Monthly Archives: April 2015

Afghan Lives Matter, But Instagram Doesn’t Think So

Something really disgusting happened today.

I woke up, opened my Instagram, and saw a message. It stated that one of my posts had been deleted, because it did not follow “community guidelines”.

When I checked my page to see what had been removed, it was the one about Malala Yousafzai, and her disenfranchised Pashtun identity in a Punjabi/Muhajir privileged Pakistani society. This picture had a link to my blog, that discussed the second-class status of Pashtuns living in Pakistan, who are constantly marginalized, and physically under attack in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

So now I understand, that Instagram will tolerate Kim Kardashians facing down with her rear-end exposed, over Pashtun lives.

Now I know, that those who live in the “drone capital of the world”, matter less than the millions of “Instagram models” who parade around in lingerie.

This was disciplinary action taken against me for shedding light on an issue that has been perpetually swept under the rug. And it would not have been so, if someone, maybe a friend, maybe a random Instagram lurker, reported the post.

I am at a loss for words. I am extremely upset and angry.

I understand that my opinions (which are all fact-based) on Punjabi privilege may come off as insensitive or aggressive. Some might even think I’m racist. Which is far from the truth.

But so do bombs falling on my Pashtun brethren thanks to the Pakistani ISI and the CIA.

So no, sorry I’m not sorry.

And a huge middle finger to those Instagram “lurkers” who report my political posts because I’m whiste-blowing on something no one wants to admit.

My whole life I have lobbied for one Ummah. I gave up my entire summer to fight for Palestine.

But the second I raise awareness about the state of Afghans and Pashtuns in Pakistan, I am silenced.

People unfollowed me, people blocked me. People I personally know.

But I will not apologize for any of my actions. If you feel like your toes are being stepped on – then they probably are. No one said you have to agree.

One of the tenets in my 6,000 year old Pashtun code of honor is called Badal. This is seeking revenge against a wrongdoer. Another is Turah, which is bravery. We also believe in Sabat, or loyalty. And most important, is Khegera, righteousness, and Nang, honor.

I take all of these into consideration when making any of my posts. I strive very hard to write about what matters, and exposing the wrongdoers for their malice.

So to whoever reported my post, congrats. You got one picture off my page deleted. Hooray.

But you’ll learn what every empire who has come through Afghanistan has learned, we do not stop the fight until we come out victorious. My pen and my voice are my sword and my armor. And I will not stop the battle until everyone knows that Afghan lives matter.

Afghanistan zindabaad. Pashtunistan zindabaad.

And to my haters, Mordabaad.

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Humans of Kabul

sometimes, it hurts more to see them laughing and happy
because they are so strong, and we are so weak
and they persevere in the face of calamity
and we’re so far away, and so out of touch

and sometimes i wish i could suffer beside them.

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Turkey Failed

100 years ago, the Ottoman government tried to systematically wipe out the Armenian nation.

100 years later, my best friends little sister, Mare Arakelyan, expresses her pain through art. These were displayed at Pepperdine University:

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“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.”

-William Saroyan

Today, 130,000 protestors marched to the Turkish Consulate in Los Angeles. Similar marches were held across the world, with Arabs, Kurds, Persians, and Turks marching alongside Armenians.

Turkey failed, miserably.

And I’m glad that all my Armenian friends are here with me.

 

 

 

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Check Your Punjabi Privilege: The Hijacking of Malala by Non-Pashtun Pakistanis

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When Malala Yousafzai won the Noble Peace Prize, Afghans and Pashtuns internationally rejoiced. A member of the tribe won!

But quickly, this state of joy and pride was robbed from us when non-Pashtun Pakistanis began to claim Malala as their own. To me, this is equivalent of a white American pretending to know or even understand the Ferguson struggle. Please – check your Punjabi/Muhajir privilege.

