had three horses. With different things on the horses and stuff. So I went to… That was very difficult for my brother to go to Turkey. So I thought… He was almost dying, my brother. He was super sick. He was almost dying. Luckily I had done a little sport in Afghanistan. I was a bit fit. And when my brother was in Afghanistan, he smoked a little bit. And if you smoke, then your …

[i] lungs.

[r] Yes, your lungs don’t work very well. So he was super sick and then I went to the cop. With a very friendly request. I said: Look, you are my big brother. I told the officer, they were not friendly, they always had a stick. If you sit a little bit, if you take a little break, they are going to hit you super hard. They think you’re a donkey, or I don’t know, sorry, that you’re a cow, that you’re a horse. They succeed you superhard.

[i] Were they Afghan men?

[r] No? They were Kurdish.

[i] Kurdish.

[r] Kurdish, and also Baluch.

[i] People smugglers.

[r] Smugglers, like the officers yes. So I went to him, I was afraid and I said: Look, my big brother, you are my big brother. Please, I’ll give you $200, please, bring my brother with your horse from here to the border. And I had to pay 1500 to the people. I had to pay 1500 for the men, to bring my brother and his horse from here to there. Finally they said: Okay. 1500, okay. First I said 200, then 300. Please, please. And I sat down on my knees: Please. I was hungry too, I was super hungry. I also had a lot of pain. But then I thought: Well, he’s more important than me. He was good for me. I loved my brother very much. I only had one brother then. No family, nothing at all. So I paid 1500 to that man. They didn’t bring my brother to the border, but a little bit, about 5 kilometres. They brought my brother from here to there. And they told my brother: “Go ahead and climb up. Not out, but…

[i] Down.

[r] Down, yes. Rise but down. I’ve said, “You’ve said to the limit, haven’t you?” – No, I can’t. We need it so badly. We need so much.” And they have… He has taken the stick in such a way as to strike. – “Okay.” I said, “Okay, okay. It’s okay. Okay, it’s good.” So I was scared. In the end, we came to Turkey. But between Esfahan and Tehran, we also had a difficult situation. There were such bad drivers. I can’t say that all the people of Iran are so bad. Every country has good people and bad people. But the drivers, the cops, the smugglers, they really weren’t, they weren’t people. And there were eight of us. There were twelve of us in the car. A Peugeot. Three people in the back of the suitcase. Five people in the back seat, a three-seater. And two people in the front. And we were so, so, so. If you move, a little bit, you can’t. From Isfahan to Tehran, I don’t know, how many kilometers is that? A lot, I think, a lot. You can’t just sit like that. You have to move a little bit. Sometimes you get back pain, or knee pain, I don’t know. Pain everywhere! They hit my brother a few times. With his… He had one thing in his hand. He hit my brother on the head a few times. A few times more beaten. When he hit my brother, I thought: Now I’m going to do something with the cop. It doesn’t matter what happens, but I’m really going to do something. But all of a sudden, the other people from the car… I started shouting, I started to say bad words to the man. And he also started to say very bad words to me. Then we arrived in Tehran. And the man, the driver, kicked me a few times with his foot, very hard. Very hard, because I had said a few bad words to him. Now I think: if I see that man, then, maybe, … I won’t let him… Yes. So I was really hurt when he hit my brother. That’s not so bad. But if you take something in your hand, something made of metal, and then you hit the head; my brother had such a hole in his head. He had so much blood. Blood everywhere. For he was sick. So yes. I don’t say: All the people of Iran are not friendly. They have good people as well as bad people. I have no plan to go back to Iran. Never! I hate those people from Iran. You can also say: I hate Iran. But no, I don’t. Because Iran is a large country and millions of people live there. As I said: They have good people and bad people. Iran. When I hear about Iran, I hear… I don’t get good feelings, always bad feelings. When we came to Turkey, we left Vaan, a province somewhere in Turkey, close to the Iranian border. We came to Istanbul. Istanbul, we were there for a week. And my father had, my father’s friend had some friends in Turkey. So we came there, they took us with them. The people of Turkey, they were super friendly. Really, they gave us very good food, very good care. We even had four people, one bedroom. When we were in Tehran, in Tehran we were not in the castle, what do you say?

[i] Stable.

[r] Stable right, stable. We were also in stable, we were with more than fifty people. With about twenty meters…

[i] Space.

