“Along the way, we faced many challenges: fear, hunger, sleepless nights and people robbing us. It was a journey too horrible to fully describe.”

Photo: © Hessam


“Along the way, we faced many challenges: fear, hunger, sleepless nights and people robbing us. It was a journey too horrible to fully describe.”

Photo: © Hessam

Hessam, Global Digital Acquisition Manager and co-author of The Boy with Two Hearts shares his family’s journey from Herat, Afghanistan, his life in the UK and how he maintains his identity through his family tea-drinking rituals.

My name is Hessam, and I was born in Herat, Afghanistan, which is the third-largest city in the country.

Growing up, my parents always stressed the importance of family to me and my two siblings, Hussein and Hamed. They taught us to stick together through thick and thin.

From the age of four, life in Afghanistan took a dark turn.

Despite the challenging times, my parents tried to shield us from the tough realities of the outside world, encouraging us to focus on being kids and playing.

Our life turned upside down in 2000. Back then, my mum, gave a powerful public speech about equality and women’s rights in Afghanistan. She is very outspoken and stands up for her beliefs, even when it’s against the status quo.

Soon after, a warrant was issued for my mum’s execution.

In the middle of the night, some scary people knocked on our door, threatening my dad. We hid upstairs while they took him away. Mum, scared and confused, said we had to leave this place.

Hessam (middle) with his two brothers Hussein and Hamed.

“As a kid, it seemed simple to just leave, not understanding the complexities of borders and immigration.”

We knew we had to go to the US or the UK because my oldest brother, Hussein, needed complicated heart surgery that could only be performed there – at the time – due to a severe heart condition he had since birth.

After my father was released, and beaten up badly, we embarked on a long and terrifying journey that took us months to reach the UK.

Our journey began in Russia, with bone-chilling weather and constant fear of being caught. We spent six months there. During that time, we were robbed and ended up without money to buy food. Luckily, my father managed to borrow some money from our relatives back home.

From there, we went from forests in Ukraine to sleeping next to animals in a barn in Poland. After that, we went to Austria, where we felt safe in a refugee camp. We were thrilled to have beds and even a football field nearby.

After Austria, our journey continued through many other European countries such as Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and France. Along the way, we faced many challenges: fear, hunger, sleepless nights and people robbing us. It was a journey too horrible to fully describe.

Finally, after traveling between countries for about 18 months, we reached the UK.

We didn’t expect to end up in Wales. When they told us they had a home for us there, we were happy to leave the hotel.

We arrived in Wales to a warm welcome. It felt like a haven for refugees, with people offering flowers and showing kindness. I even remember receiving clothes from generous folks.

“Settling in the UK felt like finally being home.”

I was fortunate to continue my education. Though scared due to my lack of English and separation from my brothers, my parents encouraged us to learn the language and pursue our education. We quickly picked up English while assisting our parents in translating their mail. Also, our schools provided extra support.

Hussein received treatment for his heart condition in the UK, becoming the 21st person and the youngest ever to undergo the 14-hour procedure. Sadly, he passed away in 2018 at the age of 31 due to health complications.

My brother Hamed and I were aware of the void Hussein’s passing would create in our family. However, people began reaching out to share the many ways he had helped them, something we were unaware of until then.

To honour Hussein’s legacy, Hamed and I decided to turn our family’s story of our escape, Hussein’s subsequent treatment, and his life into a book titled “The Boy with Two Hearts”. This project was a distraction for our parents, providing them with hope and something to look forward to instead of grief.

After the book was published during the lockdown, we were thinking about the next steps. We met with the Wales Millennium Centre and they suggested turning the book into a play.

It felt unreal. The book had been published only 14 months prior, yet it was already headed to the National Theatre. It usually takes years for a book to be adapted into a script. The first show took place in Wales in 2021, followed by performances in London and Greece.

My family and I often joke and say that it was meant to be, believing that Hussein guided us, pushing and opening doors for us along the way.

My brother Hamed and I joined the NHS Board in Bristol to continue our oldest brother’s legacy of helping the NHS, which was there for our family, especially by working to enhance healthcare for children and young teenagers.

We also make sure that we share our family’s journeys so people can know more about the risks and challenges refugees face.

People often overlook the challenges of the refugee journey and the stories of those undertaking it. Families, even children, flee danger. While refugees may understand the risks, many others don’t grasp the gravity of the horrifying journey.

“Saying goodbye to loved ones isn’t a holiday; it’s a departure with uncertain outcomes, potentially separating families forever. It’s a choice no one takes lightly.”

Maintaining my Afghan identity while being here is important. I make sure to speak my best accent of Dari (Farsi) when I’m at home.

I also enjoy being around the community and family, listening to stories as we like our tradition of storytelling, like old wives’ tales.

One tradition I cherish is always a pot of tea ready at home, usually green tea with mint.

During Ramadan, we break our fast with tea and dates every year without fail.

There’s an unwritten rule that whenever we have guests in the house, their teacups should never be empty, leading to a lot of back and forth to ensure their cups remain full.


To learn more about our Cuppa Hope Tea & Talks and to hear Hessam’s story in-person, please visit Cuppa Hope website

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