For those of you who don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, Malala is an ethnic Pashtun. She is from the Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, also known as KPK, which was formerly known as the North West Frontier Province. The changing of the name to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, or “land of the Pashtuns”, was a minimal demand by Pakistani Pashtuns, but even that was met with strong resistance from the Punjabi & Muhajir majority which controls the government and military.

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This is a place where my relatives hail, and where my entire nuclear and extended family lived before their transition to America. This area is known as the “drone capital of the earth”, where my people, the Pashtuns, are “collateral damage”, and “casualties” in the fight against the Taliban.

The prevailing jokes of Pakistan culture are that Pathans (Pashtuns) are dumb and uncivilized Talibs. But all of a sudden, when an intelligent, educated and prolific Pashtun makes headlines, she becomes the symbol for the “Pakistani struggle”….fasho.

Let me tell you a little about our newly moved in neighbors to the south. The political and social structure in Pakistan is unevenly distributed, with Punjabis and Mohajirs (immigrants from India) at the top, and indigenous Sindhis, Pashtuns, and Balochis, at the bottom. Illiteracy, extremism, and violence plague the KPK, as the people suffer at the hands of both the Taliban and the Pakistani military.

In the east is the Punjab, where the Green Revolution of Pakistan boosted the economy. Lahore and Islamabad took off, while the Pashtun provinces struggled to even get a small benefit from the programs.

And even though Pashtuns are a major ethnic group within Pakistan, their language is overlooked and unrecognized, with Urdu and even English making the list of national languages.

Pashtuns are treated like second-class citizens in a place that’s been home for 6,000 years. My mother tells us stories from her time there, when she lived in Hangu and Peshawar, and how she was amazed at the differences between Pashtun/Afghan occupied areas compared to Punjabi areas.

Malala is an Afghan by ethnicity and a Pakistani by nationality/citizenship. And Afghans know much more of the struggle of being from the KPK and other Talib-controlled areas than anyone living in the Punjab would know.

Her name is even a testament to her heritage. She is named after Malalai of Maiwand, a famous Pashtun poetess and warrior woman from southern Afghanistan, who we consider our heroine, and the symbol of the Afghan struggle against Great Britain. Her last name, Yousafzai, is that of a large Pashtun tribal confederation that is predominant in the Swat Valley. Swat is a historic Pashtun land, and my family, being ethnic Pashtuns, would know how to navigate there much better than any Urdu-speaking Pakistani.

So when non-Pashtuns rejoice and revel in the fame of Malala, how can Afghans and Pashtuns not be annoyed? This cultural hijacking of the Afghan struggle in Pakistan is an example of Punjabi/Mohajir privilege going unchecked.

If you are a non-Pashtun of Pakistani nationality, please do not pretend to know anything of what it means to be an Afghan living in Pakistan. Don’t try to pretend for one second that you know what it means to be Pashtun:

Since 2001, Pakistani, Afghan, and NATO troops have rushed into Pashtun lands. US drones fill the sky. This year has been especially rough for Pashtuns in Pakistan, with more than 2 million forced to flee military offensives in Swat and nearby areas.

“It’s like a Pashtun genocide,” says Ayeen Khan, of Swabi, NWFP, echoing a phrase heard across the region. “In different areas a lot of Pashtuns are being killed. They need someone to stop the killing.”

Many who fled the fighting said they want neither the Taliban nor the Army in their lands. They say the Punjabi-dominated security agencies control both forces, with the Army periodically fighting the militants, then receding and letting the Taliban reimpose their terrorizing rule. Pashtun civilians say they are caught in the middle of this “double game.”

And even if Malala identifies with her Pakistani nationality, I think she would agree with my notion of Punjabi/Mohajir privilege.

When we ignore Malala’s Pashtun identity, we are denying her from thousands of little Afghan girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan who share her struggle.

She was targeted by what YOU created, not us.

She suffers from YOUR meddling, not ours.

The KPK is broken because of YOUR drones and attacks, not ours.

Her struggle is the Afghan struggle, not the Punjabi one.

