All Men Are Created Equal?

By Guest Contributor

Last night I had another terrible experience with Western Union. It was supposed to transfer my money to my friend in need in Rhode Island within a minute. But, the transaction was not processed until the next day. I spent four hours trying to fix it. The company told me that my first name “Muhammad” and last name ”Ahmadi” is very GENERAL and is on a government list. That is why I am required to submit my passport copies to verify my full name and identity. I guess Uncle Sam is really careful about its foreign nephews, the one billion people with Muhammad(s) name.

I paid the fee for the transfer service and was supposed to be treated equally, but was denied my rights as a customer. Trust me, nothing feels more insulting than having your passport scrutinized for 15 minutes because of a stereotyped identity. Sometimes, I feel so ashamed and embarrassed that I can’t see the eyes of people waiting behind me in the line. I even think they hate me for wasting their time by being in front of them and making them wait until someone verifies that I am a real human being. In such times, I have always wished that I could dig into the earth and hide myself from the embarrassment. I can write tons of such examples but I want to tell this world a very short version of my whole life to let them know how real life is seen by me.

It was not my choice to be born in Afghanistan in 1990s when Afghans were killing Afghans for ethnic tensions and political ambitions. Sometimes, I feel I was born mistakenly in the wrong time and in the wrong place. The half of my life that I lived in Afghanistan, my race, religion, language, appearance and background created many barriers to overcome. The world is structured with walls that I need to climb and climb to get somewhere.

I lived six months in Pakistan and was forced to move to Iran because I am Afghan and seen as an inferior person. I spent six years inside the house and feared going out because of racial prejudices. One week in Istanbul, Turkey, I was scrutinized for a long time, and my luggage was checked for three hours. The other Turkish passengers looked at me and my other Afghan friends in anger because we delayed them too. For two weeks in India, it took five whole days to carry out my visit obligations with the immigration office. For two years in Costa Rica, people thought I was Venezuelan, Mexican, and Latin American, so I was only asked to show my ID twice. For 17 days in Cuba, I was scrutinized for hours and finally got to enter because I was with two friends — European citizens — who told the inspector that I am their friend. The inspector let me in not because I had all the required documentations but because I was with two Europeans. For one day in Panama, I was escorted to a hotel inside the city because Afghans needed visas.

In Tennessee, an old Korean-war veteran asked me if Muhammad ” the prophet” told me to kill infidels, would I, “the Muhammad named kid,” kill a non-Muslim? Making it to Middlebury College was not easy at all, and there are tons and tons of kids like me who fall to the ground and can’t stand up again. But, I did and I will keep standing back on my feet. I wont give up this easily.

Since childhood, I saw many different kinds of regimes, Mujaheedin and the Taliban, the racist Iranian regime, the corrupted Afghan warlords in the government, and many other types including Uncle Sam’s. Sometimes, I feel my experiences force me towards anarchy. Since childhood I needed to fight these all with every bit of my teeth to overcome them.

My family and relatives think I am the genius for studying in the US, making them proud. I am not genius for sure. I am simply a human being who is very ambitious and works his ass off to create a world for himself where he can finally live a normal life.

There have been many times when I told myself that life is too heavy on me and is not worth continuing. There have been many times that I wished some natural disease would come and take me out of this hostile place. But every time, I become hopeful when I think of the many warm-hearted people that I have seen in different chapters of my life. Hope to me stands for He (me), O as overcomes, P as prejudices and E as eternally. So, the hopeful life is overcoming the anti-me world forever.

I sometimes think that maybe I should conform more because I am here in this world with no other option. If I dress up and look nicer, there will be fewer stereotypes, less scrutiny and easier life. Imagine me entering US through JFK airport with a black suit and a tie, with an Afghan traditional cloth or with a simple shirt and pants. I promise the immigration officer would treat me differently in all three situations.

Despite all this, I sincerely am happy with my current home, Middlebury. This is the first place that I feel welcome and treated well. And for that, I thank all of you, my friends.

 JAWEED AHMADI ’15 is from Kabul, Afghanistan. Artwork by TAMIR WILLIAMS.

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