ZOHRE ESMAELI · REFUGEE GONE SUPER MODEL

zohre

Zohre fled the war and Taliban regime in Afghanistan with her father and brothers when she was only thirteen. Her mother had passed away when she was only two years old, which made it all even more difficult for a young girl who’s being forced to leave her home to survive. The journey full of life-threatening situations lasted 7 months but had a happy ending: a new life in Germany. When she was only 17 years old she was discovered as model but it meant going against her traditional family, as they didn’t approve such career: she run away from her family home to pursue this opportunity and only came back once she had established herself, which luckily didn’t take her more than a year. She held onto her dream and soon after became a tremendously successful mode featured in Vogue, Cosmopolitand and Elle among many others:

I was 13 then and I remember well how it was when we left our country. I had a sad feeling but at the same time I was curious about the coming new life. Remaining since then is a feeling of living in a state of in-between which I think most people have when they are forced to give up their previous life and have to start anew from level zero.

“What had happened around me is a long story. Of course we all felt the tense situation. It was anything but easy. We sold everything we had, said goodbye to some of our friends though not to all of them, for security reasons. I was busy with what my parents had told me to do. What gave me a sad time was the idea that probably I would never see again my friend or my neighbors but, fortunately also the boys who had caused me many trouble.

But I had also positive thoughts. In Germany I would have new friends, would go to school, would enjoy a free life, build a secure future and eat lots of chocolates. I would wear jeans walking in the street without fear to be molested or worse… etc.”

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You probably didn’t know much about Europe or Germany when you arrived; what were your first impressions?

I had manifold impressions. I liked the clean streets and buildings, the clean air, just as I had supposed it to be. Skyscrapers or wonderfully dressed women driving a car- all that gave me a great feeling.
What I didn’t like at all was the sour German bread, carbonated water and the German type of coffee. It took me a long time to get used to it.

Once you were established in Germany, it must have been hard and confusing to go to school and work in a western environment but then come back home, to a traditional middle-eastern atmosphere. Did living between two worlds make it difficult for you to adapt?

This is one of the most important questions that you are asking. In part the answer lies in the question. Yes, it was very difficult. I am still living in both worlds and it will always remain that way.
It is a real challenge to find the perfect balance for one’s own development without losing one’s own self.
The school, for instance, or society at large would like to have a well integrated and adapting child. But that is not easy and takes time and extremely hard work.
And there is an additional very difficult problem. Most immigrant families – mine as well – cling to their old patterns of life. The consequence is heavy conflicts especially with their children who adapt much easier to their new world. Not every child has the power I had, and still have, not to avoid such conflicts and not to submit.

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Did you make the decision of becoming a model by yourself? Did anyone from your family or friends support you?

Yes, it was my own decision. Although at the beginning I had no idea what that would be. I had different plans. I wanted to become an aircraft engineer. My family was heavily opposed to the idea of me becoming a model. But fortunately I had friends who supported me. Without this support my career would not have been possible.

You become a model suddenly and success came straight away, how was the learning process?

I have been discovered as a model. It was not easy though to build a career. At the time when I had bee discovered there was no TV program like “Germany’s next top model” and information about how to pursue such a career was scarce.

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After you ran away from home to pursue a career in modelling and until you came back a year later, did you ever think of giving it up and going back home?

In the beginning quite naturally I was thinking about it because sometimes I felt rather desperate and the pressure was often extremely strong. But then, at the same time, I was afraid that things would become even worse when I would return to my family.

In your career, who are the people you’re the most grateful for having met them?

In my book you will find at the end a list of people who had helped me to find my way and to whom I am very very grateful. (Stay tuned for launch dates)

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Is a career in modelling possible in our country at all? How would it work?

No, today at least it is impossible though it was in former times. Hopefully they will come back.

Who’s the photographer you’ve enjoyed working with the most? And with whom do you dream of working?

I really like to work with Alexei Bazdarev. He is still young but very professional. I also like to work with GL WOOD from New York. I wish to work with are Peter Lindenberg and Mario Testino.

What’s your favorite part of modelling and what would you change?

I love this hard business in the first place. But quite naturally a lot of things could be done better, and some are done so like, for instance, having more colored models. I would gladly help them.

You’re involved in two charities. (“Women for women” & “Afghanistan, Hilfe die ankommt”); what do they mean to you?

I think that I am by nature a person with a disposition for social engagement. I had realized it already as a child. Owing to my possibilities now today I am glad to be able to help others in ways I like it to be done. As a result of my personal experience I am engaged mainly in matters with great influence on my biography.

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Living (metaphorically) between two worlds, is it difficult to find your identity?

I believe that I have found my identity. Part of it is a strong will, positive thinking and a forward orientation towards the future. But part of it is also an intense feeling of having lost my roots.

Would you like to ever go back to your homeland, if the situation was better?

Yes!

Any advice for people struggling between tradition & family and their dreams?

Be open to learn new things,
think positive,
think more about the solution than about the problem,
remain yourself,
don’t be shy to ask for help,
don’t forget love,
help one another,
have respect for every culture,
believe in yourself,
don’t be afraid to make a mistake.

NEVER GIVE UP

Photos: Sascha Hüttenhain
Styling: Petra Branscheid
H/M: Anja Schweihoff

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