‘I’d rather sleep on the streets of Brazil than go back to Afghanistan,’ says refugee in Porto Alegre | World

The girl walks on the dirt streets to buy food at the sale near the house. Suddenly, you hear the deafening roar of an explosion. White dust rises, completely covers the vision. Everything seems suspended in the air until lacerating screams break the silence. Gradually, the eyes return to see the ground, now dyed red. The girl finds herself surrounded by blood that is not hers.

More than once, Nabila Khazizadah was faced with this scene.

“Many people died in front of me. I went out to buy something and I didn’t know if I would come back. The bomb dropped, smoke rose, everything turned white, and suddenly there was blood everywhere.”

It was to prevent the blood on the floor from being hers one day that Nabila and her family sought refuge in India and, later, in Brazil.

“Afghanistan has always been at war, since I was born, it was like this, bombs and fear. Until the Taliban took our house and we lost everything,” he told BBC News Brasil.

Nabila, her father, mother and brother moved to India after losing their home to the Taliban. In the new country, they even slept on the streets and went hungry, while the father tried to support the family by selling slippers among cars and passersby.

Nabila (left), mother (right), father and brother lived for a time in India. She got married and went with her husband to Brazil in 2002 — Photo: Personal archive

A few years later, Nabila married an Afghan, also a refugee in India, and the couple had two children. “My husband decided to ask the Indian government to be resettled in another country to give aid and have more job opportunities.”

That’s how the journey to Brazil began. Months after the request, they received the news that the Brazilian government had agreed to resettle them. The news surprised. Brazil? They had a very remote idea of ​​what this country was so far removed from everything they knew.

“We said: ‘but we don’t know what Brazil is like, what the language is like, the culture.’

“All we wanted was a calmer, healthier future for our children.”

The beginning of life in Brazil

Nabila’s husband did not adapt to Brazil and decided to return to Afghanistan in 2007 — Photo: Personal archive

Nabila, her husband and their two children, ages 7 and 8, boarded a plane along with four other Afghan families who would be resettled in a Ministry of Justice program with the United Nations Agency for Refugees (UNHCR), launched shortly after the start. of the Afghan War in 2001.

  • Find out what happened to 100 Afghan refugees that Brazil received almost 20 years ago

They were sent to Porto Alegre and started to receive monthly financial aid of R$260, plus R$13 per child, in addition to rent, energy, food basket, medicine and school transport, paid by UNHCR.

But the hope of starting over in a country where he would have assured rights was mixed with the pain of missing his parents and brother, who stayed in India.

“I was locked inside the house for three months, crying, thinking about what I would do away from my family. Then I thought, it’s no use, crying inside the house, I’m not going to be able to do anything. I have to put a face to it and learn Portuguese “, he told BBC News Brasil.

“I went around the neighborhood talking to neighbors, trying to make friends.”

‘Watch out for the suicide bomber’

But the adaptation was not easy. And after a year, the benefits paid by UNHCR, which were temporary, ceased.

“Portuguese is a very difficult language and we still didn’t know how things worked. We started chasing and my husband got a job.”

Walking through the streets of Porto Alegre with her hair completely covered by her hijab, Nabila felt the suspicious eyes of Brazilians who had never lived with women in veils. Some even reacted with hostility and refused to sit next to her on the bus.

“There were no Afghans there at that time, there were no Muslims. People saw me in the hijab and walked away, they didn’t want to sit next to me on the bus. Some said: get away, it’s a suicide bomber, it’s going to explode.”

Nabila was even harassed on the streets of Porto Alegre for wearing the hijab — Photo: Personal archive (BBC)

The children, however, adapted quickly and, little by little, Nabila made friends with the neighbors, whom she now calls sisters.

“But I started having problems with my husband. He became jealous. He didn’t want to let our children out of the house, even for me to work, even though we needed the money”, she says.

In 2007, Nabila’s husband decided to return to Afghanistan. She refused to leave Brazil and did not let him take the two boys. Even without money and a job, Nabila separated from her husband and decided that she would find a way to support the family by herself.

“I would rather sleep on the streets of Brazil than go back to my country. I would be able to feed my children even on the street, but I couldn’t let them live in war,” he said.

“I would feel safer sleeping on the street in Brazil than in a house in Afghanistan, which can be bombed at any time.”

The husband returned to Afghanistan and Nabila stayed with the boys. Without her husband’s income, she had to work hard to secure the rent for the apartment and food for the family.

“I had never worked in my life and I started working. Since I started working, I haven’t stopped. I never said no. I even took care of the turtle and the neighbor’s cat,” he says.

Nabila has been working in a family’s house in the morning for 15 years. “I do everything: clean, iron, cook. They are very good people. And they trust me. This is priceless.”

In the afternoon, she takes care of an elderly woman. “I stay with her from 2 pm to 8 pm. She’s a wonderful person.” Currently, Nabila’s children are 27 and 28 years old, working and financially independent.

“They’re good guys. One is the right-hand man of a Japanese restaurant owner. The boss has total confidence in him to run the restaurant. The other is a hairdresser’s assistant, but he cuts hair, does everything.”

Two years ago, Nabila managed to fulfill her dream of seeing her parents again, after 17 years. The elderly couple now live in the United States – they were resettled after a request made to the US government, a few years after Nabila came to Brazil.

“I really wanted to see my parents. They have diabetes, they are elderly and I needed to hug them even if it was one last time,” he says.

She tried to get a tourist visa to travel to the US, but was denied. “I was devastated, but then my father managed to come to Brazil with my mother, even though he was very old.”

Nabila’s mother and father managed to visit their daughter in Brazil two years ago, after 17 years without seeing each other — Photo: Personal archive (BBC)

The reunion was emotional. “My parents didn’t understand how I could have supported my family on my own. They said, ‘But my daughter, are you alone, without an Afghan? They were thinking things that had nothing to do with it.’

Upon arriving in Brazil, Nabila’s father and mother looked over their grandchildren, who were already adults, and met the many friends that the Afghan woman, now 43, made in the country. They realized that she had built, in her own way, a new family.

“When I was leaving my father said: ‘Now I don’t have a daughter, I have several daughters.’ They saw that I was surrounded by people. We can also build a family of affection. I have friends who love me like a sister.”

Almost 20 years after arriving in Brazil, Nabila says that, despite the difficulties of adapting in the early years, today he feels at home. She speaks Portuguese fluently, with a slight accent. He doesn’t give up wearing the hijab on the streets and attending the city’s mosque.

“Brazil is a good country. If it weren’t for the robberies, it would be the best country in the world. Even if I had the opportunity to live in Canada or the United States, I would want to continue living in Brazil. The people here are wonderful, they are welcoming, they know how to look at the other’s pain.”

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