Dear Aba and Modar,
I don’t know how you did it. How you packed up and squeezed a lifetime of memories and belongings into one suitcase and bid the rest goodbye. Did it hurt as you pulled up the roots that had kept you grounded- your home, family, friends, both your comfortable jobs as dentists? But how could you stay, when the streets of Kabul was filled with the echoes of gunfire and shelling?
I wonder if you were afraid. If you could feel your heart trembling with trepidation as you set off that night with my eldest brother, barely a year old, in your arms. If the darkness felt like it protected you or consumed you. The gravity of it all weighing heavily on your mind as you struggled to focus on the journey ahead.
You both sat on the rusty cage of the lorry that drove you over the border into Pakistan and into uncertainty. Your stomachs must have lurched with every winding turn as you watched the wheels inch ever close to the precarious cliff edge hugging the road. What a shame that you were both too lost in your thoughts to appreciate the breathtaking scenery all around you, the beauty of your homeland defiantly untouched by the brutality of war. When the lorry stopped at night time hailing sleep, did the hay you tossed and turned in feel harsh against your cheeks? Or were you indifferent with exhaustion?
You pressed the rewind button on your life, picked up its fragments and started to rebuild.
When you arrived in the Pakistani refugee camp, the air was stale from the uncertainty of thousands of displaced families.
Our family kept the cold out of your mud brick house by nailing plastic over cut out windows. The three of you huddled around gas lamps at night and invented games for your son, from the shadows that bounced off the walls. You itched as the sheets crawled with lice. You weathered floods in the rainy season, the house filling with stagnant water.
Did you ever in your most outlandish dreams think you would make it to the land down under? Probably not, as the days in the refugee camp blurred into weeks, months and then years - your optimism slowly faltered. You both remained stranded, neither here nor there but in between. Too far gone and yet too out of reach. How did you suppress the constant fear that your application might be knocked back? That you may never leave this limbo.
What a feeling it must have been to hold that visa in your hands. Destination: Sydney, Australia. To leave behind years of anxious anticipation when you finally boarded that plane. Was it a weight lifted off your shoulders, an overwhelming relief? After all, it was the climax, the end of your arduous journey. But it was not really the end at all, as you pressed the rewind button on your life, picked up its fragments and started to rebuild.
The heartache you would have felt in walking away from your life’s work never showed
I am sorry that you went through all of that for the promise of safety and opportunity for me.
You both got here, and both your qualifications in dentistry were unrecognised. You were given the opportunity to retrain but you turned it down so that your family wouldn’t be uprooted again. The heartache you would have felt in walking away from your life’s work as it never showed in the way you put your heart and soul so selflessly into my two brothers and me.
People scoffed at your accents but they didn’t know it was you who had given me the gift of eloquence. They didn’t know your accent represents your strength in learning a new language, a new culture, a new way of life.
I remember the stories of hope you both told me. Stories and memories about your homeland, upbringing and family, now scattered across globe, that gave me strength and pride in my heritage even though I was born worlds away in suburban Australia.
You read me stories of Louis Pasteur and Fred Hollows to inspire me to use the opportunities that you had provided me to make a difference. It was thanks to your weekly trips with me to the library that I found my greatest comfort in reading and telling stories.
Your arduous journey taught me to be brave in the face of adversity and to bear it with patience. To stay humble and live with purpose as nothing in life is lasting and time is precious. It inspires me daily to treat everyone I meet, to the best of my ability, with kindness and understanding as you never know how high the tide was that they swam against to reach where they are today. And to take no blessing for granted, especially being born into safety and opportunity.
I became a doctor raised on your hopes and blessings. I hope I can make you proud after all you have sacrificed for me. I know I fall short a thousand times, but you always catch me in your arms regardless.
Dr. Marrwah Ahmadzai’s day job is as a resident obstetrician-gynecologist but her side hustle is freelance writing. You can follow Marrwah on Instagram
This article is part of SBS Voices emerging Muslim women writers’ series. If you have a pitch, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.