[i] [name] .

[r] Good day.

[r] I am [name] . I am from Afghanistan. I lived in Russia for 22 years. I have been in Belgium for four years. My parents live in Antwerp. I have three brothers and they live in the Netherlands. I have a sister who lives in Russia. Since I came to Belgium I have a calm life and in general everything is fine here.

[i] In which city of Afghanistan were you born?

[r] I was born in Kabul and lived there until I was nine years old.

[i] What are your memories of Afghanistan?

[r] I remember my childhood and other children. our games, quarrels with children. Also, I remember our house, also streets, dealing with neighbors, jokes, my school. My school was called “Doosti”, which means “Friendship”. I found the name very nice and meaningful but now the school is called “Alfatr”. I remember my grandmother and aunts we visited. They also lived in Kabul. I usually have nice memories but I also remember the efforts. For example, my sister was back home too late and my parents were very worried. I was still too small to understand everything about war, murder and fear. I only remember my childhood in Afghanistan.

[i] How old were you when you left Kabul?

[r] I was nine.

[i] What was it like for you?

[r] I remember it was early in the morning. We took our things and put on our clothes. I knew we were going somewhere but I had no idea we would never return. I haven’t gone back to Afghanistan since then. I don’t remember much. Only that it was really early in the morning and still dark. I don’t remember much. And I remember that I was not so happy.

[i] Do you remember your clothes or what you took with you?

[r] No, actually nothing, just a backpack.

[i] Do you have any memories of Afghanistan?

[r] I still have pictures of the streets and the other houses. I remember more of my friends with whom we played together, mostly beautiful memories. Also from the time when I had to visit a hijab. A big hijab and as a girl I always had to put it on outside the house.  I had a friend named Bahar. One day at school we heard a lot of noise. It was the beginning of the civil war. On the way home she was very frightened by the noise. She covered her ears with her hands and started screaming. I was not afraid and it was not scary for me. But for her it was very difficult. So I asked her to come home with me. But she didn’t come with me and I went home alone. My mother asked if she was okay and she told me not to let her be alone. And then later her brother went to get them. I don’t remember very well.  I also remember the time when we had to go to the basement once the bombardments started. It was very dark and we were only with women and the girls and children. As a child everything seemed very strange to me and I did not know exactly why we did this. Still memories of the time of war, one day the whole family of our neighbour came to us.  They were all sad and crying. I asked my mother why and she told me that we should help him because they had lost their house.

[i] You went to Russia when you were 9 years old. Do you remember anything about your journey?  I don’t remember much. I remember taking the train to Tashkent. There was another family traveling with us. They had some little girls. I remember we were playing together. I also remember another girl who was a bit older. Our journey took four days.  For Moscow we also stayed in another city whose name I forgot. It was very cold. It is always cold there. There was a room where only the mothers and the babies could rest. Until the next train to our destination we had to find another place to keep us warm.  The next train was planned for the next morning. I was very cold and my feet were almost frozen. I kept moving but that didn’t help much.  My father gave me his gloves that were really thick and I started to put on them to keep me warm. I remember it so well. We stayed in Moscow for a few months with an Afghan family of our friends.  I remember seeing ostrich eggs for the first time. They made us breakfast with the eggs and I had no idea what kind of eggs they were.  After a few months we moved to another place in Moscow. There I could go to the school.  Then we had too little stuff. We were migrants. My mother made me and my sister two coats. The coats were very warm but not so beautiful.  At school it was okay, not bad. There were some who weren’t so friendly.

[i] Where you lived, did other migrants live there as well?

[r] No, only Russian people.

[i] Wasn’t it difficult to go to school?

[r] It was difficult, but not too difficult.

[i] Did you have trouble with the language?

[r] Yes, I didn’t understand anything. But I had a very good teacher. She motivated me a lot and she helped me with my lessons. There we had the same teacher for the first three years. I started school at the age of three and she was very patient with me.  In general, it is easier for children and they learn the language faster.  In the meantime we had moved a few times and finally we moved to another district, closer to the centre of Moscow. My father used to study at university there and his friends suggested that we move there. We lived in that district most of the years of our stay in Russia. At school I was bullied a lot by the students.  It was very difficult, especially in the beginning. At school I was first in the third category of students. The third was the category of children with a low social class. That’s why we had a lot of children who had a bad upbringing. After three years I went to category B. There it was much better.

[i] What was your biggest problem at school?

