Living with a man in a shared apartment and walking through the streets holding hands - reality for Ali in Germany, unthinkable in his country of origin Afghanistan. According to the afghan local standards, his today's existence is a utopia, and one so formative that he used to doubt whether there were other men like him. Later, when this question was already clear, his first experience in the Munich gay scene nevertheless left him irritated.
Shared apartment, work, relationship: From a stereotypical bourgeois point of view, Ali is only missing a dog and a building savings contract. This lifestyle with his partner would be impossible in Afghanistan - even he himself was initially irritated by gay men in Germany.
Ali opens the door. For the interview, he invited me to his home. Behind him, another young man stands diagonally, a buddy who is visiting at the moment. At first glance, it seems as if Ali had brought emotional and moral support to his side for the meeting. He gives me a short tour. The combined living and dining room is quite spacious, everything in the apartment makes a very neat impression. A door leads from the kitchen to a small balcony. Here, on about 65 square meters in the raised ground floor of a residential complex in the Oberhausen district of Augsburg, Ali lives with his friend Michael. He is very accommodating, he offers various drinks and he suggest to make something to eat later. We agree on a pot of chai tea.
On this Thursday the year 2019 is just three days old, today the temperatures are avoiding the positive range of the thermometer scale continuously. According to his current ID document, Ali's birthday was two days ago. But that's not true, he says, it's 'only on the papers'. Since he didn't have a valid passport with him when he arrived in Germany in December 2015, the authority determined his date of birth - 01. 01. 1994. However, instead of New Year, he was actually born almost three months later, and this year he will not be 25, but only 21 years old. His actual birthday is 28. 03. 1998, but nobody believed that at the registration. Although official documents from Afghanistan had been applied, they didn't arrive for half a year already.
Ali comes from the province Sar-i Pul, he already had left his family in 2013. He wanted to seek his fortune in the greater anonymity of Masar-e Scharif and the afghan capital city Kabul. He lived there for several months and worked as a fruit seller, before finally deciding to leave his country. He fled over Pakistan and Iran to Turkey, from there over the Balkan route to Germany. Ali says, that he had received a rejection notice in response to his asylum application.
At the beginning he kept quiet, that he had fled because of his homosexuality. At the first interview with the authorities was an Iranian interpreter for Persian present, and in this case, he didn't have the courage to tell. With his actual reason for asylum and the support of a lawyer, he appealed against the notice of rejection. The proceedings are going on for more than one year.
One the wall and on the shelves in the kitchen you can see all kinds of photos. Images of Ali together with his friend, but also pictures of several young women. 'These are Michael's daughters', says Ali. His boyfriend is a lot older than him. They have been a couple for one and a half year, three months ago he moved in with Michael. Michael's family already knows Ali, last summer he visited them together with his partner. Then they went out to eat together, he says, it was great. Every few months he has contact with his own family. They know that he is in Germany, but he has not mentioned neither the reason for his asylum nor anything about Michael.
How is it for him to have an open relationship with another man here in Germany? 'In Afghanistan it's impossible', says Ali. When he was younger, he doubted whether there were any other gay men at all. In his home country, homosexuality is not discussed, never mind same-sex couples being visible in public. His first visit at the Schwulen Kommunikations- und Kulturzentrum (SUB) - Gay life centre in Munich - was 'strange', admits Ali. 'Why is it so free?', he thought at that time. In Afghanistan, even hetero-couples would not openly reveal themselves. The natural and blunt affection among men in this country had therefore been completely new for him. This is where his buddy comes in. He is Afghan himself and gay too, he doesn't want to be mentioned by name. As far as the culture shock at the beginning of his time in Germany is concerned, he agrees with Ali. In Afghanistan, all areas of life are burdened by constraints. 'Women are only allowed to go to female doctors', he says, 'Men are only allowed to go to male doctors.'
Here in Germany women can wear bikinis and have equal rights, in his home country he simply never experienced such things, not to mention rights for lesbians or gays. In the meantime, his perception has of course changed, says Ali, he also walks through Augsburg with Michael holding hands. He had not had any bad experiences here in Germany due to his gayness. His single concern is that other Afghan refugees with whom he lived in Aschheim and Pfaffenhofen might get to know about his relationship.
He attended language courses for two years, says Ali, he conducts the entire conversation in German. Except for the unclear pronunciation of a few words and the one or other misused article, you can follow what is said very well. Last September he started a training as a hotel specialist, is currently working in service and reception, today he is free. At this point, Ali doesn’t yet know that the position will be terminated shortly after the end of the probationary period. He let me know by message a few weeks later. The reason given was the lack of german language skills. "That surprised me," writes Ali, "and also made me sad." But life goes on. He has already made a commitment again and will soon start working in the production at a large dairy. Michael helped him to find a job and to write applications. He said he first wanted to work for a while, but in the long run he would again try to find a training place. He would be interested in event technician or landscape gardener.
In his kitchen, Ali washes the now empty teapot, and the spinning of the washing machine can be heard through the bathroom door. Michael is at work and would come home later. As far as his future is concerned, above all he doesn’t want to return to Afghanistan. He had learned the language and was glad to be able to live in freedom together with his friend. "I'm happy here in Augsburg," says Ali. Work, relationship, shared home - other young men at the age of 20 with a comparable rhythm of life would probably be labelled in Germany in 2019 "extraordinary" (in the sense of "bourgeois"). In the context of young unaccompanied refugees, whose asylum and integration processes are often characterised by uncertainty, misunderstanding and feeling lost, in fact Ali's life also seems to be extraordinary, extraordinarily stable.
Text: Jonas Wengert
Photos: Daniel Fuchs