Zakaria and Me
My parents enlightened me how Zakaria's family had suffered from the war in Afghanistan and how he was
a guest and in fact needed more attention from us.
Iran, Western Asia
Story by Mani Nouri. Edited by Rick Scherpenhuizen
Published on August 24, 2020. Reading time: 3 minutes
This story is also available in
Zakaria was a charming kid around 8 years old with a round face, spectacles, and body. He had an epicanthic eye with a beautiful accent. For example, he would always pronounce the word “shesh” (six in Farsi) as “shash”. Zakaria was from Afghanistan, our eastern neighbors. His parents had moved to Iran in the 1980s, because of the civil war that had been waging in the country for decades and one million Afghans sought refuge in Iran at its western borders.
Zakaria’s friendly parents were working as the janitors of the next building. His father always wanted his son to become a scientist like the medieval Zakaria Razi, the Persian scientist he was named after.
So, the six-year-old me used to see him often and play with him. Under the summer heat, many other neighboring children would join, but it did not always go well. At some point, the neighboring kids started to bully him. I defended him in the beginning, but I found myself alone and the rest of the kids blamed me for defending a “foreigner.” I slowly changed sides and found myself more comfortable following what everybody else was doing.
I remember one day Zakaria sat down on the steps and hid his face with his chubby hands and started crying while the kids were bullying him. This shook me and I told the story to my parents, who to my surprise scolded me for this bad behavior, not defending him but going along with my friends.
They enlightened me on how his family had suffered from the war in Afghanistan and how he was a guest and in fact needed more attention from us. I felt heavy remorse and reproached myself. But it didn’t last long until they left our building. In the years that followed, I didn’t see him anymore, and now I would do anything to see how this grown-up Zakaria is doing at the moment.
Now I ask myself, had my parents not enlightened me on this issue early on, would I have grown up to be ignorant or racist?
 These wars refer to the Soviet-Afghan War of 1979-1989, during which millions of Afghans fled their country and the Afghan civil wars with the Taliban that followed in the 1990s.
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