Nilab Siddiqi feels betrayed by her birthday. It is a constant reminder that she will never be truly celebrated in a country that doesn’t celebrate its peoples cultural differences.
Under the scalding sun, on one suffocating summer day, I turned 21 years old. While many would rejoice such an apparent momentous occasion, I spent the day navigating the streets of Newtown in an exhausted haze. Now don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware of the melancholy that befalls many-a-people on their birthday, but for me, and for many other children of immigrants, birthdays often feel like reopening of a fatal wound.
I was born in the summer of 2001, a neat seven months prior to 9/11 and, thus, seven months prior to the excruciatingly cruel division of my people, Afghans, from the rest of the world. Nowadays, I often think back to that day and ponder on whether my parents feared for what any of it meant for their young children. After fighting so hard to find their way to this country, fleeing from all sorts of persecution, yet again, they became the enemy.
Many people liken sensations of loneliness and isolation to a person drifting into space, but I’ve always felt that it feels more like drifting through the dense and dark waters of the ocean. Life blooms in every direction you turn. Coral, bright and bountiful, lining the ocean floor, schools of fish, swirling together in unison, snails, clams and crustaceans skittering to-and-fro, but you? You’re drifting through this fierce display of life on your own, and no matter how gracefully you swim nor how successful you are in your doings, nothing will ever change that one simple fact. You are alone.
As Australians, we love to boast about our supposed multiculturalism and how this flat, dustfilled country values nothing more than that but with every cruel birthday, immigrants, and the children of immigrants, are forced to look upon the cracks that run along such a blatant facade. To be an immigrant in this country is to be totally and utterly alone. Each birthday serves to remind us that, in the short amount of time we’ve graced this Earth, we have borne the pain of hundreds and thousands on our own and will continue to do so till we simply cannot bear anymore.
Yes, I have the Afghan community tucked into the crevice of the West, yes I have my family here with me, but it just is not enough to fill the void that this country rips into you when you are not white. Every year that void grows deeper and darker and every year I find myself exerting less and less effort to try to close it.
Throughout my life, I have found myself teetering upon the Australian identity. Creeping closer and closer to becoming the person local politicians want us so desperately to merge into, and then whenever something bad happens regarding Afghans, and it always does, I am forced to acknowledge just how alien I am, just how alone I am.
The rise of the Taliban. The fall of the Taliban. The detention of refugees. The death of refugees.
On August 21, 2021, the capital city of Afghanistan, Kabul, fell to the Taliban and every day since then has been filled with the undoing of my country. Swaths of innocents executed, women stolen from homes, banned from schools, whipped and pelted with stones for minor ‘transgressions’, children starved, the country failing.
People look at me in sympathy, they say they’re so sorry, they discuss the source of my pain in University halls and behind retail counters like they’re juicy little points of trivia and not the thing which has left me so desolate.
Despite it all, I march on, reluctantly aging in a place that wants little to do with the likes of me, swallowing the hurt inflicted upon me and tending to my wounds on the days that I cannot.
To age in a country that simply does not want you is a painful thing indeed