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Samreen Jamil's Story: First Place Winner 2019

By Susan Gitenstein Assadi
My name is Samreen Jamil. I am from Swat, Pakistan. I migrated to the US when I was 3 years old--about 14 years ago. In 2001, the year I was born, the Taliban regime shadowed over the Swat Valley. Over the course of 15 years, men would be recruited, and weapons would be stocked. In Pakistan, I have a beautiful house. My house has more bedrooms than I can count on my fingers, and a tall flight of stairs leading to an open sky terrace. From the terrace I can see the green vegetation and big blue sky. Each of the rooms has one memory stored inside. That is what turned my house into a home. In 2012, my family had to flee from our home. We went to a city called Mansehra, where the conditions were better. Everything was left behind, clothes, food, electronics, and memories. Despite leaving the place where we all grew up, my family still made a home out of the house they lived in because we were all together. A house is built of concrete and wood; a home is built of memories. To me, home is safety. At my Pakistan home, my cousins no longer have to worry about being publicly beaten for not having their face covered. In the past there has been many instances where a female was publicly beaten with a leather belt or large wooden stick if she did not satisfy the Talibans definition of “modesty”. In my American home, I can peacefully read a Western book. During the Taliban regime, the Taliban would barge into any house and burn any books, movies, or even posters that depict Western culture. To them, Muslims were not supposed to be brainwashed by the acts of the Angrez (whites). On radios, it would be broadcasted by the leader of the Taliban, Maulana Fazlullah, to break all TVs and only engage in Islamic studies. In my American home, I can peacefully do my homework, even though I am a female. To the Taliban, women receiving an education and having rights was an act of crime. Most of the girls schools were bombed. Teachers that still decided to teach girls were shot, and no one could do anything about it. Girls were “made to stay at home”. They should get married when they hit puberty. The Muslim girls should reproduce to expand Islam, and increase the population of Muslims. And, the younger, the better. Any girl that continued to go to school would be attacked, and possibly killed. Malala Yousafzai, the brave Muslim girl who risked her life is also from the Swat Valley--my valley. She was shot in the head for fighting for women's rights and continuing to attend school despite the warnings of the Taliban. Home is a place where I can sleep peacefully without hearing gunshots. I was very young when I came to America. I did not process the big transition that occured in my life. Now that I am older, and I have been back to Pakistan, I see the differences between my life, and the life of those there. During the war, everyone lived in fear: the fear of having a family member abducted, or the fear of being shot and killed. At every street there was the shadow of the Taliban. They had become so powerful, and it was inescapable. In America, I do not have to worry about being stopped in my car every two miles or so with an AK-47 rifle pointed at my head. If the Taliban suspected we were influenced by American culture, we would be shot. In America, we can freely sing, listen to music, and watch English movies. For many people, those simple liberties are only a fantasy. America is freedom. I am not a refugee. But my family had gone through experiences that were unbearable. It is a different kind of pain when you run away from your own country, but only find yourself falling within the same circle, same place, same cycle. There was no end. I am speaking on behalf of all the oppressed young girls who can not speak for themselves. I am telling my families’ story because there are so many families that have had their unjust stories broken down with the rubble and concrete of their houses which were bombed or shot down. War is not something you recover from. And, along with walls of homes, the dignity of the common citizen is also shot down. I am Samreen Jamil, I am from Swat, Pakistan, and this was my story. Samreen is the first place winner of the 2019 essay contest.
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Susan Gitenstein Assadi