[r] The problem was dealing with the other students. They always bullied me and I was excluded.

[i] Do you remember more of that time?

[i] Were there other Afghan students at school as well?

[r] Close to us there was also other Afghan family. Then the daughter said I could go to category B. Six months later the family went to another country in Europe as a migrant. It was difficult for me again. She was my only friend and I had no other contact with the rest.

[i] Living as a refugee is not easy. How did you experience everything as a child or teenager in a foreign country?

[r] As a refugee, you are different from other people, that’s right. But it wasn’t just the difference, people look at you as someone inferior. I always felt that. For example, looking for a job, although I could speak the language well, but because of the accent they knew that I was a migrant.

[i] How could your parents find their way?

[r] It was very difficult for my parents

[r] because they had to take care of us. We were a big family. In order to make money, they had to do everything. There was a school where the children of refugees could be taught. My mother worked there as a volunteer with a very small fee. For her it was nice to be able to help the children of her compatriots. It was also fun for her to do the same work as her education as a teacher. So she did it with pleasure and for a little bit of money.  She was busy for a while but the school was closed after a while.  Finding a job was very difficult. Working especially at lower level if you stay legal you can work of course.  There I finished my studies.

[i] What did you study?

[i] At university?

[r] Yes, but it was difficult to find a job. I found a job really difficult.

[r] Why did you study history?

[r] We had to choose a profession and I always found history or political science interesting. But I went for history. Here in Belgium I enrolled in the faculty of political science.

[i] What did you study here in Belgium?

[i] What was the subject of your thesis in Russia?

[r] It was about the international relationship between Afghanistan and Russia between 1979 and 1989. And it was about the historical documents and writings. I found it very interesting to do a study on this subject.

[i] Why did you emigrate to Belgium?

[r] My family was already in Belgium. I didn’t feel very well there in Russia. I went to a therapist because I didn’t feel well. I really wanted to be closer to my family. That’s why I thought I’d come to Belgium to continue my studies and to build my life here.  Immediately I felt much better here. Like another world, close to my parents and with all possibilities.

[i] Your parents came to Belgium for you?

[r] My father 14 years ago and my mother 5 years after him.

[i] Didn’t you go to Belgium with them before?

[r] I had applied for family reunification but that was not possible because I was already an adult.

[i] Did you live with your brothers and sisters?

[r] Then I lived alone with my sister. My brothers were also outside Russia.

[i] Wasn’t it difficult?

[r] Yes of course. I always felt lonely.

[i] During your stay in Russia, how much did the Russian culture influence your Afghan culture? Were you closer to Russian or Afghan culture?

[r] To be honest, I have both the Russian mentality and the Afghan mentality. I sometimes think about it and I think I have a more Russian mentality.

[i] In which aspects do you identify as Russian?

[r] For example, Russian people are people who don’t talk behind each other’s backs and don’t gossip. I like that very much and I am like that.

[i] How do you see the difference between the two religions?

[r] You mean the difficulties of practicing my religion?

[r] For me, religion is a personal matter. For myself and my own life. At school, the discussion was also more general.

[i] Did you find it difficult to practice your religion?

[r] I don’t remember much. It really wasn’t difficult for me.

[i] How was school?

[r] In school, the children who bullied me, or called me “black.

[i] They called you “black”?

Yes, but there were also children who were nice. There was someone from the Soviet Union who was very nice. And sometimes we talked about the other children who treated us badly.

[i] Didn’t you ever have a Russian girlfriend?

[r] I had some girlfriends but never a Russian girlfriend. I knew a girl who was Russian and very nice but we weren’t friends.  I knew someone a few years younger than me and we were good friends. There was also someone else who called “Zina” and we were also friends.

[i] How long did you wound in Russia?

[r] Almost 22 years.

[i] And four years ago you came to Belgium?

[r] Yes, it was 2014.

You arrived by plane?

[r] Yes

[r] I felt very positive and good. It was like a new start in my life. I had my family here. I had a lot of hope. When I left the plane, I saw everyone in my family waiting for me. I could see everyone again after all these years. The first years I was so happy to learn the language and do my studies. The years after that were also nice but the first years were really special. I had so much energy and optimism for my future.

[i] Did you start learning your studies and the language right away?

[r] I immediately started with the language. I had previously enrolled in Linguapolis. And a few days after my arrival, I started learning the language.

[i] What was it like for you to learn Dutch?

