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My Welcome Week 2012: A Mixed Package of Feelings

Sep

23

My name is Nasrat Esmaty and I am an Afghan. Yes! You got it right. I am from Afghanistan. Keep reading. Don’t worry. Not that anyone can harm you over reading one’s blog anyway. Don’t tell me these things didn’t come to your mind after reading “Afghan(istan)” and that you are not this or that because it will mean that you don’t watch BBC, CNN, Fox News, Sky News etc.

I am working on my MA in Poverty and Development at IDS (Institute of Development Studies). This is my first time in UK, so I am having a lot of new experiences.  

I landed in London Heathrow on September 1, 2012 three weeks before the start of my course because I wanted to see London and Brighton for myself and find private accommodation in Brighton. As I landed at the London Heathrow, I was imagining an officer asking me the usual “brutal-friendly” questions Afghans are asked at the international airports, but as I approached the immigration desks, I was surprised to see that most of the immigration officers were nice. I was lucky because the immigration officer did not give me the hard time I was expecting or may I say “looking forward to”. I have heard that in America they have started doing cavity check of Afghans thru the mouth, so my experience in UK was much better. 

I had two suitcases. One was huge and the other one was small. I was again fortunate enough as one my friend’s uncle-in-law, Yama, had come to greet me to the airport and take me to his place. How many of you have ever been picked by an individual you are so remotely NOT even related to? As we were driving to Yama’s house, I got to see a bit of London and the beauty of London was sinking in sweetly. I love green and less crowded places and that is what I got to see by that time of the night on a Saturday evening. Once I moved to Brighton, I saw that the traffic rules were less strict than California, where I got my undergraduate degree, so I really enjoyed walking and traveling around in Brighton. The frequency of bus travels in Brighton means that you can frequently travel from one place to another without having to spend too much time.

While being in London or even in Brighon, I found something very strange - the two faucets in the bathrooms. I still cannot wrap my head around the use of two faucets for hot and cold water in the bathrooms. I mean one of them has cold water, which if used will make your hands go numb for a couple of minutes and the other one has very hot water, which if used can result in third degree burn. How on earth can you have lukewarm water to wash your face or brush your teeth? After seeing the faucet confusion, one thing that I know for sure is that “the Sun never sets on the British Empire” was never said by the British plumbers, nor could they have ever been responsible for such an empire.  

Before coming to Brighton, I was under the impression that having studied English for several years, I would be able to communicate easily in English, but as it turns out, it isn’t the case anymore. While speaking to a few slightly older generation of Brits on the streets and while looking for a place to live, at times, I get the feeling that maybe the English I understand is not enough to understand or speak to them because in a conversation of let’s say three sentences, the only words I pick up are the pronouns I, me, you, it and they and mate and prepositions like at, in and on. Other than that, I do not understand what they are saying to me at all. On some rare cases, I slightly pick up the gest of the matter by “decoding” gestures.

Once a taxi driver asked me where I had picked up my American accent from, to which I said, "Califronia”. The next words that came out of his mouth were “Americans speak a bastardized version of English”. I got so upset at knowing that I had spent two decades of my life learning the illegitimate version of English, which was of little use in UK.

The major problems I faced were in finding a decent accommodation. One of the problems was that the conversation I would have with the landlords/landladies or agents ended up in stalemate as I told them that I was an international student. If that wasn’t enough, the conversation would END ABRUPTLY as soon as I told them I was from Afghanistan. As a matter of fact, one landlady hung up on me telling me that she “didn’t have time to talk to me” in the middle of a conversation. However, some other landlords/landladies or tenants, who wanted to share their rooms, would politely text me after I had set a date for viewing their property and tell m that their room/property was rented out to someone else. A lady tenant said she couldn’t let me view her place on a Monday because she had to work all day but could arrange a viewing the following day. When I agreed, she sent me a text on Monday saying that someone had rented her place on the VERY MONDAY SHE WAS AT WORK to which my reply, which I never sent her, was Ma’am, I think you need to work on the timing of your fibs coz it is horrible.

After having been to several places and contacting a dozen more landlords on gumtree, I gave up on looking for housing and registered myself for an on-campus accommodation. I was told to move to the university’s accommodation on King’s Road, which wasn’t on-campus. I was staying with my Brighton host for two weeks. He was a nice guy and a good cook, but at times he would start giving me advice on life although I am four years older than him and have seen a great deal of ups-and-downs that he can barely imagine, so I wanted to move out of his place and let him live peacefully. I moved to the King’s Road accommodation and found out that I was living in a tiny room. If that wasn’t enough, there were two bathrooms on the floor I was supposed to live and had to share it with six other students in the same flat. Since I am germophobic and claustrophobic, I didn’t have a good time there. Another problem in living at King’s Road accommodation was "noise'. The pubs, bars and discotheques were open seven days of the week” until five in the morning since it is a “tourist spot" and they would play this trashy nightmarish loud music “boom boom” that didn't allow me to sleep, at all.

I had moved there because of not having many options, but things didn’t work out there either, so I went to the housing office and told them that I wanted to move out to a better place. There was a nice gentleman on the housing team who gave me the key to an off-campus accommodation on Lincoln Street in Hove saying that I should check the place and see if I might like it. So, I took a bus to Hove and kept looking for Lincoln Road. After asking a property dealer, I found out that the house was located in Portslade, not Hove, so I walked a good mile and finally had to call a cab as I was tired of walking for a long time. The cab took me to the Lincoln Road in Portslade.

