The longing of the bird
In her essay, Alaa Muhrez not only describes her own reflections on the topics of “homesickness”, “identity” and “exile”, but also takes up the…
All the hidden wounds will heal one day,
And the scars will be faded.
The pain will say goodbye,
And the happiness will come to reside inside your beautiful heart
which only for love was created.
My name is Tooba Saima.
I stand as a strong voice in a world where it is not easy to make your identity known and empowered. I am a Pakistani and religiously belong to the Ahmadiyya Muslim community 11Officially the Ahmadiyya Muslim Communityor the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at is an Islamic revival or messianic movement originating in Punjab, British India, in the late 19th century. It was founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835–1908), who claimed to have been divinely appointed as both the Promised Mahdi (Guided One) and Messiah expected by Muslims to appear towards the end times and bring about, by peaceful means, the final triumph of Islam. Through my introduction, I want to reveal the layers of my identity by tying together the threads of my experiences, beliefs and desires. My journey has been shaped by a courageous search for my true self. Growing up in a society that denies women every basic right along with religious complexities, I have faced unique challenges that have made me a resilient and determined individual. As a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, I have faced religious hardships. I want to share the stories of my upbringing, my struggles, and the moments of exile that have shaped my journey.
My ancestors migrated from India to Pakistan. I opened my eyes in a religious family that belonged to an Ahmadiyya community. I have one sister and one brother, and I am younger than both of them. I was slowly growing up, unaware of the hardships and suffering of life. I got my primary education from a school near my home, but in 6th grade I had to go to a big school in the city. I was very interested in sports since childhood and participated in extracurricular activities in school. After studying class 10, I went to college and I always participated in sports along with studies which included cycle race, 100m 200m race, high jump, basketball and volleyball. But basketball was my favourite sport and I used to play district and national level for college.
As I grew older it became difficult for me to go out for studies and other things. No doubt! This situation can be difficult for any girl who is unable to pursue her education due to social restrictions and facing restrictions from various quarters. Under such circumstances, I also felt constrained and limited in my opportunities for personal and intellectual growth.
I enrolled in class 13, but after a few months I could not continue my studies due to with the delicacy of the situation and my mother’s serious illness. My parents decided to find a proposal and get me married. And shortly after my wedding ceremony was fixed. My future husband lived in Manchester, United Kingdom, and I was to move to Manchester with him after marriage. I was both happy and sad because I was going to leave my parents, my friends, my country and go far away. And the joy was that perhaps by going to Manchester I would be released from the prison of religious and social restrictions. By going there, I can study, I can do the job of my choice, I can raise my voice for my religion (because I used to do writing as well). And now the interesting thing is that I can participate more in sports.
But fate had written something else…
I got married on 26th October 2018 and I saw my husband on the wedding day. He was 20 years older than me and before me he had two marriages, and this matter was kept hidden from us. He looked like a normal person. After marriage he took me to his native village and after staying with me for two months he went back to Manchester. During these two months I felt that whatever my family decided for me is right. He didn’t talk to me much, but he treated me well and I spent a lot of time with his family.
I don’t know when those two months passed and a month after he went back, I also got the visa. And with new dreams, new hopes and new desires, I left for a new country. But as soon as I landed at Manchester Airport, I felt like I was a convicted felon and was now being taken to life imprisonment. My husband’s attitude towards me was very insulting and harsh. First, he took my passport and upon reaching home, he and his family took all my belongings from me. My phone was taken away and I was told that my parents have sold me so I would never contact them again.
All this was the biggest blow of my life.
My husband took me to his elder sister’s house who lived with her four children and husband. As soon as I went there, she called her younger sister and her two children and her husband as well. My husband said that he has brought me here to serve his family and do housework, that I had to take care of them and their children.
I had to wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning every day, prepare breakfast for all the children and send them to school and after that I had to prepare breakfast for the rest of the family. After that, cleaning the whole house, ironing the clothes of my husband and the other three men in the house, cooking lunch and finishing all the work by the evening. If I don’t do the housework properly, I would be dealt with strictly. It had been two weeks since I arrived in Manchester, and I had no contact with my family and the most painful thing was that I was forbidden to even cry. I was not allowed to open any windows in the house. There was no question of going out. After enduring so much torture and pressure, I lost my mental balance and did not even realize who I was and where I came from. I never felt like I was trapped while staying in my country, but coming to a free country I found out what imprisonment is. My condition was getting worse day by day, but the work pressure was increasing.
