Afifa Nizami

As Interviewed by Jules H., March 22, 2015

Afifa Nizami: In Her Own Words

My name is Afifa Nizami. I was born in Rahim Yar Khan, Pakistan. I was born on October 7, 1993. My religion is Islam. Iím Muslim. We have a really similar belief as Christians but it's more conservative, especially for girls. My dad is a musician. He plays sitar, and he taught music in Pakistan as well. I lived in Pakistan for 16 years.

When I was little, like when I was in elementary school, things were pretty good, just like normal childhood is. But when I entered middle school, I started to see some difficulties, like when you grow up, especially for girls, it was hard to go to school. Getting an education is a very difficult thing in Pakistan. You can't go outside of your house. You just kind of have to stay inside and help your mom. In 2007, the Taliban came to Pakistan and started creating all this disturbance in women's education. They said that education is not allowed for women anymore so it was really hard for us to go to school there. I went to school in Pakistan until I was in 8th grade. I would go to school sometimes but stay at home most of the time. That's how my life was in Pakistan.

I lived under Sharia law. When I was in Pakistan, I didn't really realize how hard it was because everyone else was under the same law. We were all like this is how life is supposed to be. I didn't know any different because I didn't see any different in any of the people of my culture. To me the Sharia law was the only law to live by. Now that I have been here, I can't imagine going back and living like that.

School was very different from here because you have a lot of different school units. And if you don't understand something in school you can just tell the teacher you don't understand it. But back in Pakistan, you had to be really, really respectful to the teachers. You weren't supposed to talk in front of them and everything they said you had to follow. It was hard because if you don't do the homework they will hit you with an iron skillet and everyone, especially girls, were scared to go to school there because they hit you if you don't do what you're supposed to do. In America, they make school so much fun for kids, but in Pakistan it's not fun at all.

Social injustice in Pakistan...
As a women, you had to go through a lot when you live in a country like Pakistan. Guys can go outside and do whatever they want, and hang out with friends. But girls can't walk in streets or go for a walk or just hang out with their friends outside of the house or sit in the park. I just felt like there was no equality between guys and girls. There was no justice. Girls, when you get older, they can't get married to the person you really want to get married to. Your parents have to choose a guy for you. And guys kind of have an option that they can pick the girl they want to pick and they can make her parents agree but it's still kind of hard. And girls, they have no choice. They have to follow the rules. They have to follow Sharia law.

Since 2005 was the time the Taliban started attacking Sufis and Muslims in Pakistan, the people who were kind of liberal. My father was a musician and that was the only source of our income, that was the only source that you could make money with. And since 2005, it was hard because every time you go out people would resent him. We lived in a neighborhood where everyone was a strict Muslim. Just because my dad did music, it was hard them to live as well because people threaten them to, because they lived in the same neighborhood as him. They tell my dad to leave the neighborhood because it was becoming dangerous for them. It was really hard. Since then we started moving to places, like different places. We weren't able to sleep out at one house for a long time. We would be in our house sometimes but not all the time. We would sleep out over at my Dadís friends houses. For a lot of musicians, it was hard for them too.

In 2008, my dad came to America and we were all alone. It was really difficult to live without him there because not having a man in your house, all women, it was just so hard. My brother was only 8 at that time and you couldn't really do anything. My mom can't go out and do everything, like pay bills. In America you just do it over Internet. In Pakistan you have to go out and do everything, get everything done. In 2008 when my Dad moved here, it really hard for us to go to school. Our school was kind of far from our house. It was really hard to just have a ride to go to school. Everything was kind of messed up. For instance, my older sister quit school, Khadijah. She couldn't go to school because she was supposed to stay and help my mom. We went to school but there were a lot of strikes, a lot of bomb blasts, and all the attacking in schools. We went to school, but most of the time we stayed home. In 2010 we all got to come to America and everything all of a sudden changed. Our life is different now.

My family left Pakistan for a lot of reasons. My dad was a musician. That was his job. It became really hard for musicians to live in Pakistan. People would come up to our house and threaten if he doesn't stop playing music they would just kill our whole family, stuff like that. It became really dangerous. He applied for political asylum. We all got to come to America in 2010.

I still remember the day I came here, the very first day. When we got to the Houston airport, I saw people dressed up completely different than how we dressed up in Pakistan. That was a cultural shock. It was a completely different experience being here because we had a lot of freedom. We could go where we want. We didn't have any restrictions. We weren't scared that if we would go out we would get shot, or people would look at us weird. It was just a lot of freedom and it was just the best moment of my life. This whole time ever since I have been here, it's just been great.