While sitting in the cab, I was wondering why the housing office gave me the keys to a place that far off the university campus, but couldn't make sense of it. Anyway, I finally reached the address I was given, so I took the key out and inserted in the door lock. There were two keys but none opened the door lock, which I found very strange. After having inserted the second key in the door lock and failing, I saw a lady open the door. She was holding one of her sons in her arms and her two other children were right behind her. She said, "Can I help you?" As soon as I saw her, I knew I had made a huge mistake. I looked at the address in the key chain and I found out that it was Lincoln Street, not Lincoln Road. I still cannot understand how I made the mistake of mistaking STREET for ROAD, but I did it. I apologized immediately to the lady whom I must have scared as she was home with her only three very young kids. She was gracious enough to accept my apology. She even invited me home as she saw that I was very tired. She offered me a glass of some sort of juice, which I drank but didn’t understand what it was made of as I was too shocked. They had an ipad, so the oldest of the three kids turned it on and looked for Lincoln Street on google map. I found out that Lincoln Street was in Hanover, Brighton, not HOVE. I must have apologized to the lady several times and made her tired of saying “that is alright”, but do you know why I apologized to her? No? It wasn’t just because of the mistake. It was because of my background, the context and the adverse outcome my mistake could have had. Imagine if she hadn’t believed me and called the police. It would become news.

 “An international student from Afghanistan barges in a house in Portslade and scares an innocent lady with her three very young kids, but is caught before it was too late”

“The lady and her kids are traumatized and will need time to recover from this dreadful attempt”

“The universities in Britain are wary of accepting international students from Afghanistan after Esmaty's failed attempt”

“Today, we are interviewing a very courageous woman and her three children in our morning show, Ms. X and her kids A, B, C. Before we start the interview, I must tell you Ms. X, you are the reason why a fanatic element is behind bars in the very first attempt he made. You have not only saved yourself and your three wonderful kids but other Brightonians, too, because only the Lord knows who his next victim might have been. That is, if he had succeeded on you"

“The Ministry of Homeland Security is scrutinizing and screening international students from Afghanistan and other Middle East countries in order to avoid the Esmaty incident. They are investigating how Esmaty got his visa from the British Embassy in Kabul in the first place”. (Hello? Afghanistan is located in Central Asia/South Asia, not Middle East)

Some political commentators and idiots like Bill O’Reilly of Fox News would take full advantage of my plight and say:

“We cannot allow these people to come to our countries anymore for education. We allow them to gain quality education which they cannot even dream of in their countries and this is their response. They terrorize an innocent woman with her young children. That is why the war on terror has not ended and must go on until we find elements like Nazrat Ezmaty (the reason for replacing S with Z is because that is how most Americans and Brits pronounce my name) and prosecute them and give them the justice they deserve”

All in all, my dream of working on my master’s degree would have ended before getting started and I would end up somewhere I cannot even imagine. Maybe the fact that I am an author could have saved me, but it is only a “maybe”. Maybe I am overreacting in the statements that I made above, but I am sure you realize the gravity of the situation.

Anyhow, I went to the Lincoln Street  and this time another lady with two kids helped me find the place and “NO” I didn’t scare them. She was traveling in the same bus with me. I liked the place on Lincoln Street but not that much. I still wanted something better. Mind you, I am not POSH. It would have never mattered what kind of accommodation I had if I was here for business or pleasure, but if you want to study hard and want to achieve good results, there are certain things that need to be right. Otherwise, it keeps bothering you and ruining your mood. At least, I am like that.

I finally saw an ad on gumtree and found the right place. As a matter of fact, I and a gentleman named Terry, went to see the place at the same time. We loved the place immediately. It is a very nice house, which is owned by a nice English lady. She was gracious enough to talk to us and get to know us a bit before making up her mind. Due to my past experiences with the not so trusting landlords/landladies, I had already texted her my full name and told her to google me to know that “I am a decent Afghan compared to ‘other Afghans’”  although I am not sure what image of Afghans she had/has in her mind. As she found Terry and I “nice fellows”, she agreed to rent us both rooms. Terry was kind enough to allow me to choose what room I wanted, so I picked one of the rooms and moved in it immediately.

The Fresher’s Week went well. I got to meet so many people from so many different parts of the world in the introduction drills conducted by Robert Chambers. I formed a social network of “Cricket, Chess, and Blogging” and was holding the banner during the introduction day, but I did not have many takers, so I formed another network on the spot called “Gossiping: Admit it! We all do it. I am just being honest” and I started to attract a huge number who signed up for it. If you want to join any of my networks, you are more than welcome, too. Email me at N.Esmaty@sussex.ac.uk and you are on. By the way, I need more people on my cricket team to start playing.  Unfortunately, I have not attended any events on campus as I was looking for accommodation when all of you were having on campus, but I am planning to attend some exciting forthcoming events and meet some of you later.

One last point that I would like to make is a "serious one". I met several British women and men in the past 23 days. A good half of them wasn't nice to me. A few of them even sounded racist, which I will never forget like I cannot forget how nice the woman who lived on London Road was to me, or the current woman whose house I am living in is to me (touch-wood). After my bitter experiences and encounters, I can easily make a sweeping generalization that "Brits aren't nice" and overlook the nice people easily. It is a dishonest observation, but no one can convince me any other way, can they? I have many bitter examples to support my bitterness. BUT I am choosing to say "I have met some nice people in UK" just because of the London Road woman and my current landlady. In other words, it is up to me to keep my right eye to see the good in people OPEN because my left eye that sees the bad in people never shuts whether or not I want it. My question to you is, Is your right eye open when you look at an Afghan and a Muslim or not?  Answer this question to yourself. It may be a revelation of a sort .

I have already donated a copy of my novel “Blue Blood Mirage – On the Other Side of Illusion” to the IDS (Institute of Development Studies) Library, which you all can borrow if you want. Please give me your feedback on the book if you read it at  www.facebook.com/bbmirage.  I will recommend it to the students of gender studies and those who are interested in the Afghan culture as BBM is the story of an Afghan girl and her adventures in Afghanistan.