The Power of Writing

By Karima Qias

I was born and raised in Iran. My grandparents are of Tajik origin. They lived their adult lives in Afghanistan, where my parents were born. In the nineteen-seventies my parents left Afghanistan because of the Taliban, and they went to live in Iran. But in Iran their situation wasn’t easy. For example, it was difficult to attend university, which cost a lot of money. As refugees, every year we had to pay more money to extend our stay. We had no health insurance or work insurance. If we wanted to buy a house or a car it had to be registered in the name of an Iranian, not our own names because we were Afghan immigrants. I worked three months as a dental assistant, but was paid less than an Iranian. And this was just the surface of a deeper river of troubles. That’s why we decided to leave Iran in 2017, and leave in secret. 

After ten days of crossing mountains and rivers, we arrived in Turkey with great difficulty. The first time we tried to cross the border between Iran and Turkey, the Turkish police caught us. They were hitting my brothers on their shoulders like criminals, and we shouted for them to stop. Then we walked all night long until we reached the smuggler’s house. We were desperate and wanted to go back to Tehran, but the smuggler took more money from us and said we would cross the border at a customs crossing. But he was lying, and we had to cross rivers and walk for hours until we reached Beyazid in Turkey. There we finally crossed into Turkey. Some of the journey was on foot, but mostly we rode in vans or buses. Finally, we reached the western Turkish coast, on the Mediterranean sea, and across the water was the Greek island of Lesvos.

We stayed on the Turkish side for a few days, waiting for the sea to calm so we could go to Greece. On the island of Lesvos, we were penned up with more than two thousand other migrants in the Moria camp. It was a living hell: no security; no toilets; and, no edible meals. For eighty days we protested so we could leave the camp and the island. We never gave up. Eventually we were granted permission to go to Athens. In Athens, we lived in a former hotel squatted by antifascists to accommodate migrants. There were one hundred and sixteen different nationalities in the Plaza Hotel squat. Thanks to the support of antifascists, and together with some other girls, we started to tell our stories in a small magazine that we made. We used this magazine, called Plaza Girls, to inform the public about the situation in the Moria camp. After that, I decided to collect the poems I had written into a handcrafted book with calligraphy, dried flowers, photos and collages.

With the change of government in 2019, Greece closed the Plaza Hotel squat. After it closed I came to Belgium with some members of my family. In July, 2021, with the help of a friend, I exhibited my book, “Chink of Light,” in a gallery in Athens with videos of my sisters and me reciting the poems. Currently, I am writing a biography of my family.

A few words about writing. When I left Iran, I cut all ties behind me. Arriving in Greece in the Moria camp, I had lost my future aspirations, lost hope. But as I began to write, the words came. They talked to me, and I put them down on paper. Words have become like a power I possess. They gave me back confidence in myself and allowed me to show others who I am: someone who seeks to exist, like everyone else, with the same possibilities. Without the writing, the reality would have been too hard to bear. In the real world I am powerless, but in the world of writing my power is limitless. It is I who command words, to change fate or to make the past more beautiful and happier. Literature and writing give us courage to dive into the depths of emotion in order to express it clearly. That’s how I fell in love with the life of words.

23 September, 2022