Hope, Trauma and the Homeland

Reflecting on intergenerational guilt.

“Even the air of this country has a story to tell about warfare. It is possible here to lift a piece of bread from a plate and following it back to its origins, collect a dozen stories concerning war—how it affected the hand that pulled it out of the oven, the hand that kneaded the dough, how war impinged upon the field where wheat was grown.”

Nadeem Aslam, The Wasted Vigil

Thursday 15th of August 2021 was not an eventful day in suburban Sydney but thousands of kilometres away, in Afghanistan, the world seemed like it was ending. For some, the world did end on that day, and everyday since. As the Taliban paraded the streets of Kabul again, it became reminiscent of the 1990s, the only difference this time was that the Taliban spoke perfect English and it was all captured on high-definition footage around the clock. The entire world erupted and watched on in fascination, in fear and in pity as to what would become the state of Afghanistan.

I, on the other hand, sat solemnly at my desk feeling numb. I thought about my family who would be targeted for being Hazara, I thought about my childhood home, I thought about the young people who had built their entire dreams based on a free Afghanistan. A dream that was pulled out of their chest and left to bleed out on the pavement. A dream hanging from the sky, betrayed by the same people who had promised freedom. I thought about why I deserved the luxury of comfort while my fellow Afghans were facing their worst fears. I thought about my great grandparents surviving a genocide. But above all else, I thought about how helpless I felt. These feelings were not new, they are felt by all young Afghans living in diaspora. We carry these feelings with us like a shadow, etched into the very fabric of our being. These feelings connect us to our heritage.

These feelings are a result of being born into the cradle of war, built on intergenerational trauma, and fuelled by recurring catastrophes. Afghan youth are not strangers to any of these. On that Thursday, we were reminded of how deep this trauma reached. A trauma that came in waves, built a home in our lives, and changed how we saw the world. Our trauma is not prompted by events, by words or actions. It is the kind of trauma that becomes a loyal companion, one that lingers on the possibility of hope. And as we watched on from afar as the remnants of hope crumbled, we came to the sombre realisation that we were not going to be the last generation as we had thought—the last one that would be burdened by this fateful companionship.

Another generation would continue to be displaced, forced to flee, and become numbers in a case study. Another generation would be forced to choose between surviving and their dreams— just like my parents had to.  Another generation would be void of a childhood, of peace, of a homeland. Another generation would be sold the dream of safety at the cost of their heritage and their identity. This war did many things, but one of its most destructive achievements was to steal youthfulness from our young.

Just as the war stole our childhood, people claimed it gifted us resilience and strength. What they did not realise is that resilience came at a price too high. This rhetoric of resilience led to invasions, to massacres and to an entire generation feeling the heaviness of strength.

All we want, even for a moment, is to stop worrying about whether the next phone call would bring news of death, or if Afghanistan would be on the news again for another “misfired missile” on a children’s school. All Afghan youth want to do is to be young, to not fight for every ounce of freedom. All we want is simply to be, without expectations.

However, we know deep in our hearts that this is not possible. There is too much at stake, too much left to fight for. We know how it feels to have our childhoods and youth stolen and to feel responsible for another generation not being lost to the same fate. We know how important it is that we continue advocating when the world simply moves on. 

It is a lonesome journey, one filled with forgotten memories and moments but we know if we do not commit to this journey, another generation would be lost.