Excerpt: “How I Became a Muslim Reformer”
We made our way to Iran, where my dad had some family. We ended up staying there for several months, maybe longer. The Iranian Revolution had already happened but things were still relatively normal – mostly. Women started covering their hair in public. There was talk of religious crackdowns. Women would drive around and pop out of the car if they saw another woman wearing lipstick. They spotted my mom and offered her a napkin to wipe her lips; the napkin was filled with broken glass.
At five, I was sheltered from that Iran. Iran was beautiful and other worldly – and I was shown tremendous love by my aunt and her family. To this day I’m overwhelmed by how much love they have and how freely they share it – something that is very common among Afghans. I was happy with them in Iran in a way that I never could be in Pakistan. But soon we left Iran too.
We made our way across to Germany, stopping in Turkey briefly. We visited Topkapi Palace and some other ancient places. What I loved most was the hotel basement bar. It was a dark little hideaway where a freakishly tall waiter dressed in an all-white suit maintained a steady supply of strawberry jam and cheese while I listened to the bar play Baltimora’s Tarzan Boy on repeat. The West was looking pretty good.
From Turkey we headed to Germany, to a small little town outside in Springe, called Eldagsen. It was about as picturesque as the south of France, with farmland extending beyond the horizon and a dreamlike haze sheltering the town from the outside world. We’d draw pictures, slip them in bottles and send them down the creek. We’d walk a mile to school every day, even in three feet of snow. I found a best friend. And I fell in love with Pippi Longstocking.
Germans were very welcoming once the pastor and my best friend’s family befriended us. My mom also made it a point that I visit the local church; she said it was important to know how other people worshiped. Life in Germany was pretty idyllic. We assimilated quickly, speaking fluent German in three months and embracing the culture. That takes a mindset, but it also takes a community. My best friend’s mom, Karin, and the pastor were generous with their time, finding ways to help us settle into a new country, gently guiding my mom in adapting to a German way of life. And then we had to leave. Two years in, there were still some issues getting past a refugee status that would allow my dad to work more typically.
Category: LETTERS TO MY SON