[r] Twenty meters of space. And if we had to sleep, then we had to sit like this. And I always slept with my head like this, it was always on my brother’s shoulder. And we had so… I saw some pictures last month on Facebook, and I had to think about it, they took a picture. In Turkey they were very good. They always had a sandwich and so to give. We were also happy. So in Istanbul we waited … We were in Istanbul for one week. Then we left for Greece. We met with someone who had a boat. That agent was there to bring people from here, from this side to the other side, to Greece. We left. Luckily, we had no problems when we were on our way from Turkey to Greece. Look, what do I mean? So we left at nine o’clock. That was the first day of Ide Kurban, the sacrificial feast. Then we left from Turkey to Greece. So that was around… In the evening we left from Istanbul, to Izmir. So we were around one o’clock in Izmir. And there was so much rain, and we had nothing. We had to wait until it was a little bit, a little bit -not dark but-

[i] Dark?

[r] No, no. It was dark. At one o’clock in the morning it was dark. Bit of LIGHT, I mean. We waited to get a little light. Until the sun was shining or something. Then a little bit of light came, when the sun was shining. Our agent started preparing our boat. That wasn’t really a boat. But a boat with… That’s just you can use the boat once. If you go there then they will destroy it.

[i] Like a kayak or something?

[r] Jajajaja. So a boat of twenty meters. No, sorry. Sixty meters. Sixteen meters! Not sixty but sixteen. Sixteen yes, sorry. One-six, not six-zero. One-six yes. We had such a boat and there were 45 of us. 45 people, unbelievable. With sixteen… We helped our agent to get everything ready for the boat. We left at ten o’clock. At ten o’clock we left. Then we were on our way to the sea, and everyone was crying because the sea was not calm.

[i] What month was it? Was it cold?

[r] That was cold!

[i] What month?

[r] That was… I don’t know from the outside. But it was a sacrificial feast.

[i] Feast of Sacrifice. Yes, the sacrificial feast changes. Was it summer or autumn?

[r] It was not summer. It was a little cold. It was a bit cold. There is a lot of wind. And the sea was not…

[i] Calm down.

[r] Quiet. It goes there and there. We had a hard time. When we were on our way, and we’re in half the way, suddenly, our agent said: Oh, our boat is out of gas. Or petroleum, I don’t know. Everyone was sad. There were three or four people from Iran, when they left, when we left, they started with … or Salawat (prayer). Everyone was busy Salawat, Salawat, Salawat. Our boat had stopped. There was no gasoline. That same day five boats left. The same day. There were five of us. There were four other boats that left. There were more than five hundred of us on the way. So finally: a boat arrived. During, when we had no gasoline. We had to jump into the water. Because that wasn’t easy, if the boat stays put, the water comes and that’s how it goes. So we had to jump into the water.

[i] Can you swim?

[r] A little bit anyway. Not in the sea. We had life jackets for swimming. So we had a life jacket, there were two of us, we had one life jacket. I gave that to my brother. Take this one. And jump into the water. No problem, if I jump, I’ll take you. And he said, “You take it”. And we had a little bit of an argument: -No you. – You! -You! Finally someone else has, they had an extra lifejacket for us. They said: You can both put on one and jump into the water. We jumped into that water. We were hugging with each other. And everyone was together. Not separately, but together in a group in the water. Another boat came. They gave us gasoline. So we had to go back to the boat. Everyone was wet. The boat was heavy. Everyone was wet. The boat was heavy. The policeman said: Now you have to… That would have been the most difficult moment for me. He said: Now you just have to throw your backpack in the water. Your lifejackets too, because our boat is getting too heavy. And maybe we go, maybe we die. So I said… What did I have in my backpack, the most important things I had, my mother’s headscarf? And when we were in Esfahan, the agents of Esfahan threw our clothes away as well. They always checked, they checked: what do I have in my backpack? They took our money. They took our phone. Everything. Our shoes. My coat. I had nothing at all. I had a very thin coat. I still have it. Me and my brother, we were a little smart. When we were in Esfahan, we hadn’t left yet, so we made a hole. We made a hole under our belts. And we put our money, almost 2000 dollars, here. So they have checked a few times. Here, here and here. Our pockets, our shoes and socks. They found nothing. They did throw away our clothes. And I said, I’m taking my backpack with me. Please, I need it. Please, please. And he said: Okay, it’s okay. He threw away my brother’s backpack. But I did take my backpack, so hard. I said: No. And they had to hit me once and I cried: No, please. I was sixteen years old and I cried very, very much when I was sixteen.

[i] 2015?

[r] Yes, end of 2015.

[i] End of 2015.

