BY MUHADDISA SARWARI
Growing up as a refugee, I had a blurry vision of culture and heritage. Being forced to live in various countries and living with different cultures, everything sort of mashed into one; making it difficult to see the line that separates everything. However, one sunny morning on Eid, the holiday that comes after the month of Ramadan, I realized just how much beauty was held within my blurry “lines”.
It was a beautiful, warm morning on the first day of the holiday. I can still remember the faint, yet overpowering smell of the dish my mom was making; the savoury smell of coriander and fried onions made my stomach grumble on the spot. I was new to the city, and my friends had promised to take me to ’the circus’ that only took place on Eid. While it took place in Vancouver, it was an Afghan celebration. This was my culture--the culture of my family for generations. And yet I had little idea what to expect. Much of my life had been spent as a refugee in Indonesia, where I often felt like an unwanted guest, cut off from home and little understood by my hosts.
For all those reasons, I wasn’t expecting much from the Eid festivities. Probably just a few clowns wandering about. Perhaps some jugglers.
Clearly, I was clueless, as the circus turned out to be much more than that.
I can vividly recall the scene when we finally reached the circus. The divine blue sky arced above our heads, and the soft, delicate clouds lit by the sun. The field was filled with busy vendors, handling their carts that sold delicious street food with pungent smells that set your mouth watering if you came within a 10-meter radius. Children, dressed in beautiful and traditional Afghan clothing, laughed and ran past us without a care in the world. We stood there, taking it in, our eyes glistering in awe and excitement brewing inside our hearts. The colour, happiness and warmth of this place set our hearts afire.
Was it weird? I had only stepped into this place and already I never wanted to leave.
I crossed my first border at the age of four and throughout the years, I had grown used to speaking a foreign language and conforming to other peoples’ cultural expectations. It was new to me to experience the satisfaction and comfort of being surrounded by people who were just like me. It was at that moment that I realized just how much I was missing out on and how much ‘’normal’’ had been slipping out of my fingers. Since my family and I were always on the move, I wished we could settle. Somewhere, anywhere.
It was the most overwhelming, yet heart-warming experience of my life.
After my family and I arrived at Canada about a year ago, I found myself in a muddle of mixed thoughts and feelings about my life here. My shoulders constantly felt weighed down with guilt. Guilt for gradually drifting away from my culture on the one hand, and on the other, guilt for feeling like I don’t belong in Canada and never will.
That day at the circus had opened the doors to a new realm of possibility, one I did not expect to encounter so soon in my life. It was then that I learned about the importance of preserving the essence of my culture and taking pride in doing so. Before, I had always been in this grey area of non-belonging. It was a valuable lesson for me to realize that one does not have to show off their culture nor feel obliged to prove oneself as a card-carrying member of one’s cultural community, but rather, with humility and respect, allow for it to be perceived through one’s actions and behaviours.
Living in Canada has given me the opportunity to stay true to my Afghan roots while simultaneously embracing myself as a Canadian. Something I had always thought of as impossible. But I have come to learn that culture and belonging live on the inside; we carry our homes in our hearts. And while I have crossed oceans in search of a better life, thanks to one magical morning, I know who I am.