When a Pashtun is a freedom-fighter, or when a Pashtun is a displaced refugee, he is “othered”. When he is portrayed in the Pakistani media, he is a savage, with an archaic culture and no brains along with it. I remember hearing that a group of young Pakistani-Americans, when finding out that my cousin was a Pashtun, said, “Oh, Pathans. Yea, we consider them the ‘blondes of Pakistan'”. Okay. Forsure.

But when a Pashtun makes a TIME Magazine cover, lets praise them and post it all over Instagram.

This is what bothers me the most. How we are exploited when there is a gain, but left to die when they’re done parading us.

There is no way for a non-Pashtun to know what Pashtuns in Pakistan go through. Even I can’t fathom it. I in no way want to take ownership of these people and pretend like I understand their struggle, because at the end of the day, I’m sitting in sunny Los Angeles.

But what I do know, as a Pashtun woman who has grown up in a Pashtun household, who only spoke Pashto until grade school, whose family lived in the KPK for years- is that any non-Pashtun claiming a connection or taking pride in the Pashtun struggle is just wrong. Just like a white guy in America can’t pretend to know what 2pac is rapping about, stop fronting like Malala is the champion of all Paki girls everywhere.

So please, do yourself a favor. Check your Punjabi privilege.

 

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#NotABugSplat

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In military slang, predator drone operators often refer to kills as “bug splats”, since viewing the dead body through a grainy video image gives a sense of an insect being crushed. To challenge this insensitivity, as well as raise awareness of civilian casualties, an artist collective installed a massive portrait facing up, in the heavily bombed Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa region of Pakistan, where drone attacks regularly occur. They received help from the locals who were enthusiastic about the project.

Now, when viewed by a drone camera, what an operator sees on his screen is not an anonymous dot on the landscaper, but an innocent child victims face. The young girl in the image lost her family to a drone strike in the North Waziristan village of Dande Darpa Khel. The strike led to the destruction of several mud homes that house Afghan refugees. The casualties were mainly women and children. According to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 383 U.S. drone strikes have been reported in Pakistan since 2004 with the death toll estimated to be between 2,296 and 3,718.

Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa is the historic region where my ethnic group, the Pashtuns originate from. So these “bug splats” speak my language, eat my food, and listen to my music. They might call their parents “Aba” and “Aday”, like I do.

Knowing that my face, or the face of my relatives could replace this little girls’ absolutely shakes me to my core.

God bless the innocent people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I’m sorry blue skies are not beautiful to you anymore.

 

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"If you grow up underneath drones, its going to affect the way you see the world." - John Oliver

“If you grow up underneath drones, its going to affect the way you see the world.” – John Oliver

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The Centennial Cry to the World and My Call to Afghans: Recognize the Genocide

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As the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide looms ahead, I find myself the only one advocating for its recognition amongst a sea of my Afghan and Muslim friends. As a long time activist, I have found that people tend to rally in favor of those who share nationality or religion, so it is not surprising, but it is dissapointing to say the least. I would assume Afghans, and Muslims, coming from disenfranchised backgrounds who constantly suffer from war and geo-politics, would be more enthusiastic, or at least acknowledge that such a genocide has occurred. Do we not do so in fear of hurting our “Muslim brethren”, the Turks? Is this the case?

