The book you don’t leave behind

The journey has taken Mohamed (13), his mother, father, younger sister and brother from their hometown of Herat in Afghanistan through Iran, Turkey and Greece to Serbia.

Vladimir Banic
Mohamed Tajik (13) with his book in Farsi
UNICEF Serbia/2019/Vas

18 February 2019

Mohamed Tajik is a smiling thirteen-year-old boy from Afghanistan who likes to play football, read books and has a modern hairstyle. Right now, he lives with his family in a small room in the Reception Centre in Kikinda, Northern Serbia.

The journey has taken Mohamed, his mother, father, younger sister and brother from their hometown of Herat in Afghanistan through Iran, Turkey and Greece to Serbia.

On this journey, Mohamed has gone through many situations that no child should experience – hunger, continuous day-and-night walking on foot, threats by smugglers, the cold, sleeping in the open, the proximity of wild animals... And he has taken it all quietly, helping his parents along the way by carrying a part of the things they have taken with them.

Their entire life was packed in those couple of bundles. More precisely, nothing from the life they had led before they became refugees was packed inside them because the choice is not difficult when you have to decide between a toy and a blanket, photo albums and baby food, a skateboard and a suitcase with warm sweaters.

Mohamed has gone through many situations that no child should experience – hunger, continuous day-and-night walking on foot, threats by smugglers, the cold, sleeping in the open, the proximity of wild animals...

Mohamed left one such skateboard behind in Afghanistan. It was a memory of his uncle who had bought it for him and which he had ridden on the streets of Herat.

The dearest toy he could ever get was left several thousand kilometres behind. Yet, this made sense, says Mohamed, because the family managed to come safe and sound one step closer to their goal – a country where they will build their safe future.

Still, he can’t forget his skateboard...

“It was the only toy I had. I remember when my uncle brought it to me. I was so happy and thankful”, says Mohamed.

He shrugs as if it were something that had to happen. But, one can tell from his deep sigh that he still cares and suffers.

He holds a book in Farsi in his hands. It is a primer for the first grade of primary school that did manage to fit into those couple of bundles Mohamed was carrying.

“This is the first book I have ever read”, explains Mohamed, and adds: “There is a poem in it about a family –about a father, a mother and a child. It is my favourite. I couldn’t leave the book behind.”

While clenching the book in his hands, he jokingly says that according to his age he should be in the sixth grade, but that he still reads only this book for the first-graders.

“I like this book a lot because it is in my mother tongue that I don’t want to forget.”

“I like this book a lot because it is in my mother tongue that I don’t want to forget”, he explains.

The book has gone with him through rain and wind during the five years he has been on the road from Afghanistan towards Europe. Yet, it is perfectly preserved.

“I am keeping it for my brother and my sister”, says Mohamed, “I know they will also need to have something from our homeland wherever we are”.