As a child freedom looked like an opportunity to be me. To say what I wanted in the moment, to dress as I desired, to do what I wanted when I wanted, to eat without asking for permission and getting frowned upon for having second helping. Freedom meant walking out of the house without being chaperoned and going for a walk on my own. Freedom was having friends and not worrying that I may be banned from interacting with them because they said or did something grandma disapproved of. Freedom meant to have male friends and not avoid eye contact with any boys of my age. Freedom meant to grow into someone who could have dreams and aspirations. Already then I was brainwashed that my purpose in life was to marry and bear children. Yet I sensed there was more to life and I wanted to find out what.
Although the longing for freedom was visceral, I struggled with long unstructured days during school holidays. With no playmates and no adults interested in connecting, I made up my own games and read books. I craved for some stimulation. Boredom choked and frightened me. Filling my time with anything felt better than feeling empty.
I was 16 when Azerbaijan declared independence from the USSR. Although people cheered and many felt excited about this newly-acquired freedom, I wasn’t sure how to react. I didn’t feel free inside. I had no idea what feeling free entailed. Sure enough, the government paid lip-service to being independent, and most of the structures remained the same. They just dropped the word ‘soviet’.
It’s a difficult legacy to erase.
Even after living in England for 10 years, I’m still learning what feeling free means…
When I dream of freedom, I long to feel free inside.