Meet Zeinab: An Afghan artist living in Athens

“I chose art because it allows me to see the world differently. A better world. But I didn’t choose to be a refugee.”

“I chose art because it allows me to see the world differently. A better world. But I didn’t choose to be a refugee.” - Zeinab, from Afghanistan, currently living in Athens.

Meet Zeinab. An Afghan woman on the move and an artist. At the age of 25 and with the support of her father, Zeinab left Afghanistan together with her husband Pejvak. “Leave everything behind you and go, just go, find safety and live. Live for you, for the baby, and for us” told me my father who didn’t have the means for the whole family to travel. Like many humans forced from their home, Zeinab's journey towards safety carried more challenges than opportunities. At least till now. 
“They say if you have faith you can move mountains. Well, we did move many. From Afghanistan to Iran, then to Turkey, all the way to the Greek islands. We were over 80 people walking together through mountains and hills. I was the only woman. A pregnant one but probably the fastest. We walked for days and nights. Sometimes we had to run until I couldn’t anymore." 
On her way to Greece, Zeinab did survive against all odds and she is more than grateful for that. However, she is still on a quest for safety, unable to understand why a human’s safety would cost that much. She still believes that every day can hold the chance of a miracle. A miracle, because she’s lost faith in current human-made laws.

The day she and Pijvak reached Moria’s camp on the Greek islands over a year and a half ago, she felt a little bit relieved. “Even though this isn’t what I wanted for my baby but at least I slept under my own tent,” she said. The days passed and it was about time they find a more dignified place to start again as a family. 

Painting is Zeinab’s passion. "Back in Afghanistan, I only had a small notebook. On that notebook, I used to draw whatever came to my mind. Little by little, I developed a humble technique. It wasn’t a professional technique but it was mine. I loved drawing and painting” she told us, smiling. One day, on her way to pick up some winter clothes in the camp, Zeinab passed by a classroom full of paintings. A glimpse of hope amidst the challenging conditions she and every human on the move were enduring in Moria. That day, she signed up for the course offered by the 'Hope Project' and started attending painting classes. 

“In one hour you’ll move to your house in Oropos."

“In one hour you’ll move to your house in Oropos. A sentence I’ll never forget. A house. It doesn’t matter where. It’s happening now, in an hour!” reiterated Zeinab. This is where she delivered her firstborn Selena before the family was relocated to Athens.

In the camp, Zeinab has been helping the team of 'Médecins Sans Frontières' with translation. Her father who studied History and Literature had taught her English which she kept learning while on the move. Had she not been pregnant, Zeinab would have volunteered more, with any actor on the ground. “Helping others in such conditions is a must. It shouldn’t just be a choice. Otherwise, why are we called ‘humans’?” she added. 

Today Zeinab's father, mother, two brothers, and three sisters are in Iran. Every now and then, they send some money to Zeinab as a means of support while her husband Pijvak is still looking for a job in Athens. “I wish they had the means to join us so we live together as a big family again!”. 

“We dream of a humble yet beautiful house. A small car to take Selena on road trips and show her the beautiful side of the world. To take her to school every morning and pick her up every afternoon. A small atelier to paint and paint more. To add as many beautiful colours to this world as I can. A free world where I want Selena to grow safely. I want her to be free and to make her own choices in life. I want her to believe in whatever she chooses to believe in. I want her to have the freedom we never had back home. To believe in humanity, beyond any ideology.”

Today Zeinab, Pijvak, and Selena are still in Athens, waiting for a decision regarding their asylum request... And for a second child. In the meantime, Zeinab continues to paint. You can have a look at Zeinab’s beautiful paintings on this LINK.

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