"Kabul Mosque" by Masoud Akbari / CC BY-SA 3.0

As an Afghan immigrant, Britain and atheism showed me the bright side of democracy

Oct 1, 2019

By Mohadesa Najumi

There’s so much I wish I could tell people about me, like the fact that my dad doesn’t know how old he is (in Afghanistan they didn’t used to record birthdays), or that every day I am thankful to be living in a democratic state. I was naturalised as a British citizen when I was very young; being a Londoner is all I have ever known since the age of three. But there’s lots of little things that I adore which British-born citizens often overlook.

I’ve been back to Kabul, where I was born, since settling in the UK. There is no sewage system, no waste management systems, no rule of law. People burn their garbage in the middle of the street. If you want to send a letter, you can’t because there’s no postal delivery system. Visiting a friend’s home for the first time? Good luck trying to find a map that helps you navigate locations; homes don’t even have door numbers. As aesthetically pleasing as some places were to visit, travelling to Afghanistan at an early age opened my eyes and gave me perspective. It’s one thing to read about democracy in a textbook, it’s another to experience first-hand how its manifestation can alter the fabric of one’s existence.

I’ve had to grapple with a lot of different aspects of myself, at times I find I am still coming to terms with myself. The British side of me is over-polite, loves roast dinner, and frequently engages in banter. Growing up, Afghan culture taught me to become a gift-giver, Afghans have a tradition where they do not visit the home of another person without bringing a gift, whether it’s fruit or clothes. I still find myself giving gifts to people randomly at work for no particular reason, or to my friends, not knowing how to explain to them that it is a programmed response.

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