[r] I have been studying Dutch in Russia for two years. Once I was sure I could come to Belgium, I found an academic institute where my sister and I could learn Dutch.  We had a very good teacher and for two years we learned Dutch every week. Sometimes we would study extra lessons at home. In Belgium I continued with the language, but it was difficult. I went on anyway, but it was still interesting for me to continue studying.

[i] How long did it take for you to speak the language fluently?

[r] I studied a year and a half at Linguapolis.

[i] In which language did you usually communicate?

[r] Usually in Dutch, although I couldn’t speak so perfectly.

[i] What other languages do you speak?

[r] Dari is my mother tongue. With my family I always speak Dari. With some people I could speak in English.

[i] Could you use your Russian language here?

Yes, in university I had two other classmates. With them I always speak in Russian. We try to speak as much as possible in Dutch but sometimes also in Russian.

[i] After you finished your language course, did you start your studies at the university?

[r] Actually not no. I had to take the ITNA test first, but I wasn’t very patient and I decided not to continue studying. I wanted to find work.

[i] Were you also working in Russia?

[r] Yes, in Russia after my studies I started looking for a job. I wanted something closer to home. I found a vacancy in a high school near my home. I called and we made an appointment and it went well. In September, I called back and they said I could start working. After a while I had to stop because I didn’t have the right diploma as a teacher. As a stranger it was really hard to find work. For example, in the school I had to change my name, first name and surname had to be both Russian.

[i] And you did that?

[r] Yes indeed. They introduced me to the students with a different name.

[i] By what name?

[r] To Alexin.

[i] How long did you work there?

[r] Almost a year. But it was really hard. I actually replaced another woman who was on maternity leave. That was for a period of two years. But I couldn’t work anymore. Dealing with the students was really difficult, and I realized it wasn’t the right job for me.

[i] What would you like to do?

[r] I really like teaching and I like to do it. I also taught at another school that was for foreigners’ pupils. I taught history there. It was different there. I found it useful to help the newcomers. I did that for a semester, and I really enjoyed it. The pupils were also older and that differs from smaller pupils.

[i] When your stay in Belgium was in order, what was your goal and plan for your future?

[r] First I wanted to do my master studies and then find work. For me it was also important to have my own family.

[i] Do you miss Afghanistan more or Russia?

[r] Afghanistan In the beginning when I was outside I always thought somewhere that we would go back to Afghanistan. I was waiting to go back. But as I got older I realized that it wasn’t going to happen, and I stopped hoping. I used to think that maybe I could go back and see my country again and visit my family. But I’m afraid I wouldn’t feel well there. My mentality, my life experience, everything is totally different now. So I think I may stay for a few days, but no longer. There are still some people who still live there. I would also like to see my home from my childhood back. I’m curious to see what’s left of that place. A few days ago I watched a movie about Kabul and all the places there. I found it very interesting. Therefore, if possible, I would like to go back to my country.

[i] How do you see the difference between Russia and Belgium in terms of flight life and migration?

[r] In Russia in the 90’s it was very bad. There was a new system in the country and there was a lot of control over the people. For parents it was worse. As a child I could understand that. That was really not pleasant, you felt a lot of tension. I don’t have enough pleasant memories of that time.  Here in Belgium everything was pleasant for me. I was reunited with my parents. The weather was much better here. The nature here, even the rain I like. For me, everything here is pleasant.

[i] What are you doing now?

[r] I work as an administrative assistant for a driving school. My boss is also an Afghan and he is a fine person. Now that I do my job well and know everything, I enjoy working there.

[i] What exactly do you do?

[r] I deal with administrative matters. I register the clients for the exams and lessons. I monitor everything and make sure everything is in order.

[i] Are you satisfied with your job?

[r] Yes, I do. I work from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and I’m really working on it. If there are any Afghan clients, I speak to them in the Dari. We also have Russian clients and I can speak to them in Russian. Sometimes in English or French.

[i] Do you have other ambitions for your future work in Belgium?

[r] I like my current job but I’m looking for another job with a better salary. Because I want to buy a house and I have to borrow money. Then we can have children and so on.

[i] Are you in contact with the Afghan community here in Belgium?

[r] Occasionally. Especially for big holidays like New Year’s Eve or other Afghan parties. Only during these feasts do I see other Afghan people.

[i] Do you have a large circle of Belgian acquaintances?

Not that much, honestly. I always wanted it, especially when I was a student. Because it’s good to practice my language and also to get to know the mentality of people. But friendship never happened.

