TUESDAY 18 JULY 2017, 12:55, IN TERRIS

FLEEING AFGHANISTAN CHASING A DREAM

FABIO BERETTA
FLEEING AFGHANISTAN CHASING A DREAM
FLEEING AFGHANISTAN CHASING A DREAM
Leaving your own home, friends and relatives to follow a dream: to study to become a doctor and help others. This is the desire of Atai Walimohammad, a young man 21 years old, born in Afghanistan. He arrived Italy in 2013, and after having obtained political refugee status, he started to collaborate with the institutions in different reception centres as linguistic mediator. He spontaneously tells In Terris the story of his childhood, filled with violence and abuse, and the long journey on board the most varied means of transport in order to be able to reach Europe.

Religious fanatics


"I am the son of a doctor; my father was called dr. Atta Mohammad and was killed by the people of my village - Atai says -. I was so small that I had never got a chance to know him". Growing up, he saw photos and books of medicine at home. The curiosity of those images led him to ask his mother: "Whose do these photos and books belong to?". "My mother told me that they belonged to my father. She told me that he was killed by an imam with the aid of the locals". Atta was murdered for his ideas, considered "atheistic" by the Taliban. "My father has always recommended to the inhabitants of the village that it is not worth becoming a suicide bomber to go to Paradise, actions of this kind give only advantage to the foreign countries that occupy our land. 'Register your children at in school', he said". Atai was impressed by the charism of his father and since he was a child he desired to become a psychologist, just like his father. So he started to attend courses in Mathematics, Biology, Physics, Chemistry and Science. But his passion toward science was not accepted seen by the religious people of his village: "People always spoke badly about me and tried to block me, but despite all this I never stopped and I continued to attend school".

The kamikazes’ school


In 2011 the Taliban opened a training centre for kamikazes in a rural area, far a distance away from the village of Atai. "A terrible place where they taught children to make themselves explode in the name of Allah – he recalls -. Young children started to abandon their school to attend the madrassa (place where the children are taught a formative path specifically focused on learning the fundamentals of Islam - editor’s note)". Atai did not lose heart and the following year, with the help of U.S. troops and the Afghan government, opened a centre for learning English and informatics, reserved only for the children and the adults of his village. "At the beginning they were not many, but then the number increased. Once a week the Americans used to patrol the dwellings. I always went to speak to them". He created a sort of bond with those soldiers. "One day they brought me books, notebooks, carpets, chairs, pencils, flip charts and tables for my students". The day after, Atai decides to distribute all the material to his students. "I managed to convince many fathers of in the village to enrol their children reminding them that education is the best weapon with respect to the gun!".

Violence and destruction


Everything seemed to go for the best, and Atai, with his brothers, devoted themselves also to art. He carved out many sculptures, and he decided to bring one of them in the school. "It was a strange thing for both teachers and students; some were happy to see it while others were angry!". Someone misinterpreted that figure for an image of Buddha. "While my little brother and I were showing the sculpture to the students, the theology teacher came and started to break it. Thereafter he incited the boys to beat us up". Atai and his little brother returned home bloodied. Strange rumours about him started to circulate in the village: "They said that I had converted to Buddhism, that I was an unbeliever". After this episode, parents decided not to send their children to the centre where Atai was teaching. A few weeks later, a blitz of the American soldiers in the village caused the death of four Talibans. The imams accused him of being a spy, arguing that the men were killed because of him. "They said that I had converted to Christianity. The religious leader of my village, with other people burned the centre where I was teaching, then they came to the house, while I was not there, and they tortured and beaten to blood my little brother". As a punishment, moreover, they destroyed all his sculptures. "The entire village wanted to kill me. I managed to escape in the province of Herat from where I left immediately and definitively Afghanistan".

In the footsteps of the Father


In the meantime, the little brother of Atai had a surgery to the testicles. After leaving the hospital he started to attend the mosque. "Not for the faith in Allah, but for fear of the Talibans". But within two years he leaves the madrassa to follow the footsteps of his Father and of his elder brother. "My brother tried to make people understand that it is not fair to make themselves to explode to go to paradise. "Do not kill children' he cried, let us and our parents decide how to educate our children'". Some hearkened unto him, but the imam was ready to stop even Atai’s brother. So the religious leaders issued a decree in which it was written: "Dostmohammad (this is the name of the little brother -editor’s note) was converted to Christianity and is trying to convert our children, he must be hanged and stoned in front of the locals and he must not escape as his brother". Dostmohammad decided then to contact Atai to inform him about the current situation. Before the Taliban ran the judgment, the Mother of the two brothers managed to convince some men to hide him in order for him to then be able to flee. "He first reached Bulgaria, then from there he arrived in Germany where he applied for political asylum. Now he lives in Munich," tells Atai.

A family destroyed

Liaqat Ali, stepbrother of Atai, remained with the mother, in Afghanistan. "He was a doctor in a private hospital, and while he was preparing for his specialization, he was approached by the Talibans who asked him to work for them. At his refusal, he was threatened with death and was told not to treat the government’s army. But after his further 'no' he was kidnapped. He was first tortured with electroshock, then abandoned on the roadside. From that moment, his life changed: he suffered severe damage to the brain and he became handicapped. To help him rehabilitate, my family took him to a hospital in Pakistan where he found a minimum of relief with an anti-psychosis care. During his stay in the hospital, the Talibans burned both his hospital and our home". Desperate, the mother decided to send Liaqat Ali to Europe to find a little bit of peace. He is now in Italy, tells Atai, but "he had to face a difficult journey for his mental condition. Now he is in a centre for asylum seekers in Crotone but he still manifests the problems arising from the torture. He is afraid to be found and killed by the Talibans also in Italy".

A new life in Italy


But also the path travelled by Atai to reach the Beautiful Country was not easy. "I have travelled several times under the trucks to be able to save myself, passing through different countries. When I arrived in Italy, it was not easy to get used to such a different culture. In order to integrate I understood the importance of studying and understanding the language". So, after some time he started to work in Puglia (where there was the refugee camp that hosted him) with lawyers who followed the migrants. His life started to change. "My passion for foreign languages led me to study and learn by myself several foreign languages". He also attended a course for cultural mediators. Then he managed to find a job with the Association Lia di Bergamo as an interpreter and mediator in the centre of first reception of Zavattarello. "Meanwhile I am attending the university to achieve the bachelor degree in Sciences of Language mediation". In Italy Atai found a new family: "It is composed by my colleagues and by the boys that we host, to which I try to be an example and to re-propose the activities as I did in Afghanistan: I collaborate in the teaching Italian and I do artistic workshops. Albeit from a short time in Italy, young people have already reached a good level of linguistic knowledge. In their free time, they also carved a sculpture that we would like to donate to the Municipality as a sign of gratitude for the welcome".

A message of hope and integration


"To this must be added that since a few days the youth shyly and always under our protection, attend the sports facilities of the local church community centres beginning to interact with their Italian peers and looking through sport, to break down the barriers of language and culture". Now Atai lives happily: "Here I am happy, I like my job, I feel free to express my ideas and my interests. I can live my faith the way I want to, but I still dream of becoming a psychologist like my dad!". All in all, life is beautiful.
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