I can still see Ahmad in my sleep: He is always talking, smiling, eating, and supporting his family. Sometimes I wake up screaming.
Ahmad was a student in the philosophy department of Kabul University. He was living with his family in Kabul, but, as his mother tells it, he always wanted to leave. He thought he could make a better life outside the country.
“Our father is a simple worker, and works so hard to provide us with food, clothes, and fuel for winter,” he would tell her. “Life is very difficult here. He will never have a calm life. Mother, you are also getting older and you need some more facilities. My sisters also need a calm life. But here we can do nothing. If I go abroad I can find a job and cover your expenses so that Dad does not have to work so hard.”
Ahmad knew people who could get him out; he had friends who had done it, and were now living in Germany, Sweden, and Austria. He had a little savings, and wanted to use the money to pay a smuggler.
His mother pointed out that going illegally was difficult and very dangerous, but Ahmad replied that nothing had changed in Afghanistan over the past 10-11 years.
“We still don’t have electricity and at nights we sit in the dark or in candlelight,” he said. “Security is getting so tense in this country, there are many unemployed people and they all want to work to be able to take care of their families. Living in this country means wasting time. I’ll graduate one day and I won’t have a job. I’ll have to sit inside the house or risk being blown up in a suicide attack. This is the sad truth that we need to accept.”
Ahmad begged his mother for her permission; he also said he would speak with his father. That night, when his father came home from work, Ahmad brought him tea and started to talk.
“I have made a decision to leave this country,” he began.
His father started shouting at him, “Are you mad? Where do you want to go? How will you pay your way?”
But Ahmad was tired of talking.
“Father, it is enough,” he said. “I cannot stay here.”
His mother was crying softly. But later she spoke to her husband.
“You and I are getting old,” she said. “It is our wish that our children feel happy and comfortable. Let them decide their own future. Ahmad is a clever boy and he will support his family when he goes abroad.”
Her husband was not convinced.
“What if something bad happens? Whose fault will that be?”
But she insisted.
“Our son wants to live in peace,” she said. “I don’t want there to come a day when he blames us for not letting him decide his own future.”
But both parents worried. They called Ahmad in and asked him how sure he was of his decision.
“Padar jan (My dear father),” he said “God will decide what will happen to me. I accept that, and I know that the way I choose is full of danger. But I am a man and I will fight.”
His parents could not dissuade him.
Ahmad worked very hard over the next month to get everything ready. Some of his cousins decided to go with him.
Finally the day of departure arrived. Ahmad’s mother embraced him and kissed his eyes. She could not stop crying.
“My son, I hope you arrive safe,” she said. “I do not know when I will see you again.”
When he left, Ahmad’s mother threw a glass of water on his back, which in Afghan culture means that the traveler will come back safely.
When he arrived in Tehran, Ahmad called his parents and said, “Tomorrow I will leave here for Turkey and from there to Greece. I am trying to get to Germany.”
“We have not heard from him since that day,“ said his mother. “We contacted the uncles, to ask whether they had heard anything, but no one knew. After about 40 days my husband got a call from his brother to come to their place; their mother wasn’t feeling well. But when my husband got there he found that the real story was something different. His nephews had come back from the trip, but his son was not among them.
“Where is my son?” he asked “Did he cross the border to Germany? Why did you leave him alone? Why did you come back?”
Suddenly one of the nephews spoke up.
“Dear uncle, your son gave his life to you. He has died.”
The father went mad. “How can I tell his mother? She is sick, she cannot take ti!” he cried. “How can I say we have lost our son! She has been checking the door every day, looking for him, and now she will see him in his coffin. He took all of his hopes to his grave.”
He asked what had happened.
“Uncle,” started one of the nephews, who himself was shaking and crying, “we were on a ship built for 50 people, but the trafficker filled it with 100. He threw in a few life vests, and everyone tried to catch one. We were lucky. But then the Turkish Navy caught us and the trafficker who was on board with us tried to sink the ship. We were all screaming at him ‘why are you doing this?’ and some people fell into the sea. We were wearing life vests, and we started to swim. Ahmad was with us, but there were two people pulling on him. They did not want to die. But they brought him down with them. It was the saddest thing I ever saw. I can still see his eyes, which were full of tears as he drowned.”
The Turkish forces drew close, and there were some rescue teams among them. They saved those who had survived, and took the bodies of the dead on board as well. They returned us to the beach, where we stayed two nights in a refugee camp. They told us they would send the bodies to Kabul and give them to the government.
The trafficker was arrested by Turkish police, and we were sent back to Kabul by plane. We were in shock — we could not even cry. We were all asking why we had chosen this way to leave Afghanistan. I was wondering how we could ever let Ahmad’s parents know about the tragedy; I still hear the voices calling for help in that big sea. I have nightmares; I see Ahmad’s mother, who is crying and saying ‘I never thought to see my young son’s corpse. I have been waiting for news ever since he left us, but now he is gone and we are alone forever.”