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.