Sunday, January 28, 2007

A Shout-Out to Afghan Chronicles*

or An Ode to Stories

An unexpected welcome and giddy relief is what I felt when I first read Mir Tamim Ansary's West of Kabul, East of New York. His story is different from mine but we share the same yearning to validate and understand our dual cultures.

There’s so much of ‘you have to do it this way or you’re giving up your culture' when you’re growing up as an Afghan. Perhaps it’s our parents’ yearning to not give up everything. Their way of trying to make sure that their children don’t become something they don’t understand. To hold the children close. So they won’t drift away.

It’s not fun though. I wanted to be American. I didn’t care what race; I just didn’t want to be Afghan. I made choices that took me farther and farther away from the culture. I picked a college with no Afghans. I didn’t want to hear about Afghanistan, though, oddly, I did through a friend’s daily news-clippings of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

I wanted to help but didn’t want to be part of the culture anymore. The suffocating duplicity and hypocrisy of being Afghan didn’t seem worth it. I wasn’t planning on ‘being wild’ and then marrying an Afghan and pretending that I’ve been good all along.

I was looking for honesty.

But I realized, as I was running away, I was lonely. The loneliness of not having people around me who understood the culture. Who could laugh with me instead of at my culture.

I didn’t have any books to read then. I only had The Great Game, which was dry and only wrote about the British and the Russians playing with the lives of Afghans – hardly the thing to read when I was already feeling helpless and trying to construct my own identity.

It was a long road towards getting comfortable in my skin. And I was still working it out and trying to get back to Afghanistan when September 11th occurred. Tamim Ansary spoke out right away, giving me strength to speak out in my own way.

Tamim Ansary showed me how to find my way to myself by acknowledging his American-ness and his Afghaniyat. I was blessed to read his book. Through the chronicle of his life, I learned about myself, my family and my culture. Both the American and the Afghan.

We still need to share the chronicles and stories of our lives. The Afghan Diaspora, wherever they live, must maintain their link to Afghanistan. Not as an obligation, but as a joyful blessing. There is so much to learn and so much fun in this link to Afghanistan. I missed it when I let it go – and I know that other Afghan-Americans are searching for their own path.

One consequence of the war is that Afghan culture is even more disconnected than it was before. We struggle to find similarities. Avenues to understand each other and our stories. The misconceptions on all sides, through the generations and over the vast distances, make everyone afraid. The petty judgments come from Diaspora Afghans and local Afghans. Your Dari is terrible, locals are so lazy and corrupt, they don’t know how to be honest anymore, those western Afghans have no manners they don’t know anything, why didn’t he teach his child Dari? We can’t even talk to him anymore. It’s like talking to a brick wall when speaking to local Afghans. Oh, what we had is lost.

If we could find a way to tell our stories to each other, without guilt or pressure – perhaps we can find a way back to each other.

*For more chronicle-related posts, check out Sunday Scribbles.

12 comments:

Frida World said...

This is a great post, about such an important issue. I hope to read more about where you take this idea in the future.

As the Haraji in the 'hood I get so much credit for being here at all, and I get accolades for speaking even a few words of Dari.

Thank you for writing this, but now I have so many questions. I want more!

Paris Parfait said...

Important points outlined and yes, the last paragraph speaks volumes: "...If we could find a way to tell our stories to each other...perhaps we can find our way back to each other." I truly hope Afghanistan remains free; that people will work together to maintain a strong country, complete with its unique identity and language and embracing all Afghans. Thanks for this informative post.

omg said...

Very nicely written, friend. (I was dying to put your name there.)

"The misconceptions on all sides, through the generations and over the vast distances, make everyone afraid."

So true, in all cases.

Lovely post. Thanks.

K-Oh said...

I loved Tamim Ansary's book-- a small but elegant volume. I still ponder a few of the questions he posed, two years after reading it.

Waspgoddess said...

Thank you for leading me to your blog. I found reading today's "scribbling" tremendously interesting and look forward to many more visits.

gautami tripathy said...

This is a very good post covering a very important topic. I need to re-read it.

gautami
rooted.

Regina Clare Jane said...

Sometimes we have no idea what it must be like for a person of another culture to have to span two such totally different ways of life! Thank you for this very enlightening post- and your very warm comment on my blog...
Looking forward to visiting you again...

KG said...

Thank you for explaining the culture clashes you experienced and your own personal journey back to connection with Afghan culture.

You have such clarity on how Afghans everywhere could reconnect to each other — through storytelling — that I feel you could really make a difference with this. Clarity in such complexity is very rare and powerful.

Frances said...

If we could find a way to tell our stories to each other, without guilt or pressure – perhaps we can find a way back to each other.

This is the beauty of blogging - we can get so much out there - anonymously if we choose.

I'm off to reread your post.

GoGo said...

Very nice. I agree with Paris P. The lines, ""...If we could find a way to tell our stories to each other...perhaps we can find our way back to each other" really hit home for me. Lines I will remember.

~GoGo

Harlem Mama said...

so well written. And the divisions within a culture, I so understand that. Being black, being Jamaican second generation, American, somewhat educated and so not fitting in any mold is me, but it is many people within my own community. What we share, we don't talk about because sometimes its painful - like poverty, racism, injustice. Being a diverse community, of so many nations, relating to each other as a unified group, even harder. But really, when it comes to your own culture and the struggles to come together - cross generation, class, and everything else that seems to divide one thing I always have hope in unifies - HOPE. Hope for peace, even on the lowest level - between neighbors. And finding ways to communicate that to each other...well, that's what I hope for and I know you do too. I hope for it on my end as well as yours. Did I totally talk too much? :-) Miss ya hon!

homeinkabul said...

Thanks everyone, for the compliments and the insight. Yes, I do think that storytelling is powerful...I have to think about it a bit longer - Afghans are storytellers and it's the best part of the culture, but are we ready to listen? I don't know.

HM: Nah, girl, you didn't talk to much - never. This line has stuck with me: "What we share, we don't talk about because sometimes its painful - like poverty, racism, injustice."

It's also what keeps us quiet? To storytelling then, to all our stories.