One day my mother contacted my husband’s sister’s number. Firstly they refused to let me speak to my mother over the phone, but they let me talk to my mother under the condition that I would not tell her anything. But as soon as I heard my mother’s voice, I started crying. I didn’t understand what she was saying, what she was asking, she was just calling my name, but I was just crying so badly.And then the incident that I feared happened. My husband took the phone away from me and beat me a lot just because I cried in front of my mother. He broke two of my ribs and I was pregnant at that time, but I didn’t know about it.
Days passed and my condition got worse and worse. I worked all day with high fever and broken ribs, but I was not taken to the doctor for fear that I would tell the doctor everything. When the pain made it difficult for me to walk, any medicine that was in the house would be given to me.When I felt that I might not be able to survive anymore, I decided to run away. I didn’t know if I would succeed, but I wanted to give it a try. I didn’t want to die there regretting that I didn’t try. One night before I ran away, I took my cousin’s number from my husband’s phone while he was sleeping and wrote it on my arm.
Next morning after sending the children to school and finishing all the housework, when only my husband’s sister and her husband were in the house, I took my passport and marriage certificate (which took me 3 hours to find) and left the house. Now there was a world in front of me that I knew nothing about, I had no money, no phone and no way of knowing where to go, whom to ask for help.
I could not walk due to pain and fever, but I kept walking. I did not give up because I was just thinking that I had to save myself. And finally, I heard the noise of vehicles, and I started walking towards that road with fast steps. After walking for some time, I saw a shop. I went there and asked the shopkeeper for help, [I told him] that I didn’t have money, but I had to make an urgent call. He gave me the phone and I called my cousin who was in Birmingham at the time.
I told her that I was Tooba, and I was in a shop right now and I need her help. She immediately contacted our Ahmadiyya community, and they came and took me away. After spending 9 hours at our Ahmadiyya community president’s house, my cousin came and took me from there to Birmingham. As long as I stayed at Sadar Sahiba’s (president of Manchester’s Ahmadiyya Community) house, she took good care of me, brought me medicine for pain and fever, gave me warm clothes and also gave me some money so that it could be of use in the future. By the time I reached my cousin’s house in Birmingham, my entire family knew that I had left my husband’s house.Then I told my situation to my family and the next day my sister (who lived in Holland) came to Birmingham and brought me to Holland with her.
And from there I came to Hamburg, Germany. When I was coming from Birmingham to the Netherlands,I was stopped by the police at the France check post on the way and asked me for my documents, but I had nothing except [for] my passport on which only a six-month visa for Manchester was applied. I did not have a visa to go to Europe. And I could not travel to Europe without a visa. But at that time maybe another life was breathing in me and because of that God made every path easy for me. The border police asked me where I was going. I told them I was going with my sister. They took my passport from me and after 20 minutes came back, gave me my passport and said, ‘Ok, you can go’. And without further investigation they allowed me to enter Europe.
After I arrived to Hamburg, my brother took me to a doctor, and there I was diagnosed with two broken ribs on my left side. And at the same time, the doctor gave me the news hearing which every woman considers herself the luckiest woman in the world, but as soon as I heard, I was in absolute shock that I was pregnant. The doctor told me that I only had one option: get my ribs treated and abort the baby so they could take x-rays and start my treatment. And if I wanted to keep my baby then I had to bear the same pain until delivery, and only after delivery they could give me any medicine. And it didn’t take me a moment to decide what was most important to me at that moment and I immediately said that I had to keep my baby.
After a week at my brother’s house, he took me to the Farmsen-Berne (an area located on the border of Hamburg) Asylum Seeker Camp where I applied to stay in Germany. There were large hall-like rooms with 12 to 15 beds in a single hall. I also got a bed there. I used to sit there all day and watch people. And whenever it was time to eat, the food would not go down my throat. We were served small fish with boiled rice in a tin box. And sometimes there were noodles that were not fresh, but several days old with one piece of chicken. Being pregnant, I could not eat that food. Food was kept in front of me, and tears were constantly flowing from my eyes. And my throat was like filled with thorns. Every night I would pray and cry so much that my roommates would call the police and security [saying] that maybe I’was in pain. But I used to tell them that I was praying, and I did not know when my crying became so loud. Maybe God heard my cry.