[r] Yes.

[i] Was it almost winter?

[r] Yes, it was a bit of a winter. The agent said: You should throw away your backpack. And everyone threw it, and that was super hard for me. I had to cry again, I had to ask the agent again “No, please, I have something in my backpack.” I had my passport, I had my ID card, I had almost everything. I also had my secondary school diploma with me. Still a copy. But still they threw away my backpack. And there I thought: Oh, my heart is no longer with me, but my heart is in my backpack. My thoughts, my memories, all stay with the backpack. And I had to look at my backpack for so long. It was just in the sea. Here, there. Oh shit – sorry! Every second of our journey was hard. But the hardest part, when they threw away my backpack. And then they hit my brother. I can never forget that. The people of Iran, in Baluchistan. We arrived in Greece, we walked from the airport to the port. Where the big boat arrives. Where the people from the airport take the boat to the capital of Greece. So we took the boat, a big boat. More than 3000 people, they were in the boat. A boat with five floors. A chic boat. We came to Greece. Arrived with a policeman. Then we had an agent. They took us to Macedonia, to Croatia, to Serbia, to Austria, to Germany and to Belgium. Then we were in Brussels. That was 20 October, …

[i] 20 October?

[r] Yes, when we arrived in Brussels.

[i] 20 October 2015?

[r] Yes, 20 October 2015. Not even three years, just a little bit. Today we are the twelfth, yes? In eight days’ time, we’ll be in Belgium for three years. So, on 20 October 2015, we arrived in Brussels. And our agent said: Here’s your place. Go wherever you want, now I won’t take you any further. But luckily, my brother, he could speak English. He was good. I could also speak English. So that wasn’t difficult to find our way around. We have seen a few refugees, Afghan people or Somalis. They were also looking, where should we go? Where is the commissioner’s office? We did not know, what is the commissioner’s office? Is there anything to eat? When I was in Afghanistan, I had never heard of Belgium. I had never heard of Belgium. In Afghanistan, we often have history, but it was always about Afghanistan, the history of Afghanistan. I once read, in a book when I was in eighth grade, our lesson from emir Habibullah Khan. He had been president of Afghanistan. He had been travelling for three months, all over Europe. I knew Germany, France, England. My sister lives in England. So Belgium or Belgium, I’ve never heard of it. So when we came to Belgium, I saw one of those big, big apartments. Completely different than in our village. Here you can easily just walk to here, walk to there, go to the shop. It’s not like Iran, Pakistan or Turkey anymore. To just sit in a small room. Here, the people, they look completely different. They have blond hair or I don’t know, a white moustache. So we came to Belgium on 20 October 2015. The same day we went to the commissariat. For registration. So for applications, asylum applications.

[i] Asylum procedure.

[r] Asylum procedure, yes. We went there and we had to wait a long time. They took our thumbs and fingers.

[i] How did the procedure go? Did you find that difficult or slow?

[r] No, that was difficult. There were a lot of people, we had to wait a long time. It was around 4 a.m. when we arrived in Brussels. By train from Germany. Around four o’clock in the morning. We had to wait until two o’clock in the afternoon before we could enter. There was such a large queue. And then I thought, there’s a big stream. That means that if someone asks me now: How did you get here? Then I always say with a big stream. I came here with a large stream. Then, in 2015 and 2016, a lot of refugees had come to Europe. Yes, I didn’t know that then. We went in at two o’clock. And they asked: What country do you come from and so on and so on? Then I didn’t know: what is the procedure? We had to do an interview, we had to go to a centre. We had to wait so long. Nothing at all. Nothing at all. I could read: Brussels. Or I don’t know, a few words or something. I can say, I can hear, the other people of Belgium, they speak completely different: no English! No Dari, no Pashtu. No Hindi, no Urdu. I can speak Hindi, Urdu and Pashtu, such things. No Persian! No Tajik or Uzbek. Completely different. I didn’t have a mobile phone with me. I didn’t have anything with me. My brother wasn’t carrying anything either. He did have a small Nokia mobile phone with him. When he was on his way, he found it. He had found a Nokia mobile phone. They said: you have to go to things. Close to the police station, there is a large building. With twenty floors or so. They had no place, they sent us there. To stay there for a week. To stay there for one or two nights. They are going to decide, to which centre are they going to send us? We have been there for almost a week. In that big building. There were a lot of people in that building. Good people, everyone was tired. Everyone was sad. Every night we came together, we played cards. A little chat: What country are you from? From which province? When I see Afghan people, I was a little happy. Here is someone from our homeland. So we started chatting a bit, a bit to tell our story. How did you get out of there? How was Iran, Pakistan and Turkey? Where did you come from? How much did you pay? Who is your agent? So many questions, so many questions. So many answers – oh my god! So that was good. Finally, after a week we heard that we had to go to Limburg. To Leopoldsburg. To the shelter. So we went there. In that building we have two more boys …

[i] Learn to know?

