Nosa Ajani, 25 sits peacefully curled up on the sofa. Crunched in her palm is a piece of tissue, needed from time to time, as talking about her life brings back unwanted memories. But actually, Nosa has turned a new leaf in her story, one that lets her be more and more her true self. A woman she was always meant to be. Also part of her new life is a new home country Finland, a new name, new friends. A new beginning and lots of newfound hope.
Nosa was born as a boy in the city of Nasiriyya in southeast Iraq. When she reached puberty, she found herself thinking increasingly, that deep inside she is something else. Someone else. Surrounded by deeply religious community, these emotions were however not accepted. When Nosa started to dress differently, setting herself apart from men in her community, she was openly hated and despised.
“For myself, it became bit by bit more clear who I am. But as I was getting to know myself, I was often in very dangerous situations. I was raped more than once. But I did find a boyfriend. Unfortunately once when we were together, police caught us and I was imprisoned.”
Keys to her own apartment are important for Nosa.
Hard time inside prison walls
Nosa takes a break. Talking about the time in prison is hard, memories vague. Inside the prison walls, Nosa was tortured violently.
“Things were out of my hands, I had no power. Everyone in Iraq was against me. Everyone, even the people closest to me, my own family.”
Nosa’s father found out that Nosa was in prison and came to get her out. Pressure from the community was hard, Nosa and her identity were not accepted. The police informed Nosa’s father that she had been caught having sex with a man. This infuriated Nosa’s father and things turned violent.
“He burned my legs with fire, I still carry the scars. The hurting did not end there. Finally I had to run away. I was hiding for three days and didn’t return home until I knew my father was not in. I collected some of my things and left.”
Looking for safety
Once the decision to flee was made, emotions run wild. Nosa was struggling between hope and despair.
“I was aimlessly walking on the streets. I just kept thinking that there must be a place where I can be myself. A safe place to live free as I want. Nothing else was on my mind. Just a safe place, I kept repeating myself.”
Not knowing anything about the journey, no set destination, Nosa was scared. She also kept thinking about her family, even if she had received so much hatred, leaving was still difficult. What pushed her forward was a strong will to live.
“If I would have stayed in Iraq, within a month I would have died, that is for sure. I heard that the blue car of the secret police came every day looking for me around our house.”
Hopes and fears
It took Nosa almost a month to arrive in Finland. Crossing the Mediterranean from Turkey to Greece she took a boat. After Greece, Serbia, Hungary and Germany Nosa ended up in Finland, reception center in Kemijärvi, northern part of the country. The beginning was hard. Again Nosa had to face hate and violence. In the reception center, she was raped. Daily she kept thinking weather the positive residence permit will come or not.
“All the time I was so afraid that I will not get the permission to stay and I will be sent back to Iraq. That would have meant death for me.”
In the reception center, Nosa received great support from a nurse working there. Talking helped. In her office there was no pressure to hold back the tears.
“The nurse understood how dangerous it was for me to be there, because of my sexuality. She helped me to get transferred to Helsinki.”
Nosa took a tattoo to her right hand to celebrate the positive residence permit. Name of the boat strongly going forward is Life.
Support from friends
In Helsinki, Nosa was placed in the Ruskeasuo reception center. Everything changed there. There were other sexual minority asylum seekers, gay and transgender. Finally Nosa could feel that she can talk with someone and be understood. These new friends even gave Nosa her new name.
“I think LGBT –people should have their own floor in the reception center. That is the only way we can be safe. Now I have received so much support from my friends in similar situation. I have also found it very helpful to go to meetings with support groups like HeSeta (*). Through Helsinki Deaconess Institute I have found a mentor, who is like a mother to me.”
In June 2016 Nosa received the news, that she has been granted a residence permit in Finland. Now she lives in her own apartment and is studying Finnish language. When asked when she feels most happy, the answer comes quickly. For Nosa, biggest moment of happiness is putting on makeup, doing her hair, dress up nicely and walk outside, being herself.
In the future Nosa would like to offer her support to other young people going through similar experiences. Doctor has promised Nosa that she can soon start the process to physically transfer to a female through hormone treatment and operation. Biggest dream however is simply to find love, Nosa says, and her eyes light up.
“I want to be 100 percent woman. I want to be married, go to work and live a normal and stable life. The same as everyone else. Safe and happy life.”
Story, photos: Anna Gustafsson
* HeSeta Together group, group support for LGBTQI asylum seekers and refugees.