And one day when I went to the doctor of that camp for a check-up he said to me, ‘I want to help you, will you sign this paper?’ The paper was in German, and I didn’t know what was written on it, but I signed it…After three days the doctor called me again and he was very happy. He told me that after seeing my condition he requested for his patient to be sent from this place, since she was in dire need of peace and rest. And his request has been accepted, now these people would transfer me to a peaceful place where I would be given a separate room, I would be provided with good food and everything I needed. Because I deserved it all.
But I was surprised and told him that I couldn’t go anywhere from here because I was told when I came here that I couldn’t go out until the outcome of my asylum case. And still my asylum case was not filed. Even the basic inquiry has not been completed yet. And you are saying that these people will shift me to a place where I can go out freely? He laughed hearing all these words of mine and he just said, ‘Go and pack your things, I hope you don’t have to come to me again for a checkup’. I returned to my place from there, but I did not understand what he was saying. But the next day the in-charge came to me and gave me a paper with a map of a place and there was another paper on which something was written in German. He told me that after having breakfast I had to go to this address from here and after reaching there give this paper to them. He left before I could ask him any questions. Now I had no phone, no money, no ticket, and no knowledge of German. I was sitting in complete confusion and wonder, thinking that I should take it to the doctor, only he could tell me what it was all about. But as soon as I went to the doctor, the guard sitting outside asked me if I had had an appointment that day. I said, ‘No, I have to meet the doctor’, but he stopped me from entering. He asked something else, but I didn’t know German, so I stood silently looking at his face.
He asked me questioningly whether I was Arabic, Afghani or Syrian? I said I was Pakistani. And he started talking to me in Urdu. I was so happy to hear Urdu words from his mouth that my heart wanted to shout loudly. He said that he was an Afghani and has lived in Pakistan for ten years. When I showed him that paper, he said that it was my transfer letter and that I had to reach that place by 12 o’clock that day and those people knew that I was coming. I told him that I didn’t know the routes, how could I go to this place? He told me I had to get a ticket, but I had to go alone, no one will drop you from here to there.
There I got a ticket from the main office and took that paper map and proceeded to my next destination. The way was very difficult, but at last I reached Holstenstraße at 4:00 o’clock in the evening. It was a hotel-like building. There were some security guards at the entrance below, I showed them the paper and they called someone from the inside. She was a young girl who took me inside and stopping outside a room she opened the door of the room and told me that this is my room. In that room there was a bed, a large wardrobe and a table chair and also an attached bathroom. It was indeed a beautiful room. Upon opening the window of that room, a peaceful garden full of flowers was visible. Then she gave me a tour of the entire building, told me the dining and laundry times and showed me her office so that I could visit her if needed.
After coming back to the room, I realized that my crying to God was not wasted. But one thing that was hurting me a lot is that I came from there without thanking that person who sent me here from impossible situation. I spent the entire pregnancy alone in a small room. 9 months passed and finally on 31st October 2019 my lovely daughter was born, and I named her Mirab, which means flower of heaven. Right after my daughter was born, I started having severe bone pain, but being alone, I gave more importance to taking care of my daughter than focusing on myself. My pain increased and all the joints in my body began to swell. Finally, after the check-up and all the tests, the doctor told me that I had osteoporosis and prescribed me 20.000 mg of medicine for one year. But even after 4 years my health has not improved, and I spend my days with the same pain.
My first year in Germany was very difficult and the biggest difference for me was the language problem. I had to go to different doctors for regular check-ups and offices for appointments. I did not know a single word of German. Most of the doctors spoke to me in English which was easy for me, but whenever I asked someone in offices and markets, ‘Do you speak English?’ I was looked down upon and flatly refused.
But as a minority and a member of Ahmadiyya Muslim community, I already faced such kind of hatred and ignorance in my country. As I didn’t belong here, I was scared that they felt like my daughter and I were a burden on them and it was natural for these people to look at us with contempt. Then as soon as my daughter’s passport came, within three days I got the apartment. And my daughter also started going to daycare.