[r] Getting to know, yes. They were also from Afghanistan. In a week, we became good friends. In Brussels. That was difficult to separate from each other. We always waited, oh please, send us to their center. Finally, it was. They sent the four of us to Leopoldsburg, to Limburg. When we arrived in Limburg, we arrived there by bus. We were… I saw a few containers and so on. They said, here is your center. Here is your room. There is your room.

[i] How did you feel?

[r] I thought: hell! Where are we now? Maybe our journey isn’t over yet, we have to start all over again. Our room was so big, so small, four and two. Four in length and two in width. There were four beds. Beds with two floors. I said: Oh, no. We haven’t finished traveling yet. It’s the beginning.  It’s just begun.

[i] Just started.

[r] In the same night, I slept very well in my bed. Then I had a real bed, I slept very well.

[i] Did you have a dream? That night?

[r] I still have dreams. That’s why I had to take lots of pills, I had to see a doctor, a psychologist, twice.

[I] Is that a nightmare?

[r] No, it’s about my past tense.

[i] Trauma.

[r] About my fingers, about my teeth. I still have bad dreams. I had to go to the psychologist twice a week to talk about it. Still.

[i] Is it possible to follow those sessions here? Going to the psychologist.

[r] Yes, I’m still busy. I go to the psychologist twice a week to talk about it. I still have bad dreams, then I had a dream. I still have bad dreams. I hope one day I can sleep without bad dreams. At night, suddenly I had to wake up. I have a lot of sweat, sometimes I had to shout, sometimes my brother comes to my room. He says: [name], just wake up, just wake up. Still. The bad dreams about my past tense still follow me. Like a shadow. We have arrived in the centre, Leopoldsburg shelter. There was a Turkish shop, in Leopoldsburg.

[i] How long did you stay there?

[r] That was a temporary shelter. That was not for a long time, it was just temporary. A lot of refugees had come to Belgium in 2015. So that was temporary. So we came to the centre around 27 October, to Leopoldsburg. Until September 2016. One year. One year. So I stayed there, I started school there. Until… So in October I came to the centre, until January I didn’t go to school. In January I did go to school, to the OKAN class. Before I went to school, I already started with Dutch. I immediately bought a mobile phone, a smartphone. Then I looked for a couple of apps, from Dutch. With Persian or English. So I started. Fortunately, I was also – in the centre – the only boy who was ready to go to school so quickly.

[i] Was it a children’s centre or with adults?

[r] That wasn’t a problem. Because when I arrived in Belgium, I was a minor. I was with my brother, so he was my companion. Like my family, he accompanies me. That wasn’t a problem, but I wasn’t in a children’s centre. I was with my brother, with big people, and there were also minors. Boys and girls who were with family. With father, with mother, with brother or sister or something. So there were a lot of underage people. We were with more than 33 underage boys and girls. Teenagers, from 13 to 18 years old. Then I asked my assistant to look for a club for me. I had no choice. Every day in the centre: the same food, the same room, the same situation. That would not have been easy. So I said: I said to myself: Wake up now. Get up. In my mother tongue. Also to Bismillah, because I was always crying in my room. The assistants, they had so many problems with me. Every day, at least two or three assistants came to see me. Why are you crying? I had a really hard time in the center. It was super difficult. I was super angry. I was super aggressive to everyone. I also started arguing a little bit with my brother. Because I often said to him: “Why are we here? I want to go back to Afghanistan. Why are we here?” I had a really hard time in the centre. I had it really, really, really hard. Nobody could talk to me. I was so aggressive. When someone says, “Hello.” Then I say, “Go away!” I haven’t been so friendly in the center, when I was in the center. In Leopoldsburg, also in the left bank shelter. In the left bank they also had a lot of problems with me. But when I was gone, now I realize that I really haven’t been friendly. Now I do my best to say all the bad words I said to assistants or people from the centre, to start all over again. Something better, or something good. More pleasant. I had a hard time in the centre. One day I chose: it’s not like that, crying every day. Every day, at night and during the day, in the bed. It’s not like that. It doesn’t work that way. I thought of my father, he was such a brave man, of my mother, of my little brothers. They’re not happy for sure. And I had to do something for my family. Not for myself, for my family. So I started school. With Dutch. And also with talking, writing poems. When I was in the centre I wrote a few poems. That had become a bit known. I have some poems of my own in the newspapers and stuff. Then I asked my assistant to find a club for me. They finally found a club, in Ham. Ham is about 8 km away from Leopoldsburg. Ham is also a village, in Limburg. And Leopoldsburg is also a village, a village. There was an eight km difference between Leopoldsburg and Ham. Our assistant has found two or three volunteers, to drive with me in the evening by car. To take me there, to take me back to the centre. When I go to the training. So I started with training. That’s a nice story too, I think. That’s also in the paper, it said in the paper. On the first day I went to the club, I couldn’t speak Dutch, but I could speak English. So I saw my sensei. Sensei is a Japanese word. That means trainer, in Japanese. Karate is from Japan.

