A headscarf and a photograph as the only precious things

Nilufar (13), an Afghan by origin, has never lived in the country of her origin.

Vladimir Banic
Nilufar (13) with the photograph and the headscarf she has with her wherever she goes
UNICEF Serbia/2018/Vas

22 January 2019

“I don't have any more photographs, just this one. This is me wearing the religious headscarf I got from my school when I completed the third grade in Iran. All the children got the same headscarves then.”

This is how thirteen-year-old Nilufar starts and ends listing her memories.

Nilufar, an Afghan by origin, has never lived in the country of her origin.

She was born as a refugee in Pakistan, and her family later sought for safety in Iran, Turkey, Greece, and now in Serbia where they have been staying for three years now.

In one of the refugee centres in this country, Nilufar is proudly showing her entire memories that can fit into a small children's bag; she unfolds a pink and white prayer headscarf and gently takes out a photograph, careful not to damage it.

Nilufar from Afghanistan (13) with the prayer headscarf
UNICEF Serbia/2018/Vas
Nilufar from Afghanistan (13) with the prayer headscarf

The face on this photograph reveals a 9-year-old girl who is happy because she has finished her school year with excellent grades.

Before the graduation, she had been playing with her friends and listening to her teacher who had told them to look at the camera.

A couple of days later, she got this photograph. Not long after, her parents had to move on again with Nilufar and their other three children towards something they’d thought was a safer country for them.

While crossing the state borders, which was often not only physically very difficult but also dangerous, especially for Nilufar and her younger brother and sisters, the most important for them was to reach the next destination.

This often meant that Nilufar was carrying only the most essential things with her, so that the parents could safely take their four children across the mountains and through forests, hiding from armed robbers or the Police.

When she had to choose between a warm sweater and a toy, the sweater would prevail. Between a blanket for sleeping under the open sky and a ball, there would be room only for the blanket.

The small luggage that Nilufar, as the oldest sister, was carrying with her to help her parents would always have room for her only memory of early childhood. The only things she owns – this photograph and the headscarf.

“There were no differences among us back then. All of us, the children, were dressed the same and we were all happy”, explains Nilufar, revealing why she holds these two things so dear to her. It was only back then when she, as a refugee child, didn’t feel any different from other children, when they were all equal. This is perhaps why she already has no doubts about what she wants to do when she grows up:

“I am going to be a teacher,” she says, and adds, “I think it is very important to help children”.