by Anastasia Maniglio
What would you do if you discovered you were born on a day different from the one stated on your identity card? What if other people decided for you how old you are? If the place where you have lived, studied and worked for ten years refused your citizenship request?
This is what happened to Gholam Najafi, born as Afghan shepherd and, after many vicissitudes among Pakistan, Iran and Turkey, adopted by an Italian family and graduated in Middle Eastern languages and cultures.
Below, you can find his interview about his recent travels to his home country and his short and long term projects.
“You know, Mr Nicola Mira is translating my book ‘Il mio Afghanistan‘ (My Afghanistan) from Italian into English. I am very glad. This way, maybe I can find someone to help me make my dream come true,” Gholam texted me a few days ago.
He has been in Herat and Kabul for two weeks in July and three weeks in December, departing “alone, to find my nest.”
Do you consider yourself Afghan or Italian?
I feel excluded from society and humanity. I’ll explain what happened to me… After returning from Afghanistan, where I did research about children’s literature, I met several Afghan writers, various publishers, the Minister of Education, the German Minister of Culture and the Afghan Minister of Education. I gathered about fifty children’s books and I learned a few words in Pashto. I did not know this language before, and still do not speak it, but I learned to translate from it. In this way, I also translated my documents and I noticed that my date of birth is not written on my original Pashto document. Then, I filled the request for the Italian citizenship after ten years of residence, but I realised that the interpreters had given me a date of birth that was not on the original document. I was saddened: how many times was I born? Once in Italy, I said that I was about 16, but I was not sure. I had a document when I was in Iran, a piece of paper, but could not read yet. My mother, in Afghanistan, had written my date of birth on the back of the Koran, but it was stolen by a fox.
You wished the Italian citizenship. So, are you officially Italian now?
No, because in the prefecture they asked me to show them my Afghan father’s identity card. My father never had a document and died many years ago. Then, I went to the Embassy, where they were to release me a letter stating that my father died. I was refused again, they said they cannot sign and that I should return to Kabul to find the date of birth of my father. Unfortunately, it is impossible to be found anywhere and I do not intend to falsify it, as I was suggested. Even because I should pay, in order to get a falsified document. In 2017, people prefer to get a falsified document rather than declaring the real facts. I decided to cancel the request for citizenship, maybe I’ll try again in the future. I have always respected the Italian law, it is sad to see Italy does not recognise those who deserve to be regularised.
What happened in Afghanistan, in addition to this?
In July, I was in Kabul and Herat. I met young people, writers, teachers… I saw a destroyed Afghanistan, which still has to heal. There had just been another attack. People go to work, but do not know if can get home alive in the evening. Then, I came back to Italy because I had already set the book presentations, thanks to these I collected some money and are able to return to Asia and help in my small way. I bought exercise books, pens, colours for children. I did not pack clothes, but put in my baggage educational material. Because there, in state schools, books are offered to the kids, but they must return them at the end of the year, while in private schools the book you bought remains to you, but obviously, because of the cost, not all students can afford this kind of schools. After finishing the school, the pupils of the state schools no longer have a book to consult and often children become shepherds, to bring a bit of bread at home daily. The school system is organised in classes from first to twelfth year. I taught English for free in some private schools to children from the fourth to the eighth year. Some children did not have any book and were ashamed to say they had no money to buy it. In the end, they confessed; they took me to their house, I understood the condition and I encouraged those who wanted to study. When families have known that I was helping as I could, they were all over me. I did not bring so much money in Afghanistan, because I still had to figure out what kind of help was needed. I was able to help only twenty people of a city. I could not help everyone. I bought oil, rice and books for them, but could not do more. Some of them lost their parents during the war; moreover, there are often murders in the street and no one can catch the murderer. The evening before I arrived in Herat, a mullah was killed and the year before his brother faced his same destiny, after the prayer. The next day another bus was full of dead Hazaras.
What are your next projects?
I would like to work in the field of literature, art, existence. I’m planning to help some schools in Herat and open a library, providing books for people who still want to study. They need to understand what happens in this unjust world, to understand who is exploiting Afghanistan. Afghans are forgetting their native language, Dari. Tickets for the means of transport are in English, but people do not know neither Dari nor English. Although the technology quickly arrived, Afghanistan has not lived industrial revolutions that make the country gradually used to this change. They have a phone but not a computer, if you have your computer it does not have the printer, if you have the printer it does not have the card. Afghans use social networks in an unconscious way, they do not know English. They should first take shelter from the cold or pollution, which in Kabul is scary. For these reasons, I think that a book is much more useful than any technological device.
On 6 February, I will start to shoot a documentary on Afghanistan and on my biography, thanks to a filmmaker from Venice, Marco Agostinelli: people will see where I come from, where I arrived.
Do you already know when you will go back to your country?
Sometimes I think of leaving the university in Italy and moving to Afghanistan to help people, but the “piece of paper” (degree) today is important to access certain professions.
Will you write more books?
The next book I am going to write will be “Tappeto afghano” (Afghan carpet.) I will explain the traditions of Afghanistan that are going to be lost. You have to know the past in order to imagine and build a future. Afghan writers and artists now live abroad, and the country is forgetting the art of the great men who lived there and who made up history. A writer needs to understand clearly what is happening in the world and this is impossible inside Afghanistan.
Why do you say “impossible”?
War has always been in our history. This country is crushed by the United States, Iran, Russia, China… It cannot “heal.” Afghans arriving in Iran are sent to fight in Syria, they are killed, or, if they come back alive, they are sent back to Afghanistan. Iran has exported its products to Afghanistan, but it helped little. Only from this year families are allowed to send their children to school. For this reason, there are many dissatisfied people who take drugs. In Ghazni, there is a drug rehabilitation centre. There are too many people who need it: they return from Iran and cannot find a job, then choose this route, leave their family and use violence.
Your Afghan father and mother died, but your brother is alive. Is he in Italy with you or in Afghanistan?
I have not seen him for four years. Unfortunately, we need a visa in order to see each other. The problem is always the passport. I always try not to talk about him, I have not told how we spent our childhood. His life is happier than mine. Anyway, I love my brother, I would like to thank him for supporting me even if he is far.