LIKE A STABBING IN THE HEART – WHY I LEFT MY “HOME” COUNTRY

by Ozoda P.* 

Tajikistan – a mountainous country in Central Asia. With wonderful landscape, numerous lakes, unprocessed food, beautiful warm weather, delicious food, interesting and diverse culture and much more. But unfortunately, there are also downsides. Tajikistan is a very traditional and conservative country. There is a certain pattern of what kind of person you have to be. If you do not fit with this pattern, then you are not welcome anywhere there. 

This was exactly the case for me. The fact that the main religion in Tajikistan is Islam brings with it even more rules of behaviour and requirements for gender roles. From my point of view, especially the point “gender equality” is a problem. This was exactly one of the reasons why I never felt at home in Tajikistan. There is no equality. It always upset me that my brothers, my cousins, just boys, were allowed to do more and just had more freedom than I did just because I was a girl. People always saw my gender first and not what I had in my head. And I thought it sucked that as a woman I had to get up, sit down, walk, eat, get dressed, talk in a certain way. Because according to the attitude of many people in Tajikistan, a woman has to behave in a “womanly” manner. I, on the other hand, was a tomboy, a girl who behaves in a way that is more commonly expected of boys in society. Thus, it was hell for me to grow up in this society. I wasn’t allowed to play sports because that was a “manly” thing to do. I wasn’t allowed to have short hair because that would look “manly.” I had to be able to cook, bake, clean up because that was all a woman’s thing. It’s not that I regret being able to bake and cook now. I love it. But not because I’m a woman, but because I just love it. And that phrase “You’re a girl after all!” or “…because you’re a girl!” has always been like a sharp knife thrust right into my heart.  

Here we come right to the next point why I felt out of place in Tajikistan: my gender identity and sexuality. I identify as non – binary, meaning neither a woman nor a man. And I am pansexual. That is, I don’t care what gender the person I am emotionally and sexually attracted to is. And now we have to imagine my family thinking that at some point (the sooner the better for them) I will marry a man, who of course my family will choose for me, have lots of children, dress “womanly”, etc. So in other words, there are only two genders in Tajikistan, man or woman. And only one form of sexuality: heterosexuality. Everything else is ‘against God’s will’ and can lead to social exclusion, persecution and possibly even death. I had to grow up with homophobic comments from my family when they saw anything “gay” on TV, for example. This is exactly how I realised that I am not “normal” and that I am not welcome in my own family and country; that I 

can never live a free and safe life there. A life where I can just show my true face and feelings without fear, feel at home and accepted, just fall in love with whatever gender, etc. For almost 22 years of my life I had to live under a mask, as if I were a criminal who always had to hide. It was only here in Germany that I started to learn without fear to show the real me for the first time. It took a while, but as they say, better late than never. 

Another reason is my freedom as a human being. I mean the right to decide for myself when, who, where, with how many and which guests I want to marry. I don’t want to marry at 18 someone my family has chosen for me. At 22, I’ve actually already passed the marriage threshold for women anyway. I should have married by 21, but instead I emigrated abroad. I also want to decide for myself what profession I want to pursue. I dropped out of three majors in my country because my family forced me to study those subjects. I want to decide for myself what I eat, what I wear and where I go. So in other words, freedom. My family used to control my every step, really EVERY step. When I was allowed to leave the house and when not, where to go and where not, how many hours I was allowed to stay out, with whom, why, when to come back, what to eat and drink and not, etc. When I went shopping in Germany for the first time, I was so happy to buy what I really wanted to wear. Quite normal, self-evident and everyday things for many, a dream for others! 

Reason number four: There is dictatorship and corruption in Tajikistan, which have led to poverty and a low level of education among the population. Because of poverty and unemployment, thousands of men have to migrate abroad every year as guest workers, mostly to Russia, and work under inhumane conditions. While the men are away, children have to work and bring money home to somehow help their mother. A couple of siblings and I were born when my father was in Russia. My brothers had to work after school to help my mother. My mother had to sell almost everything she had in the house so she could give me and my siblings something to eat. Especially after the civil war in 1991, the quality of life of the Tajiks deteriorated drastically. The poverty and the bad living conditions were further reasons for me to leave Tajikistan. What should I work for all my life in Tajikistan, if the government does not protect Tajiks and does not give them security in emergency situations, e.g. if one is or becomes sick, old, disabled, unemployed. There is no insurance system in Tajikistan. Those who are in need there have only themselves and their family, who, let’s face it, are not always there when you need help. 

In summary, my goals in life are important to me. I would like to travel the world, help people and enjoy my life in freedom. To be free and independent. And let’s face it, that’s much easier to achieve, especially for a woman, in a country like Germany than in one like Tajikistan, where women can’t even decide what they want to wear. In Tajikistan, first my brothers and then my parents had to allow me to do everything I wanted to do. And I had to abide by their conditions. So there I was not free, but belonged to someone and had to obey. Like a slave. At least that’s how I felt. Here I finally feel free. 

P.S.: There are many women who live a happy life in Tajikistan. This article is my subjective opinion and concerns only my way of life.

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