I would argue that Armenians are much more similar in culture to Afghans than the Turks are. I have seen with my own eyes, the hospitality they exhibit, which we Afghans call “Melmastia”, one of our tenets in the Pashtunwali code of honor. I too have seen Armenians exhibit “Badal” another code we follow, which is revenge in the face of insult. I have witnessed more cultural similarities to Armenians than even to our neighbors, the Iranians. Afghans, did you know we once had an Armenian queen? Her name was Mariam Zamani Begum; we adored her to the point that we operated a Christian church for her, which still functions in Lahore. Did you know Armenians conduct Khastegaris as well, what they call “Xosgap”? Did you know they mourn for 40 days after a death – just like we do? Or that they adorn their homes with the evil eye, like us? And the pomegranate, such a staple and fond memory for Afghans; did you know they cherish them, just like we do? We call them “Anar”, and they call them “Noor”. We are one in the same. There was even an Armenian presence within Afghanistan, a flourishing community of entrepeneurs and shopkeepers, which explains why my DNA test came back with trace amounts of Armenian heritage. Our king, Abdur Rahman Khan was so concerned about them being “lonely”, that he asked for more Armenians to move into Afghanistan so that their community might grow. It was not until the Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid II wrote a letter to our King, questioning the loyalty of the Armenians to the Afghan throne, that they were expelled from Afghanistan. So far-reaching was the Turkish paranoia and hatred. But this means then, it is very likely, that any of my Afghan followers reading this, may have a bit of Armenian in them.

It is encouraging to see so many Afghans rally for the Palestinian cause. But I can count on one hand how many I know that are educated on the Genocide. The American education system is partly to blame – I would have never heard of the Genocide if I did not grow up in a predominantly Armenian neighborhood. But now, with the celebrity of Kim K, and more mainstream media picking up on the atrocities of 1915, I can assume most Afghan-Americans have some sense of what happened. So coming from a war-torn country, and knowing injustice like the back of our hands, why are more of you not advocating recognition?

I don’t care that the Turks are Muslim, because the spineless cowards who executed the Genocide were not Muslim to me. They did not exercise any of the tenets of Islam. Muslims are required to protect Christians – they did just the opposite by attempting to exterminate them. Our book tells us,

“…and nearest among them in love to the believers will you find those who say, ‘We are Christians,’ because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant” (5:82).

And although many believe the Turks killed Armenians for being Christians, I would argue this was not the sole reason. Armenians were among the most powerful and educated citizens of the Empire, and the Turks were attempting to spread a sort of “Pan-Turkism”, from Turkey & Azerbaijan, across to Turkmenistan, essentially uniting all Turkic peoples. The Armenians, among the elite, were in the way of this, as were Assyrians and Greeks. When the Kurds, who are Muslim, could not be assimilated, they too were met with violence. Additionally, as the Empire fell, a paranoia that the Armenians would be more loyal to the Russians gave the Turks more of a reason to solve the “Armenian problem”.

Afghans – we have seen time and time again religion being used as a front for political gains – shouldn’t we be more outraged that the Ottomans could put such a black mark in Islamic history? Our own country has burned to the ground – partly because of ethnic and tribal warfare – shouldn’t we too be sensitive to these issues?

How can we quell stereotypes about Islam when we do not acknowledge one of the largest massacres in history that was carried out by Muslims? What happened to “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, the loud message we sent through speakerphones during the Palestinian protests? How can Christian and Islamic unity be achieved when Muslims are not willing to come out in support of recognition?

I know I am biased. Living with Armenians for 10 years of my life, and having countless Armenian friends has made me more sensitive to recognition. These people are our neighbors, our teachers, our bankers, but most importantly, our family. Armenians and Afghans are both Aryans, making us distant relatives. We share a common history, and even our language has tons of similarities – ones that I catch when hearing my best friends speak to their families.

My best friend Ovsanna Arakelyan is one of the most loyal people I have met. In 11 years, she has shown me trust, companionship, unabashed love, deep commitment, and an unfaltering sisterhood. She exhibits the “ghayrat” or the honor that us Afghans have instilled over 6,000 years.

Nicolette Gevorkian is another young woman I hold near and dear to my heart. She has defended my name in my absence, and has proven time and time again that she stands beside me. Her friendship means the world to me, and I consider it an honor to call her my companion.

And I cherish and love these women, and I do this while I keep in mind, that if the Turks of 1915 had it their way, they would have never existed. That if Turkey did not fail – I would not have them in my life. And we would not have the flourishing Armenian community in our lives. And we wouldn’t have Andre Agassi or Kim K or Joe Manganiello or Cher or all the other dozens of Armenians that add to the multi-cultural fabric of this country.

