Monday, April 13, 2015

Afghan Culture: The Struggle of the Afghan Woman in America

There are several different groups of Afghan women in America. There is the generation of the elders, who migrated to the United States during the Cold War between 1979 and 1980’s. This generation of Afghan women were usually in their late 20’s and early 30’s and had to leave Afghanistan with young children and husbands for those who made it out alive, as men and older boys were taken by the Communist regime and others were taken to join the Mujahedeen political and military group in Afghanistan at the time. These groups of women had it tough. They came to a country, like most immigrants, fleeing war and leaving their beloved country, beautiful  homes and extended families behind with a only a suitcase if that.  Every Afghan woman during this time has a story. A story of survival and hardship.  A story of hope and love. A story to be shared.

Here is just one of the  stories in a shortened version.  When news came of the war in a  remote village in Afghanistan, a young mom of three children was told by her husband to dress the kids and pack what she could in one suitcase as they had to leave in the middle of the night to a neighboring  city in Pakistan called Peshawar. This is where current Afghan refugees still live in self-made tents with scare resources of clean water and nutritious foods, lack of medical facilities, schools for older kids, the list can go on. As the young family fled their beautiful home in the middle of the night by foot (Afghanistan has the world’s most beautiful mountains and rivers and green scenery) the woman did not have the footwear or physical stamina to walk in the mountainous regions while carrying her young babies.
As she neared the border, she laid down, exhausted and knew deep in her heart that she could not carry on with two children as her husband and their third child were no where to be found. She watched  others like herself that had collapsed in the open fields, with nothing but darkness around them. She knew she had to carry on but could physically no longer carry both kids as they had yet to learn to walk. She made the difficult decisions as so many Afghan woman had to during this time on different levels, and left her youngest newborn baby in the grass with a blanket to cover his legs against the cold wind of the Hindu Kush.
When the woman arrived at the Refugee camp, the following day and was reunited with her husband and child. After hearing the news of what had happened, the husband was determined to risk his life to save another life and walked back to where she had left the baby. Two days later, her husband came back with the baby in his arms and with tears in his eyes and when his wife looked at the baby, she saw a smiling face and him sucking on his thumb! This story and other similar ones are common amongst Afghan communities and as each Afghan women recites her own story it is most always followed by tears of leaving and losing loved ones as they lost their homes and a country they love to this day. Its fair to note, this was a story with a happy ending as so many were not.

Now the lucky ones who  made into America with their families during the war, were immersed in a culture and society, whose language they did not speak or understand. Their notion and role of an Afghan woman was challenged as they had to function given their new identities and responsibilities. Afghan Woman who came from remote provinces in Afghanistan had to learn basics of using kitchen appliances and changing their diet as they didn’t know what to eat or cook or how to shop for food. Women from the city of Kabul had more exposure and access to foreign ways of living so some things may have been easier compared to women from tribal villages and limited schooling. Basics that we take for granted had to be learned quickly and effectively so that they could continue to raise their children and provide basic needs for them. The Afghan men during this time also had a very difficult experience as professionally as their education and advance degrees from Afghanistan were 

not accepted in the US and yet they had to work to provide for their families. One could only imagine what these men went through trying to make a living and obtain work with no English language skills and a professional background that held no significance in their new home.

These aforementioned groups of Afghan women and men are the mother and fathers  are a generation of war and hardship. With perseverance, hope and love, they have raised children and made homes and created successful businesses. With their hard work, a new set of Afghan women have emerged.

This new group of Afghan women have only the US to call their home as most have been raised here at a very young age and vaguely remember Afghanistan and some have never been there. They have the stories of their mothers, aunts and other older Afghan females to create pictures of what  life was like for them before migrating here. This group of Afghan women have seen the struggles of their mothers in a new country and have helped in teaching them the culture and language and for some creating a professional identity.
 The main struggle for this group of women has been trying to live as an Afghan woman in America and what that truly means. The struggle in trying to maintain both cultural identities and keeping their role as an Afghan woman and an American professional. The struggle in teaching this new sense of self and bi-culture to young children who have only heard of Afghanistan through the media like most Americans and have only stories of their grandparents of their homeland. The struggle becomes no longer an Afghan woman struggle, but a woman struggle. The struggling of balancing a family and a career. The struggle of being in a professional field dominated by men. The struggle of balancing a religious identity with a social American lifestyle.
 It is fair to acknowledge that this group of Afghan women have endless educational opportunities, 

something their mothers did not have access to. They are supported to pursue those educational goals and career choices by their Afghan mothers and fathers as they experienced life without that support here in the US as most had to care for young children and work hard to provide for them with only minimum wage upon arrival. Young Afghan women here have the option of marrying at later age then their mothers  did and have a choice in who they marry. Most importantly, they have the option of creating their own culture and identities and what it means to be an Afghan-American woman.  They have access and freedom to pursue their dreams and with that comes great responsibility. A responsibility of being a role model and a peacemaker for both societies through their line of work and daily life.

Written by 

Afghan wife , mother, educator and blogger