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  nterviewed By  Selma A. Cook  

This article is based on the true life events of an 18-year-old Muslim girl living in Germany.

"There's always a way out. That's one thing I've learned. Even if you're trapped, living a lifestyle you know to be wrong, you can always find a way to turn things around so as to feel better about yourself. But you must really want to change and have some idea of where you want to go.  Most of all, before you even take the first step to change, you must have belief in Almighty Allah and you must have hope.

"I am an orphan. It is not easy for me to say this because I have spent most of my life pushing it to the back of my mind. I suppose, to be blunt, I live in denial. I mean, I usually pretend that I grew up with my biological family and, generally, believe myself while doing so.

"My adoptive parents took me from an orphanage when I was seven days old. I know this because they reminded me of it from as early as I can remember. So, although I knew that I was once in an orphanage, and was, in fact, just one step away from growing up in the place, the orphanage part of my life counts for very little. What does count? Well, what counts is that everything I have ever known reflects something of my adoptive parents, whether their input has been direct or otherwise".

It Began When I Was Seven

"When I was very small, I did not feel unusual. I did not, for instance, feel that I had been picked out from hundreds of other parentless babies to be raised by people who had opted to care for me. And I certainly never felt that I was a stranger at home. Everything was manageable in my life until I was seven years old. But, from that time onwards, the problems started.

"Of course, that is not to say that during my first seven years there were no difficulties at all; there were. But such problems arrived simply because my parents had chosen to raise me in a way that was very different from the way other Egyptian children were being raised. Needless to say, this often made me feel uncomfortable. Though all the other children were Muslims, I was definitely the outsider. Hence, while the other kids ate junk food and guzzled fizzy drinks, I was eating fruit and nuts and drinking mineral water. My parents reassured me that I was healthier than my schoolmates, but, now, when I look back, I wonder if being able to fit in with the other kids at school would not have proven a great deal "healthier" for me in the long run. It may all seem trivial, but when you are a kid, things like that affect you.

"Anyway, as I said, the turning point in my life came when I was seven years old. It was then that my parents got divorced. This happened suddenly and hit me with great force. In fact, it is safe to say that I experienced a feeling that, until this day, I still cannot describe. It seemed to me that the two most important people in my life, the only people in my life, had become different. Amid all the fighting and yelling, I could do nothing about it. Like the children of failed couples all over the world  — though I knew full well, even then, that my adopted parents were not like such couples — I craved for us to be together again. I sought refuge in my sleep, and would spend hours in my room trying to doze off. In my dreams, I would imagine that my parents had never separated and that all was right with the world. 


"They told me that they loved me a million times. They told me that while everything was the same, they were no longer "one unit." They did not understand that for me all my feelings of safety and security were wrapped up in our being one, single unit. I felt that the intensity and reality of their love for me had dwindled after the divorce. It is a cliché, but I'm going to say it all the same: Being an orphan does leave you fragile and vulnerable. There is always a feeling of insecurity deep down; a feeling of not being capable of existing as part of anything good. So, when my parents got divorced, far from being surprised, I felt that the inevitable had come to pass. I had been momentarily glued together, and now I was fragmented once again.    

Between Adopted Parents

"Between seven and ten years of age, I went backward and forward between my separated parents and grew increasingly unsure of myself. I felt that I was two people in one — like I had one strong part and one weak part coexisting and conflicting within me. Though, logically, I was not at fault, I blamed myself for everything. Yet, with this insecurity came the feeling that I wanted to know where I really came from: Who were these people, my biological parents, who had disliked me enough to give me up after a week?"

Life With My Adopted Father

"During these three years, my divorced parents both found new partners. My mother went to another country, leaving me with my father for a year-and-a-half. Without a doubt, this was the worst time of my life. I missed my mother so much, and, sometimes, my father would not let me talk to her on the phone. He was still angry and wanted me all for himself. My father loved me and bought everything for me. But, if I made any mistake, he would beat me. His intention was to help, but, much of the time, he only put pressure on me. He did not understand that this pressure fed my weak side, allowing it to command me. I felt myself withdrawing into this weakness. The real me, the strong person I wanted to be, seemed to be vanishing.

"At the same time, my father withdrew me from private school and placed me in an Egyptian governmental school. Strangely, I felt I belonged there with the poor people, whose habits were so different from those of my parents. I liked the way they talked, ate, and walked.  Here, I felt warm and free. It must have annoyed my parents so much. But, I felt no pressure and was happy. As people expected so much less from me — in truth they expected almost nothing from anyone —, I finally had the chance to breathe freely. At the private school, there had been lots of demands and restrictions and, coupled with the pressure from home, it had all been too much for me to handle.

"When I was still with my father, I stopped going home straight after school. Instead, I would go to my friends' homes and make my father come to look for me. He soon got very angry, but I did not care. I liked to visit my friends and sit and eat with them. It felt like a real family.

"In the end, dad took me out of school altogether. Instead, he arranged for private teachers to teach me at home. Needless to say, this made me lonelier still. I was not allowed to leave the house at all. In fact, it was not long before I was being beaten everyday — by both my teachers and my father.

"When I was 11 years old, my father told me that I could travel with him to see my mother in Germany. Those times were strange: All my childhood I had grown up without TV or radio because my parents believed Islam forbids them. But, in desperation, during the last four months before we traveled to Germany, my dad bought a TV because he wanted to keep me busy and in the house. I suppose, at the time, I felt a lot of resentment toward my father because I felt he was keeping me away from my mother. I understand now how difficult it must have been for him to cope with a desperately unhappy young girl".


Growing Up an Orphan:
Part Two: Life in Germany
Part Three: Street Life