[i] Say that again?

[r] Sensei.

[i] Sensei?

[r] Yes. Sensei is a trainer in Japanese. My sensei, Eddy Weyens, he came to me, he gave a hand, he asks, “Are you a refugee?” That was hard to hear. Yes, I’m a refugee.

[i] That was hard to hear?

[r] Yes.

[i] Why? Refugee, he has asked in English: Refugee, it’s like refugee. He asked: Are you refugee? Refugee is not a nice word. Not pleasant.  It has a negative connotation.

[r] Yes, refugee. So I said, “Yes.” He said, “Do you have clothes, kimonos – a karate kimono?” I said, “No, but I’m looking to buy one.” He said, “Do you have money?” I said, “Yes, I have money.” But we were running out of money. Our money was, not almost, but completely gone. In December, we didn’t have a penny in our pocket. That was also very difficult to contact my mother. That was super difficult. There was a volunteer, he bought me a kimono. Jos, he was a volunteer. I am still grateful. I still have contact with him. He sometimes comes home, to visit, or I sometimes go to him. That’s how I started my training. The first day, I put on my clothes, and my belt, a brown belt. I went to the training, there were girls and boys. From Belgium, they were training. Then they saw me. Then I had long hair. I didn’t go to the hairdresser, I didn’t have any money. I didn’t look like a normal boy. I had long hair, like Chinese hair. And little eyes, they thought I was from China. The first day I started training, I was still fit. When I started training, everyone was surprised! What is that! There were boys and girls, big and small, I kicked a few times, boxed a few times, and they were surprised! Really Jet Li or Jackie Chan. He is here! They also had to cry a little bit, my trainer was very happy. One training session, he said: “I’ve never seen such a karateka before.” Never seen such a little one kicking such a big boy on his cheeks, or on his head. So, my trainer, the first day, I have surprised my trainer. I have made my trainer happy. From my training. I showed him: I am a good karateka. I can train with you. But the first day, that wasn’t training, that was an exam for me, that was exactly an exam. My trainer wanted to look at me. Are you good? Then I can go on, or not. Then he decided that [name], perfect! Fantastic! Amazing! After two months, one day, he came to me “Hey [name], there is a competition: the Limburg Championship.” A championship is always a big game. Because that’s a championship. It’s not just a race, it’s a championship. There is a Limburg championship, and I didn’t know: What is Limburg? Limburg is a… I knew that the province mentions Limburg, but I didn’t know: how many villages there are in Limburg. How many villages are there in Limburg, I mean. So I said: Yes, sensei, I’m ready! The competition was a few weeks later. So he said: Now you have to start training, I said: Okay. Every day I went from the centre to… We were in the woods, between the woods… Here is our center, around the center was all forest. That was not a good example. So I went every morning to the forest, jogging, pumping a little to get ready for the competition. I wanted to achieve something. And when I was in the center, there were other guys, I always had competition with the guys to achieve something faster. Become a champion, go to school, get good points. It’s the same with us in Afghanistan, you always had to do your best, you always have to challenge your classmates, your friends. To achieve something good or better. So, then I decided that, now I’m going to achieve something. Before my friends do anything. So I started training and so, finally, I went to training, to the championship. To the Limburg Championship. I got two medals, one gold, the other bronze. That was very nice. Very good. My trainer was super happy. He was dancing. He gives training to people who want to just do sports, not competitions or anything. Just for health and all that. They have never participated in the Limburg championship. They didn’t have the level to participate in the Limburg Championship. And I was the only boy, the first boy of the club, who won the gold medal for my club, for Karate Ham. So they were super happy. When I came to the centre, I always find, in Afghanistan too, if I had good points, then from school, when I came home, I just sit like this, disappointed. And my mother asks: Where is your report? Do you have any good points? I say no, I don’t have any good points. Don’t talk to me. Just like that, I pretend to have bad points. My sister said: No problem [name], next time. I said: No, I don’t have a medal.

