“Excuse me, do you know the way to Wilrijk?”, I ask the old lady in the car at the red light. She is a little bit shocked, looks at me and my bicycle, and says: “Oh it's so far, and it's difficult to describe.” She does her very best to guide me and even misses the green light because of me. Everyone thinks I am crazy to bike from the city to my ‘kot’ one hour away. I must be, since I even don't know the way and I find myself alone and without a map at 9 pm at 3 degrees. But no one knows this is my first time riding a bike in a city, as an adult girl at least.
Last time I did it, I was 8 years old. After that I learned women cannot ride a bicycle or motor bike in Iran. I didn't know why. And if I tried to ask, I would get answers like: “A woman's body is too attractive to ride a bicycle in public, before gazing eyes. It's a sin we must not commit.”
I pass street after street. It's dark and quiet and my old bicycle makes strange, ratling noises, but to me it's the cutest sound ever. The cold breeze plays with my hair and soothes my painful head.
It has only been two days since I got to Antwerp from Barcelona. My marvelous Barcelona with all her difficulties. Coping with my first Erasmus destination wasn't easy.
I had been preparing myself in Iran for these days in Europe. For all of my life I had been daydreaming about tearing up the restrictions and borders around me, but when I finally did, I was left desperate aside and life's wild waves were pounding me one by one.
Everything was like an unbearable burden for me: English, courses, routes, communicating, speaking. The city and the people were the best, but there was something wrong with me. I often found myself asking the same questions. Am I ill? Homesick? Depressed?
Sometimes when I walk in the beautiful streets and have a drink in the cute cafes, I unconsciously remember all my beloved friends and family who did everything in their power to make me scared of going to Europe, a girl all by herself. Everyone mocked me and my big goals. I remember how I was looked down on my entire life. All the hatred I have been keeping in my heart for all those years. An Afghan-Iranian girl who has always been told that being an Afghan is a shame, being a refugee's daughter a pity. How I could bring out nothing, could not hate and just hoped for a new day, for my day.
Now I am in a class with people of all colors, from black to white. Some of them are like me, mixed. We walk shoulder by shoulder and they wish good things for me and my country.
I remember again that I am a little girl from a small city in a developing country but I've come a long way.
Sometimes when I walk around, I am amazed by all the peace and beauty around me and while tears well up in my eyes, I wish we could have a life similar to this over there, or I could have my family with me here.
Once again I look at myself. I feel something is wrong with me.
Because of all the hatred that I beared from Iran to here, I feel so weak. I feel I'm not the girl I used to be. I feel so heavy carrying all that hate.
I'm riding my bicycle. It's still a long way back to my room. For a second, I close my eyes and I tell myself: it's nothing, I'm tired. I have to let go of all bitter memories. I dream about the future and remember that I promised myself to show the best of me. That I want to be successful in my studies and life. To do my best solving some of humanity's problems or at least my countrymen's problems.
Just like a little plant, my roots are tensed about all these temporary soils that I have to get used to. The gloomy sky here makes me feel down. Winter in Antwerp seems to be gloomy, but I know soon spring arrives. I know the blue sky will show up soon, so my weak roots can dare to grow again.
I have to stand on my own two feet and carry on strongly.