- Trapped in Islamabad, I started to despair of finding freedom
- But I applied to a British university
- Success! I escaped Pakistan and flew to freedom in Britain
ISLAMABAD, Oct 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation)
I had always dreamed of going to university.
I saw it as a way not just to make my own life better, but also to be able to do something for other people and my country.
However, living at home in Kabul with my retired dad and an elder brother who was at university, I had to work as an English teacher to put food on the table.
Then the Taliban came.
When I had been in Pakistan for two months, a friend in Britain suggested I should apply to a UK university.
Neither of us thought it would work as the process was long and complicated – and I'd be one of thousands applying for very few positions.
But my situation in Islamabad was unstable and my prospects were bleak, and we both knew I needed something to hope for so as to be able to keep going.
I had come to Pakistan hoping to get support from LGBTQ+ organisations.
I was on a medical visa and only legally allowed to stay in the country for a month.
I'd assumed that these organisations would provide me with temporary accommodation and extend my Pakistani visa while they helped me find a visa to another country.
But nothing went as expected.
All hopes of getting help from international organisations were dashed.
I tried to contact the ones I had been in touch with before, but none of them even responded to my emails. I was stuck in Pakistan with no way out; I even considered going back to face the Taliban.
When my visa was about to expire things started to get even more difficult.
The hotel I was staying in asked me to move out because I was staying in the country illegally.
But I could not find cheaper accommodation in Islamabad, and I had to stay in the capital, as the risk of being stopped by the police was even higher in other cities as Pakistan is an Islamic country and gay sex is illegal.
I had no choice but to stay in the same hotel. So I did what I had to do: I bribed them to let me keep my room.
From then on, it became my prison.
Most of the time I stayed indoors and hardly ever went out for fear of being arrested.
The hotel had two floors with a big kitchen where guests could go and cook their meals.
The front rooms of the hotel were fancy and expensive because they were big, clean and had air conditioning, whereas my small, dark, hot room was on the ground floor at the back of the building.
I had to go through the kitchen to get to it.
Not only was there no air conditioning, but the heat and smell from everyone's cooking came into my room, making it even worse.
I did have a ceiling fan, but the noise it made was unbearable. It was better to endure the heat than the noise of the ceiling fan.
All the while, I was trying everything I could think of to find a way out: ranging from applying to various from LGBTQ+ organisations, to the German humanitarian visa scheme, to UK government officials and MPs.
For a very long time I had wanted to move to Britain as I would be safe, socially accepted and I would have the freedom to express my sexual orientation without fear of social ostracism or legal repercussions. Besides, from watching British shows such as The Crown or Sherlock Holmes, to reading Agatha Christie and J. K. Rowling I had become fond of the culture, the royal family and the beauty of language.
Yet the government had made coming to Britain almost impossible for people like me.
I was hopeless, knowing that when Western forces pulled out of Afghanistan, it did not even create a way for all its allies, including those who had worked with them for two decades, to be able to escape.
If I'd been entirely on my own, I don't think I'd have made it.
Thankfully, a year earlier, Openly had published my account of the fall of Kabul.
My diary had an incredible impact and was read by people around the world, leading two gay men in Britain to come forward with an offer to help, both financially and as true friends.
To be accepted by a British university, I had to pass the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) in a very short time to prove my language skills were good enough.
For almost two months, I spent all my waking hours working for the exam in the intolerable Islamabad July heat.
Writing lessons in my book, my hands would sweat and drip onto the paper. I would get so depressed about my situation, trying to study in a sweltering hot room all on my own.
My friends in Britain wanted to send me money so I could get a better room, but my pride did not allow it.
But then, a miracle!
I won a place on a journalism degree course at a great university in Britain.
The difference the journalists at Openly had made to my life had made me think maybe I could do the same for others one day.
I dreamed of becoming an investigative journalist, travelling the world, reporting from different corners of the globe and giving people a chance to be heard.
September 29, 2022, was one of the happiest days of my life.
I heard I had passed the English language test and my passport arrived from the British Embassy. When I opened it, I immediately saw my student visa.
Suddenly everything seemed wonderful; I had another chance to start living again.
It's now a year since I passed the IELTS test. I have just finished my year-long foundation course, and next year begin my undergraduate degree in journalism.
Over the past 12 months, I have been to gay clubs and experienced for the first time a place where I can be safe simply being myself.
I hope one day to write a memoir explaining the sorrows and joys of my journey.
I called my mother from Islamabad airport before the flight to London. I had not spoken to her since I left Kabul that fateful night.
This time I apologised for lying to her, but then I told her the truth: I was flying to the UK to start my life again.
This is Part II in a two part series. For more in this series:
(Reporting by Anonymous; editing by Jon Hemming and Hugo Greenhalgh. Please credit Openly, the LGBTQ+ news website from the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit https://www.openlynews.com)
Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.
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