[i] You mean you were a perfectionist?

[r] Something like that. So I said, “No, I didn’t get anything, I’m lost. It doesn’t work. She said: No problem, next time. And suddenly I said: No, that was a joke. I did get two medals. One gold and one silver. She was also very happy. I remember her jumping, really, she was a bit old, that woman, she was jumping, she had given me a hug. That’s right, Mohammed, that’s right. And she said: There are many people in Belgium who say bad words about refugees, about refugees, so many bad ideas about you. Now you have become a champion. Well, that’s proof to show people that those people are also people like us. And they also have talent, they can achieve something. They also have a good heart, they also have good dreams, not always like other people, I don’t know. So they were super happy. She said: Now I have something in my hand. If someone asks me something, I can say a very good example to them. And that example is: you! The next day I saw that my trainer, with two journalists, came to the centre. There’s the newspaper. It was the same the next day. They took pictures, they interviewed me and so on. After a week I was in the newspaper. And in the centre, everyone was surprised. Everyone was surprised. Everyone came to me. Congratulations, congratulations. Congratulations. Congratulations. Everyone was happy. And the assistants, they decided that they would not call me [name] anymore, they would call me Karate Kid. I became the Karate Kid in the center. And when I went home they always shouted: Hey Karate Kid! Not [name], but karate kid. So I became little known, in the center, there were almost 500 people in the center, women, girls, men, children, different people from different countries. So I got a little known.

[i] Have you never experienced discrimination?

[r] Discrimination, what do you mean?

[i] Discrimination, someone who has no respect for you, because of your race, your country, your origin, your language.

[r] I’ve seen some assistants, they hadn’t been so friendly at first, they had very bad ideas about us too. After a while they are also calm, they have changed too. Now they had good ideas. I’ve heard from the assistants a few times that they didn’t have any good ideas. In the centre, certainly in the centre, it is not an easy place. We were in such a small place. With 500 people. Different people, different countries. Different hearts, different ideas. I’ve been there a few times, I said I was super aggressive, so I also fought a few times. In the center, we were playing soccer, at night, it was Ramadan. I fought a few times at football, with, there was a boy from Iraq, he was crazy. I was also aggressive, he was crazy too. He also fought a few times with other people. He also fought with me. Finally, the assistants, they sent him to another centre. There was a boy from Iran, he wasn’t friendly either. He had almost twelve… He almost had…

[i] Warnings.

[i] Warnings.

Yes, warning. He had almost twelve warnings from the assistants. I also had to fight him. He had not been kind to my brother. I always supported my brother, in the center. When I hear that someone has said something bad to my brother, I just started fighting, not just talking, why did you say that? No, I would hit him right away or get a box. Always, always in the centre, in the Oinkeroever shelter, that was also the case. Because I had a plan, not a plan, I had such a feeling. Look, we are so far from our homeland, and I only have one brother. My brother, he’s older than me. I have so much respect for him, he has experienced so many things with me along the way. He has helped me so much. I also helped him, but he also helped me. I was small, I was always sad. He always came to me. He took my head on his shoulder. He said a few times: Look champion – yes, champion – we are men. We are men, and men never cry. He told me that a few times. “No, I don’t cry!” Then I started again! Because I missed my mother. I’ve decided for myself, when someone does something weird, says something bad to my brother, I don’t know, I just can’t control myself, sometimes I’m weird. Sometimes I’m just like that. But I don’t like to hear bad words about myself, because we’ve been through enough, we’ve been through a lot of things. Not only us, maybe other people, but you’re not supposed to say, if you’ve been through something, then you shouldn’t say bad words. I am also a boy who – I always let something in. It’s very difficult for me to talk. The assistants, they also had a hard time because they couldn’t, easily talk to me. If you ask something, I say no. That is my problem. I always say to other people, that’s my problem. I have to solve that myself. I never say – most people, they like to talk. They think that when we talk about something, it becomes easier. But with me, that’s not possible. When I talk about the past, about bad things, it gets worse. But not better. It gets worse. That’s how it is with me.

[i] How did you feel when you were recognized?

