Why I Hate the Word Refugee

Why I Hate the Word Refugee

Disclosure: I wrote these as journal entries → turned into a series of articles. So please excuse the many mentions of I, I, and I. The reason I did not share my experience sooner, is because there was a risk of not being permitted back to my volunteer services. Yes, even as a volunteer I could get banned. Truth is, a lot of ugly things have been done by “volunteers” and even including the workers involved — and to avoid any trouble, I kept quite. So some things I will rush over — but share over time. So please bare with me. 

→ And the obvious — Please excuse any typos, run on sentences, and everything else — as this is me, raw and unedited. 


By now, most already know that I traveled to Greece in February to volunteer at refugee camps with my cousin, Sadaf Doost. Someone that highly inspires and encourages me to think big. We came to help in any way we can → we’ve been translating, teaching English, partaking in poetry classes, providing child care, and trying our best to instill hope.

 

Before coming, I clearly didn’t know what to expect. All I knew is that I know nothing. So in order to help — I had to shut up and listen. I came with an open mind and soon discovered that I hate the word refugee. What once depicted the struggle of leaving one’s homeland to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster has turned into a degrading word in which people look down upon. Why?

 

If a person leaves behind everything they know, all they’ve worked for, and the community that they are part of → in that effort, doesn’t it make them more courageous?

Photo courtesy Expnowhere.com

They are migrants in search for a safer and better environment for themselves, but more so their children — both born and unborn. Just like many of our ancestors did for us, they left their homeland for better opportunities. Why is it so hard for some to understand → that we are where we are because of the struggles and sacrifices that came before us.

 

You wouldn’t believe…

So far — I’ve met a chemist, a professor, a handful of educated engineers, talented artists, wise business men, and one uniquely driven soon-to-be-lawyer iA (inshallah). But I’ve also met people who don’t know how to read or write, but still attend class and focus on pronunciations. Depending on their memory to once again pull them trough. Their dedication impresses me. Though their excuses for not spending an extra hour a day learning — after I leave — annoys me.

 

Everyday I remind them that just as I’m teaching them the English language — they’re advancing my own language skills of Farsi and Dari. They laugh at this, but I think it builds their confidence. I’m not a know it all — in fact, the more I’ve learned, the less I know. What these groups of people have done — is far above my capabilities in life. This is very important to know before I continue….

 

They don’t know that…

I too had to learn the English language at the age of 9. That I wasn’t born in America or had to endure the struggles of acceptance. They don’t know that even as an “American” — I face racism and discrimination.

 

I remind them constantly that I am a product of immigrant parents. Refugees once, like they were. That if they can’t learn for themselves, to do it for their children. My father escaped from Afghanistan when the Soviet Union destructed his land. My mother fled Iran when exploding bombs on the streets, en route to school, became a norm. Both built a life and gained citizenship. I’m very fortunate for that.

Photo courtesy Kati’s Krabbels blog

If you only knew…

When I’m at the camps, I’m amazed at how much they are constantly trying to feed me. Inviting us over for tea, lunch or dinner. It’s ironic — the less you have, the more you’re willing to share. Last year, I met with the CEO of a profound company who wanted insight on my field. He had given me the wrong location and time — when I finally got there I was confused at his unapologetic manner. I sat down with exhaustion for having to sprint across town to meet him before his flight. It was rush hour and taking a taxi would have doubled my travel time. Almost out of breath, I greeted him with a smile and he sipped on his drink, never offering me one. During the time I sat with him, I watched him drink and eat — again, never offering me a thing.

 

Oh I see you 👀

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I have big dreams, aspirations, and the intention to make a change. To spread kindness in hopes that people will adapt the same habit. I truly believe, that if we were all a bit kinder to each other and treated one another with respect — that collectively it would make the world a better place. We can do it, but only together → never against each other.

Just the simple fact that most of us have four walls of security. That we have beds, clean sheets, and a roof over our head is a blessing. I have come to understand that expressing myself in the English language is a privilege. I wish we lived in a world where one was praised for the language(s) they knew. Not what they didn’t. I have a new found appreciation for the little things in life. For having 4 walls, a washing machine and dryer, putting on make up — to name a few.

The past month has taught me so much — but the more I learn the less I know. Aside from being at the camps, I’m studying a lot of history. Reading books and watching documentaries I never thought I would. and exploring as much of the country as I can.