Life was getting better. Meanwhile, I also met many good people who helped me wholeheartedly. But I didn’t give up and my daughter encouraged me at every step. Because whenever I felt tired that innocent girl would make me realize that 1&1 are not 2 but 1+1=11. I started going to school to learn German and soon I passed the B1 and then the ‘Leben in Deutschland’ exam.
Flowing in a sea of problems and troubles I did not realize the speed of time. Life was getting better slowly, but all those dreams and wishes which I took with me – now they were buried somewhere inside me. I used to spend half the day in school and half the day taking care of my daughter and housework.Two more years passed like this… But I often used to see girls on the streets carrying sports bags on their way to various sports clubs.
Seeing them, I used to go to the world of my dreams. Because someone can take your eyes from you, but no one can take away the dreams in your eyes. I also started asking people how I could become a member of sports clubs, but I did not get any information from them. One day, when I was passing by the road, I saw an advertisement of basketball. And I went there the very next day and introduced myself. It was a huge sports centre, and it was called ETV. A lady in the office gave me some numbers and said I could contact her sports club members and play there. And she also offered me to teach basketball to the young children who came to the club. The situation after leaving the sport in Pakistan and coming to Manchester broke me, I thought I would never be able to play again. But now I play basketball myself and teach kids 3 days a week. Along with this, I also write articles for various magazines.
My exil experience was unique and full of challenges. Moving to a new country, leaving familiarity behind, and starting a new required great courage and resilience amidst the many changes and cultural differences I faced. Not only was I faced with the responsibility of building a new life, but single mothers like me have to be prepared to face every challenge at all times. I have learned a lot from all these situations. To understand that when one door closes, many doors open. A person should trust their abilities. And to fulfil your dreams, you must open these doors yourself. Getting yourself out of bad situations can be challenging. Remember, each situation is unique. Sometimes, tough decisions need to be made to remove yourself from a bad situation. But it is better to try to prove yourself than to wait to die.
Never blame others for your failures. Whether you are in your own country or in exile, problems will always be a part of your life and you should try to solve them instead of worrying and complaining about them. As long as you continue to complain, you will move away from your destination. All the successful people you see in the world have never complained to anyone, and despite having no resources and money, they have made themselves successful people with their hard work and persistence. People can pity you, but they can’t make you a successful person. If anyone can help you succeed and face the difficulties of the world, it’s only you and your positive thinking. Always remember that everyone is different, everyone’s problems are different, everyone’s pain is different. Find solutions to your own problems. Never think that it is too late when making decisions.
Only if you have self-awareness will you have the ability to recognize and understand your thoughts, feelings and actions. Whatever your reasons for leaving your home country, being an immigrant is a journey of change that requires courage, resilience and adaptability.
You deserve the moonlight, but not gloom
Away from pain
Concealed in noon
Like that of a bloom cheering the world
With you tune
Dreaming & achieving from June till June
You deserve the moonlight, but not gloom.
Tooba Saima is a Pakistani woman and member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. In Pakistan, despite the looming threat of violence against Ahmadis, she not only excelled in her studies but also established herself as a successful athlete, consistently winning at the district and national levels.
In 2019, she left her homeland for the United Kingdom after getting married. After numerous efforts and enduring various challenges to salvage an abusive marriage, she ultimately chose to face her struggles alone in order to preserve her own life. Tooba learned to fight for herself and navigate life’s harshest challenges on her own.
Throughout the trials and tribulations of her past, she embarked on a new journey filled with hope and dreams. In addition to her athletic pursuits, Tooba is now a single mother and a writer. Through her writing, she aims to inspire and empower others, sharing her unique perspective on life and the world around her.
As part of the project Flight – Exile – Participation: Citizen Science on Historical and Current Experiences of Flight as Participatory Educational Work (FEP), Tooba has written the essay ” Bright side of exile. A story of strength and survival…”.
The essay “Bright side of exile. A story of strength and survival…” was published for the first time as part of the project Flight – Exile – Participation: Citizen Science on Historical and Current Experiences of Flight as Participatory Educational Work, on the We Refugees Archive website (October 31, 2023).