[r] We had to wait a long time. We had to wait two years for our interview. That wasn’t easy either. I was disappointed a few times because there were other people, they completed their procedure faster. They were recognized more quickly. So I was totally disappointed. Those were the most important things, I participated twice in the Flemish Championship. And second time, I was on the first podium, always the gold medal, I also got my black belt when I left Limburg. Yes, my black belt, that’s a good story too. So I had a brown belt. I had no paper from Afghanistan, no proof that I have a brown belt. So the trainer of Leopoldsburg, he told me that Mohammed [name], you have to take an exam for your brown belt. I said: I’m ready. So exam, not with my trainer, but with the highest trainer in Belgium. He is an old man. He is also the secretary general of the whole of Europe in karate. So we went to Hasselt. There were some guys from our club, and also from all over Belgium, there were athletes or karatekas who wanted to get their brown belts. We went there. I started with the exam. When I finished the exam, all of a sudden the biggest trainer started to explain the whole result, who passed, who did not. So he said: “You passed, you are, you are…” Suddenly he shouted: [name] from Afghanistan! He asked, “Are you from Afghanistan?” I said, “Yes, I’m from Afghanistan.” He said: “My son worked in Kabul as a soldier.” “There it is very dangerous.” “I said: Ah, yes.” And then I was sad. Then I immediately thought of my mother. Immediately thinking about my mother. So he said: [name], your exam was super good. You passed the brown belt. But now you go straight to the black belt. The difference is: if you get a brown belt, you have to train hard for three years, do a few internships, do a few games, then you’re ready to go to the black belt. Black belt is like trainer, if you have your black belt. So I went for my brown belt, and the same day I got my black belt. Yes. I had so much talent. I had – not anymore. I got my black belt, then my trainer said, “Wow, he’s got… Our biggest trainer has also said that in my life, in my karate career, I’ve never seen anyone like that come across a boy coming in for his brown belt, coming to take exams and then pass the black belt directly. I am also the only boy in the whole of the European Union who has experienced such a thing. That was a good story. Yes, I am disappointed a few times that… Yes, Flemish champion. If you become a Flemish champion, you are immediately registered for the Belgian championship. Right away! I registered, I started training, I was in Limburg, in reception centre Linkeroever. I had a small room, and I went every day, after school my bed went… My room was small. My club was in Limburg, I didn’t have that much money to go there every day for training. That was a bit far. Almost 1 hour and 20 minutes by train. And also an extra bus. I always did my bed to the other side, and I started training in my room. In my room, I closed the curtain, no one can see it. I made a few times a sign on the wall. I said: you have to kick there. So I did everything myself. For the Flemish Championship as well. I did everything myself in my room, little room. From three to two, something like that. I started: training hard, training hard, that I’m ready for the Belgian Championship, that was very important for me. Suddenly, the day after tomorrow is the Belgian Championship, suddenly I received an e-mail from Brussels that I can’t participate in the Belgian Championship because I don’t have a nationality. I don’t have a piece of paper. Then I was disappointed, I was super angry. I went to the director of the centre, he also explained: No, I can’t. You are a refugee. There was a large mirror in the toilet. I have… I was so angry that I smashed him. The mirror was completely broken. I also had wounds on my arms. I also had a lot of blood. I went to my room, I closed my door, and I sat there for almost three days and three nights. Nothing to eat and everything, totally disappointed. My brother came to my room every day. “[name] please, do it for me, come out.” do it for your mother. That’s how I finally got out of my room. It has happened twice. Once in 2017, and the last time that was in 2018 when I was here. Ten I also participated in the Flemish Championship. Then I got the first gold medal, and I’m again directly registered for the Belgian Championship. The Belgian Championship is very important to me, if you do Belgian Championship, then you can go abroad for the European Championship, I don’t know, Olympic or something. I got the bad news twice: you can’t participate in the Belgian Championship. Because I don’t have a nationality. That’s not fair, I think. From Belgium, that’s really not fair. I also decided to quit karate. I quit karate for five months. I threw everything away: my cup, my clothes, everything thrown away. I was super angry. I said: I spent so much time, so much training. I had to… When I was in the centre, I also had seven euros a week, I had so much money. Every week I paid 14 euros for a train ticket to go to Leopoldsburg for the training. When I was in the centre, I was disappointed a few times by the Belgian championship, also by the people. Not by the people, by the commissariat. Because there were people, they were more quickly recognized.

[i] That was 2018?

[r] Yes.

[i] When was it?