It pains me to meet Armenians who have a bias against Islam. But can we blame them? The religion that brings me so much peace, the faith that fills my life with love, was the same tool of oppression used against 1.5 million people. The call to prayer that brings me comfort, may bring pained memories to the families of my friends. This outrages me, and it should outrage every Muslim reading it.

100 years. 100 denials. 100 times, a Turkish finger has pointed at the Armenian diaspora and said, “You are wrong. You are hallucinating. This never happened”. Afghans, we are the most compassionate people I know. How many times have we screamed to the world for a shred of recognition? How many times have we mourned our countrymen, our children, our widows? So I urge you, educate yourselves on what happened. Learn about the pain of our neighbors. Share their grief, and support them in their fight to recognize what happened to their forefathers.

1.5 million perished. I stated one year ago, and I will state it again:

“For as long as they are denied, the Common Heartbeat of Humanity will forever skip a beat on April 24th

A Turkish official taunting starving Armenians

 

 

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The “Forget Me Not” flower – symbol of the Centennial struggle for Recognition.

 

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The Afghan American Conference; A New Beginning

This past weekend, I attended the first nationwide Afghan-American Conference, held at UC Berkeley. Our diaspora, from around the nation, travelled to meet in the intellectual and revolutionary hub that makes Berkeley infamous. We all had different stories, different upbringings, different professions and interests. Some were still students, some college graduates, and others, immensely successful professionals who have excelled beyond my expectations. But one thing remained the same. This was our love for the motherland. We all could identify with the feeling of being Afghan and American.

And we were all tired. Tired of the victimization, tired of remaining stagnant. Tired of seeing our homeland burn while we tried to save it from so far away. So we all decided to focus on what we can do here. We decided we wouldn’t let each other down. We decided that we are a family, and we would collectively get over the hurdles of being Afghan and American. I can wholeheartedly say that I met 100 brothers and 100 sisters I never knew I had. I can say I felt emotions I had never felt before. I can say that we made connections that will last a lifetime.

Everyone’s eyes were so warm. Every hug felt so genuine. And every “safe space” was just that – a platform where I could cry to my sisters about women’s issues. A room where our brothers could tell us that they too, are vulnerable.

We tackled mental health issues that plague the Afghan diaspora – PTSD, depression, anxiety, suicide, and drug abuse. Things that our culture tells us to sweep under the rug. We embraced our statistics, we finally took ownership of our faults. These brave and lionhearted people; we were able to stand even more courageous in the face of our weaknesses.

And we danced. The beautiful classic rubab and tabla by Qais and Eman jaan blared through loudspeakers, as we all listened to the ancient melodies of our homeland. We even had a moment that only us Afghan-Americans can understand – an Afghan rendition of Beyonce’s “Halo” by Gina and Samir Karimi jaan. And we closed that nights event like we always do – with the Ataan, that ancient song of our forefathers, the 6,000 year old dance we partake in times of war, love, and solitude. Can you believe that? Thousands of miles from home, and the Ataan continues to bring us together. This dance is probably my favorite part of being Afghan, but it meant so much more doing it with my new family.

I am awake. I am enlightened. I will work even harder now, tenfold. So many were pessimistic about this conference, that it might be another mela or gossip-fest. But to all those who did not attend, I can tell you that there is a community of highly educated and dedicated Afghans who are fighting tooth and nail for your life. And I am proud to say I stood among them.

 Zma wataan. Zma khalko. My people. These are my people. I love every single one of you. And to those special 8 that held this event; Salmon, Sophie, Gina, Samera, Zachia, Arzo, Farhat and Hosna. Thank you, hazar-dafa, for your efforts, and for believing in us.

This is a new beginning. This is the first page in the history of the Afghan-American diaspora. Our children, and their children, will look back at the pioneers of our diaspora. And I am confident, that together, we can work towards building ourselves from within, so that we can pay homage to our ancestral home.