[i] Why?

[r] I don’t really know. I get along very well with my neighbours. We talk sometimes and they are very open-minded. But some are more closed. Maybe I’m closed. I don’t know.

[i] Have you experienced discrimination here in Belgium?

[r] No, fortunately not. I didn’t hear anything either.

[i] How did you meet your husband?

[r] I met my husband during an Atlas course. My guide at Atlas told me to take part in it. There were a lot of Afghan people in the course and I met my husband there. Since then we kept in touch and almost a year and a half later we married together.

[i] What course?

[r] StressCop. It was a very nice course, very informative and also nice people. Later my husband asked me to marry him. And I talked to my parents. He also had to talk to my parents separately. And that’s how we got married.

[i] Do you have a child?

[r] Not for the time being.

[i] In the future, when you have children, what culture do you raise them with?

[r] I would certainly try to teach them my own culture. For that is like my roots. In addition, children are also going to learn the culture from here anyway. I like the culture from here very much. There are so many good things here that I appreciate. The system of real democracy. I find that very pleasant. I think it’s great that I can combine these two cultures. That of society and the environment here, and that of my homeland.

[i] Which aspects of your own culture would you like to pass on to your children?

[r] For example, hospitality, the history of my country, and I hope that my children will later show interest and want to know more for themselves. Also the language of my homeland. I think it is possible for my children to learn my mother tongue without relegating them to Dutch.

[i] Do you have any hobbies?

[r] When I have time, I’m usually busy studying language or doing housework. I used to make embroidery that I like, but for the time being I don’t have much free time because I work full-time.  That’s why when I’m at home and have time, I usually study.

[i] When you arrived in Belgium as a migrant, what kind of help did you get to rebuild your life here?

[r] Do you mean what I wanted from the government?

[i] I mean, in what ways did the government help you to build your life here?

[r] In different ways. For example, I could take a language course almost for free. I had the opportunity to continue my studies. I could also do volunteer work at ATLAS and I also received a fee.  That way I could save some money. I had also done an internship that was also from the government and I also earned money.  I mean I could gently develop my life in different ways. By volunteering I could gain a lot of experience and softly I could grow a lot and learn a lot.

[i] What are the most important things in life for you?

[r] Among other things, family is important to me. Family for me is the only thing that gives meaning to your life regardless of the circumstances. I appreciate being able to spend my life close to my family, my parents. Another important thing for me is my marriage. To have a family with my husband and to have children. This is possible if you think about everything and focus on building a good life. These are the most important things for me in life.

[i] What do you think about the family structure in Belgian society?

[r] The family structure is about the same everywhere. What is different here is living together. Here couples can live together without being married. I’m not saying it’s okay or not okay. It’s just another form. Some people think it’s better and that’s okay of course.

[i] What do you think about women’s rights here in Belgium?

[r] Women’s rights? There is a big difference between here and Afghanistan.

In what sense?

[r] In Afghanistan we haven’t finished with development yet. The mentality of the people is also not yet open-minded. Therefore the women are not able to defend their rights. They get no rights and they suffer from this injustice. And the same story for their children.

[i] As a woman here in Belgium, can you achieve your goals without restrictions?

[r] Of course. Here you get the chance to study. To follow an education. Here everything is facilitated for you if you want to achieve something. If you work hard, you can achieve everything here without restrictions. No one here is saying that you shouldn’t do anything because you are a woman. Nobody stops you or blocks your way.  The only thing I have heard here is that if you are looking for a job, your nationality, your name, etc., you can reduce your chances.  You’ll find it everywhere. There are always people who are not so open-minded to think objectively. There are many people who are like that.

[i] Have you ever experienced such a thing that your country of origin did not give you equal opportunities?

[r] Here? I’m not sure, but I know I’ve been looking for a job a lot and never got a positive answer. They always said that my CV was not suitable for their vacancy.

[i] That you weren’t suitable for the job?

[r] Yes indeed. I like to do social work. But I didn’t have a diploma. It is possible to get a diploma, but I didn’t do it.  I could only find my current job through an acquaintance of ours. A friend of my sister-in-law worked there.  She invited me to get my driver’s license. When I went there, I realised that they were looking for an employee. I asked if it was possible to work there. Then I applied for the vacancy and I could get the job. I was fortunate enough to find that job by chance, but it’s true, finding a job is very difficult. Especially for administrative work is very difficult. I’ve been here for four years, but it’s not that long. You have to learn the language, sometimes you have to learn another language like French. For example, I applied for a job at the reception and they asked me if I could speak French. My English is not very good either. I have to study that further. Apart from the French language, distance is another factor. For some jobs, you have to travel far. For example, working in a reception centre is also good, but normally it’s not easy to get there. That’s not always easy. Another factor is work experience or a high diploma.