[r] When I became recognized. That was 20 September 2017.

[i] Almost a year.

[r] Almost a year, yes. No.

[i] More than a year?

[r] More than one year. A thick year.

[i] Are you studying now?

[r] I’m busy right now. When I was in the center, I was in the OKAN class for Dutch and stuff. I went to two schools when I was in Leopoldsburg. I went to the Sint-Michielsschool, which is a Catholic school. And when I was in the Linkeroever shelter, I went to Sint-Lodewijk. That is also a Catholic school on the Meir. By the end of 2017, I had finished the OKAN class. I finished my studies. I was ready to go to the regular school. Then I had a plan to become a nurse – nurse, I mean. I did an exemption test for that, no, not exemption but admission test, admission test done for that, for HBO5 nursing, higher vocational education. I did not succeed. The reason was that the exam was on the computer and when you’re done with a question, you didn’t have to close your page, but that’s what I did. I lost my chance to continue with the exam. So I had to quit the exam. But now I’m happy, lucky, that I didn’t pass. When I see someone with wounds, with pain, with blood, I start shaking. I can’t work well, I’m, I’m a little handicapped. Luckily, if I had to study to be a nurse, I would have to go to hospital, I would have to take care of the people who have wounds, who have blood, who have pain. That wouldn’t have been so easy for me. So at the moment I’m happy. At the moment I’m working on my secondary school diploma. I already have a secondary diploma from Afghanistan but still. It is not valid in Belgium. The rules are completely different in Afghanistan and here. The study, the school is completely different. Finally I have decided to get my secondary diploma again. At the moment I’m busy with accounting. Certainly if I study for another year, or a year or more, I mean a year and three months, then I’ll be done with my diploma. I don’t like accounting, I don’t like mathematics. I love math, but math doesn’t like me. I love math, but math doesn’t like me. I have chosen accounting, which is not what I want, accounting, to sit at the computer, to work with numbers. But I have a plan for later. I want to study management. If you want to study management, at university or college. Then accounting is the best choice, to study management. So I’ve chosen accounting, when I’m done with my diploma, I’ll start with management. For later, I have a plan to have my own business. A small business, a small business. It’s not easy either. It will be super difficult. But I will always do my best.

[i] My last question: How do you see the difference between your culture, your faith and here in Belgium?

[r] There is a big difference between my culture, and here. Here, the people here, they always want, they want to stay alone. If you want to go to someone, you have to make an appointment in advance. A month before, or a week before. You always have to call and stuff. But in Afghanistan this is not the case. If you want to visit, you just go right away. Knocking behind the door and then you go inside. Here you sometimes get visitors, but in Afghanistan, we had visitors every night. From family, from uncle, from grandfathers and so on. So there is a big difference between the cultures. I can’t explain that very well, because I … No culture. Also about faith. Of course, in Afghanistan, when I was in Afghanistan, we were – I was born into a Muslim family. Alhamdulillah, I am still a Muslim. Faith is personal. That is nothing to say to other people. I am Muslim, you must be Muslim too. Everyone has their own faith. Everyone has their own idea. Everyone has his own good points and also bad points. For me, culture, religion is also important, but for me your heart is the most important thing. If you have a good heart, if you are smart in your head, then you are a good person. Then everyone will be happy. If you make everyone happy, that’s very important, I think.

[i] [name], thank you very much for your time. It was really enriching to hear your story. Thanks to my mother, my father, my brother, my trainers, and you.

Very small question: What is your dream for the future?

[r] My dream? My biggest dream is to see my mother again. Not once, I want to live with my mother. I have lots of plans for my mother. I still have a dream to my little brothers, they are in secondary education, when they have finished education I want to send them to India for pilot, because that was my dream. But now, when I heard my little brother, now he has a dream to become a pilot. That’s my big dream. My other big dream is that I can do something for Belgium. I am very, not very, yes, I am very disappointed by the Belgians, by the rules, but still I am grateful to Belgium because when I was in the centre, I had a roof, I had a room, I had food to eat three times a day. So I also want to achieve something for Belgium. I don’t know by what, by study or by karate. But karate is easier. If I go to the Olympics, or to the European Championship, if I win a medal, it’s for Belgium. So that is to say, I also have a plan to achieve something for Belgium. Or write a nice book for Belgian people to learn something new to the people, that they really should be grateful. Because they are lucky. They are not like other people. I mean other people from, the people from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq or Iran. I am still grateful to Belgium.

[i] Thank you, [name].

[r] You’re welcome.