Wednesday, July 8, 2015


I was born in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 1967. I have an older brother and sister and one younger brother and two younger sisters. My father was a well respected prosperous progressive minded business man. The Afghanistan I grew up in was stable, peaceful, and rapidly progressing economically. We had the best airlines. As a kid I wanted to become an engineer when I grew up.
In 1973 when I was only 6 years old I remember we were in Kandahar, Afghanistan listening to the radio. All the regular programs that normally played were cut off. The military were issuing statements with some music playing in the background. Finally, it was announced that there had been a coup. The former present of Afghanistan, Mohammed Doud Khan had been disposed of by the Communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan. A few days later, we found out that the president, along with the rest of his family (with the exception of one niece) had been killed.
The communists started filling up the government seats. They came up with issuing decrees every month or two with new rules and regulations mainly towards economic reforms and political structures. They declared they were going against the “feudalist society” and “backwards Islamic thought”. They started introducing a very communist oriented secular ideologies and systems. This new government was not welcomed by the people. They saw it as foreign and definitely did not represent Afghans. The communists knew this and started cracking down on anyone they assumed was unsympathetic to their way of thinking. People were arrested for no cause, people started disappearing, there were raids into people’s houses in the middle of the night. My father was an influential man in Kandahar and he was vocal about his dislike of the new government. Once the government heard about this, they started harassing him. They had actually come to our house to arrest him twice but he was out of town so they missed him. A lot of his friends started disappearing.
In 1979, my father passed away. He had a heart attack due to the intense pressure and stress he was under. In that same year, the Russians invaded Afghanistan. By there was a civil war going on mainly in rural areas of Afghanistan. People were resisting the government which scared the Russians. When the invasion happened, the conflict transformed into a war. People started taking up arms and joining the Mujahideen to fight against the Russians. The war escalated into the cities. The communist government became desperate to recruit personnel for their army. They started conscripting anyone male who had an able body as young as the age of 13. They tried to conscript us too. By this time I had two married sisters. One in Kabul and the other in Pakistan. My eldest brother, mother, and younger sister went into hiding while my younger brother and I made the intention to flee to Canada. We paid a Pakistani smuggler around $200 USD (which today is equivalent to $10,000 USD). He took us from Afghanistan into Pakistan in a car. It was just my younger brother, me, and one of my uncle’s. We by passed the border security and arrived in Quetta. We stayed here for a few days and then set off for Karachi. My family in Afghanistan eventually joined us here too however, they did not want to flee to Canada with us. They felt the war would eventually stop and they could return to Afghanistan. My brother and I felt otherwise. The Pakistani government wasn’t very friendly to us. There was no school, no jobs, we wanted to get out. We had decided on Canada because we had heard they were welcoming refugees, very multicultural, and was a peaceful country. We waited in Pakistan until the smuggler had gotten all of our papers and passport ready. I was 18 and only knew a little bit of English while my brother was 17 when we hopped on a plane to come to Canada. I felt happy to leave Pakistan because it didn’t offer us anything but I was also upset with our situation. Our lives had turned completely upside down because of the war. We used to own businesses, had an income, and go to school, now there was nothing.
We arrived in Montreal, Canada in 1985. I saw someone with a uniform on. I didn’t know who he was or what position he had but I stopped him and told him we were refugees. He then directed us to someone else who took us to immigration. We stayed in a refugee hostel for the first few months. There were a few other afghans there. A week later my cousin had also arrived. He eventually left Montreal for Toronto because of more employment opportunities. My sister and her husband and two children from Pakistan also came to Montreal not too long after we did. We all stayed in one apartment. My brother and I got a $150 allowance each from the government. We started to look for work. I didn’t speak too much English but I could read signs. I found out where some manufacturing sites were and started going from site to site to see if there was employment opportunities. I eventually landed a job at a t-shirt printing company that paid what was then minimum wage ($4/hour). My brother got a similar job in another textile company. I hopped from job to job trying to look for better pay. At one point I worked in paint company but had to leave because I had an allergic reaction to the paint (all my body hair fell off). We lived in poverty. My brother eventually enrolled in a college and then went to university to study engineering. I was suffering from depression and was in no state to go to school. My sister and her husband and family eventually left back for Pakistan in 1986. I moved to Ontario in to find better employment opportunity. I moved in with some distant family. I was working and living with them until 1989. That year I went back to Pakistan and got married. I came back not long after the wedding and sponsored my wife. 6 months later she arrived in Canada. We lived together with my cousin who I had shared a hostel with in Montreal. My first child was born. After my second child was born in 1992, I moved to western part of the GTA. There were no Afghans here, they all lived in the eastern end. My brother moved from Montreal to live with me after he got an engineering job in Toronto. I moved from job to job trying to find a stable job that made ends meet. Up until 1998 I worked as a pizza delivery man, working night shifts, living off of welfare and I still hardly made ends meet. Finally in ’98 (after my 3rd child was born), I got a job at a manufacturing company that paid much better than a pizza delivery man.
During the 2008 recession I was laid off from my job. I decided that I should own my own business instead so, in partnership with a distant family member, I bought a franchise. The business was a complete failure. I was working 70-80hrs a week just barely making it run and making ends meet. I enjoyed the customers I had but it was a draining job and the head office was a nightmare. I sold it in 2013 and am currently working for a small manufacturing company. I have 3 girls. 2 have graduated from university and one just graduated from high school and is entering university in the fall. I find the Canada I am in today is nothing like the Canada that welcomed me in. I am thankful that I am settled now and am no longer stuck in the newcomer stage because if I was, than I would be suffering greatly as the current conservative government is very xenophobic. On top of that, Canada isn’t very good at creating jobs for the low-income folks like me. They are getting rid of manufacturing jobs and replacing them with only part-time or very low paid jobs. All I want is for my kids to have stable jobs and be positive contributors to society. People from my part of the world like sons but I don’t like sons. I like my girls.

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