Fugitive to Freshman

Musadiq Bidar
June 10, 2010

By Rachel Muir

At age 6, Musadiq Bidar was working 12 hours a day, six days a week in a Pakistani carpet factory.

This fall, he will become a Colonial.

His journey from his native Afghanistan to GW began when he was 4. His father, a journalist, was targeted by the Taliban.

After their house was bombed—Mr. Bidar’s grandfather was killed and his father was injured in the attack—the family fled their hometown of Kabul with little more than the clothes on their backs.

They arrived at a Pakistani refugee camp, where seven family members crowded into a one-room mud hut. The camp, which was built to house 100 refugees, had more than a thousand inhabitants.

Often there was nothing to eat.

“My mom would mix two tablespoons of powdered milk in a bottle of water and feed it to us,” he says. “It did nothing to stop my hunger pains. A box of powdered milk that was supposed to last a week would have to last us a month, and that was when we were fortunate enough to even have the powder.”

Mr. Bidar and his younger brother rarely left the hut for fear of kidnapping. Although the family was only at the refugee camp for a matter of months, Mr. Bidar says it seemed like far longer.

“We were in a constant state of starvation,” he says. “I was always begging my helpless parents for bread.”

Increasingly desperate, the family left the refugee camp and went to the Pakistani capital Islamabad to look for work. There they shared a four-room house with three other families, and Mr. Bidar, his mother and brother found jobs in a carpet factory. His father, who was disabled from childhood polio, didn’t have the manual dexterity the work required.

In the factory, Mr. Bidar used a carpet hook to knot rugs, squatting shoulder to shoulder with dozens of other workers often in triple-digit heat. The fiber and dust from the material caused workers to choke and cough and stung their eyes, sometimes causing permanent damage. There was no cold water to be had, and the only attempt to cool the sweltering, crowded room was a small fan in one corner.

Mr. Bidar worked in the factory more than 70 hours a week for six years. He calls it “horrendous.” But, he says, at least the family could eat two meals a day.

In 2003, the family finally received refugee status from the United Nations on what Mr. Bidar calls “the happiest day of my life.” After a few months in Arizona, they headed to the San Francisco area where a friend from Afghanistan had already settled.

That year, Mr. Bidar also went to school for the first time at age 11. He spoke no English.

“My first day at middle school was overwhelming,” he says. The school’s resources—the desks, books and computers—seemed incredible to him. But he says the most astounding aspect of his classroom was that it was co-ed. “I couldn’t believe it when I saw girls being educated alongside the boys,” he says. “I was even more impressed when the girls were allowed to raise their hands and answer questions.”

Although he went to a “low-achieving” middle school, based on his grades and test scores he earned a full scholarship to a private high school, Athenian in Danville, Calif., east of San Francisco. There he’s excelled in and out of the classroom, playing varsity basketball and baseball, performing in school plays and serving as treasurer for his class. Last year, he became a U.S. citizen.

A love of travel and trying new things led Mr. Bidar to decide he wanted to come to the East Coast for college. “I thought it would be a good opportunity to live in a different part of the country,” he says.

He visited GW last fall with a family friend and knew it was where he wanted to be. “I love everything about it,” says Mr. Bidar, citing the university’s D.C. location, opportunities for internships, campus and coursework. He applied and was accepted early decision.

Mr. Bidar and his family, which now includes a younger sister born in Pakistan and brother born in the U.S., haven’t been back to Afghanistan since they left 13 years ago. It’s something he wants to remedy as soon as he can.

Mr. Bidar plans to study journalism at GW and hopes to spend time reporting on the ground in the Middle East and Afghanistan. He eventually wants to work toward improving the relationship between the United States and the region.

“Having started life with so little and now being so lucky to have so much, I know it is my responsibility to give back both to my old country and to my new one,” he says.

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