 “I am involved in the land of a ‘Leonine’ (lion-like) and brave people, where every foot of the ground is like a wall of steel, confronting my soldier. You have brought only one Alexander into the world, but every mother in this land has brought an Alexander in the world.”

-Alexander the Great, in a letter to his mother while on a campaign in present-day Afghanistan

My presentation

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Ferozan, Our Sweet Sister

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It is with profound sadness, and a heavy heart, that I have learned today, our sweet Ferozan jaan passed from cancer. I will miss her emulating Noor, her warm smile, and her embrace.

Ferozan khala was like a sister to me. I don’t even know why I refer to her as “khala”, she was only a couple years older than I. Ferozan lived in the unit above my sister, and I remember watching her pass through the window, her dark hair and big brown eyes. I remember her, always looking at the ground. I remember hearing the furniture move at night from her scuffles with her husband.

Ferozan khala suffered through a tumultuous marriage and an even messier divorce. The Afghan community treated her life as a soap opera, each person waiting to hear what else was the latest gossip. But even through this chaos, us women, we truly loved her. It was as if after her divorce, all of our hearts opened with compassion, and we came to protect her name and reputation. She represented something for all of us, a symbol of strength and endurance, of feminine power and survival. I remember, at a friends engagement party, Ferozan had to sit in the same room as her ex-husbands new wife. But when she got up to dance, all of us women cheered so loudly. We all exclaimed, “Ferozan! Ferozan!”, reassuring her, comforting her, and letting everyone know whose team we were on. Ferozan was truly everyone’s daughter and sister. We loved her fiercely.

My mother took her under her wing, and vehemently defended her in the face of any gossip, to the point where she began a yelling match with her ex in-laws. My mother endured this same battle with my own sister’s messy marriage, and would not have the same happen to Ferozan. It was after this fight, that Ferozan began to refer to my mother as “Madar-Khanda”, a term used similarly as “Godmother”, or “adopted mother”. And so, Ferozan became my adopted sister.

I have always felt like the black-sheep of the community, but Ferozan never made me feel that way. Only a couple years apart, we came from completely different worlds. She had an arranged marriage, I’m single. She had two children, I’m still babied by my parents. But she made us feel the same. She included me in her conversations, she was always so happy to see me. I remember running into her at restaurants, so happy she was enjoying her life, post-divorce and through cancer. I thought she was the coolest lady on the planet.

Ferozan used the last years of her life to travel, make memories, visit her friends and family across the globe. She travelled to Mecca and Medina, making the Holy Pilgrimage us Muslims dream of making.

She spent months in Germany with her parents and siblings. She returned back to LA for a couple months, as if to say her final goodbyes. Her father asked for her to go back with him to Europe, and one week into this trip, Ferozan succumbed to her illness.

I wonder where she is now. Where is her soul, her essence? Is she watching over us now? Is she holding her sons as they cry? Is she answering to God?

Ferozan never believed she’d die. Even in her final days, she looked to me, with her hand in mine, and said, “When my hair grows back, we will go out again, me & you.”

I am telling her story because I believe she would have wanted it this way. Ferozan lived honestly and openly. She was grounded in sisterhood, in compassion, in empathy. Ferozan made connections with peoples hearts. And I don’t say all this in light of her death, I have known this since I was a little girl, looking up at the beauty queen who roamed my sisters building, who, when she looked at me, gave me butterflies. Who, when she came into a room, instantly melted my heart. She looked like home, in a place of strangers.

“Do not go gentle into that good night, old age should burn and rave at close of day.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

My sweet sister. Thank you for your love. Thank you for having me in your life. Thank you for always welcoming me, for loving my mother, my sisters, and myself. I look forward to seeing you some day. I am sorry for all you endured here in this Dunya. I am deeply saddened for this loss, but I am certain, that you are somewhere beautiful, somewhere peaceful. And like an oasis in the middle of the desert, I think you are finally home.

 

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