[i] Have you also followed an integration course here in Belgium?

[r] No, I just did an exemption test.

[i] What is that?

[r] This is a kind of test instead of the course. If your supervisor in Atlas agrees that you do not have to take the course, you can only take a test. You answer some questions and if you have passed, you will receive a certificate.

[i] What do you think about the recent flow of refugees from countries like Iran, Syria, Iraq, Africa etc. to Europe?

[r] Who come to Belgium or Europe or the US, in general all refugees are forced to leave their countries by unrest and war.  Especially for the women who don’t have a good life in some countries. For example, in Afghanistan, women are oppressed by men and they are beaten by men. They are forced to do business without their permission. They do not have autonomy and freedom because there is a lot of pressure from the family and society. And that is why the women are fleeing to other countries.  In Syria there is a war. It is everyone’s right to lead a peaceful life. That is why people flee their country.

[i] Do you see this flow of refugees as a positive or a negative thing for Belgian society?

[r] I understand that for some Belgian people it is not so pleasant that too many people are received in their country. I can’t really say whether it’s positive or negative.

[r] Do you think there are problems in the Afghan community here in Belgium?

[r] What are the difficulties for the Afghan newcomers? Of course, finding a job and loneliness. People who have no family. People who are single, such as a young woman or a young man.  I like the fact that sometimes there is a sense of community between the Afghan people here. That makes them feel at home when they come together and practice their culture. That’s one little thing that makes them happy.

Are you homesick, too?

[r] Do you mean that I miss my country?

[i] No, I mean that you feel at home here.

[r] In comparison with Afghanistan or Russia? I only have my memories of Afghanistan from my childhood. Sometimes I think about that time.  About Russia, at the beginning that I arrived in Belgium, I was very happy that I didn’t live there anymore. But now I sometimes think about the time there, my studies or my work.

[i] What was it like for your three brothers to rebuild a life here?

Yes, my brothers work very hard too. My young brother learned the language very quickly and studied very hard. Now he is an anaesthetist. He also has a boxing club with two other friends. He likes to box and he does that as a hobby.  My oldest brother is a gerontologist in the Netherlands. He sometimes tells about the difficulties he had in the beginning.  About his stay at the shelter and the challenges then. Sometimes he had to walk to the shelter for a long time until midnight. Or when he had to leave the shelter and find a house. He had nowhere to sleep. So he worked at McDonald’s until late. But after that was closed he had to find a place to sleep and return to work in the morning.  Then he met an Afghan person who offered him a small place to sleep for free. That’s the kind of trouble he’s been through. But now he has a good life. He has a family with two girls. And he has bought a house.  My other brother also came here from Russia. He is still studying for a bachelor’s degree and has two other subjects to graduate from.  Afterwards he has to find a job. His wife is studying for a master’s degree in law and also works with the children.

[i] How did it go for you when you were looking for a house here?

[r] When I arrived, I was staying at my parents’ house. My husband used to live in another apartment that was a real one.  Later that apartment was declared uninhabitable. That’s why my husband was looking for a house. Then he found our current home on Immoweb.  Then we visited the house and the owner was very friendly and my husband got a contract.  After our Afghan wedding I came here and we started to live together. Here we find it very nice, quiet neighborhood and friendly neighbors. We are happy here.

[r] What is the difference between an Afghan wedding and a Belgian wedding?

[r] An Afghan marriage is something else in terms of process. I haven’t seen a Belgian wedding yet.

[i] Did you register your marriage here in the town hall?

[r] No, we didn’t.

[i] I have no other questions. Do you want to add something more as someone who has lived in three different countries, or as a newcomer in Belgium?

[r] No, I’m glad I had the chance to come here and stay close to my family. We are happy to have so many nice people in our society who have helped us in difficult times. I hope that there will come a time when no one will be forced to leave his country, his family and his parents. I hope we have less violence and war in the future in the world.

[r] Thank you very much [name] for sharing your story with us. It was very enriching.

[r] Thank you to you.