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

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Afghan Culture: Creating a Balanced Life Afghan Style

Everything has a meaning. It is up to us to acknowledge a practice or values we hold, determine its meaning based on simply knowledge and life experience and the level of importance of bringing it into ones life. Following or participating in a particular culture, we have to compartmentalize certain traditions based on religious beliefs and social expectations and also bring together universal traditions that have a deep meaning connected to how we choose to live our life on a daily basis. 

Being part of the community that strongly believes in keeping up Afghan cultural values and traditions,  the process for  implementing those values that have a historical past in Afghanistan and practicing current societal expectations and demands of America can be a challenge. The biggest challenge of implementing Afghan values and morals standards outside Afghanistan is  for young adults as many of them don’t have a point of reference. Sure, parents can be great role models for today’s young afghans, however, it is their peers they learn the most from. The majority of Afghans under 30 years old ( most afghans fled after the Cold war in late 1970’s) were born outside Afghanistan and have only  the culture of whichever country their families migrated to. Some  have adopted that culture as their own as daily life might have warranted it. This Is easy to do, however, it is up to the parents to teach them and guide them and instill those values they were raised with and witnessed for most of their lives, they will have something to pass down to their own children as many of us are experiencing parenthood and demanding careers.  We are trying to figure out our own bi- cultural identities so that our children have a strong frame of reference and avoid confusion of what is truly  important in ones life regardless of any cultural identity, such as education. As Aforementioned, peers play a great role in our cultural beliefs and practices, and being involved and part of a local Afghan community becomes key. Local Afghan communities are usually structured by family association and business.

For Afghans to live a balanced cultural life,  their faith, family orientation and values,  Afghan cultural traditions (we all love to do the Attan!) and current societies expectations and innovations have to come  into focus and prioritized. Today’s young Afghans are lucky to be able to pick and chose what they like about each culture they are apart of to implement within their own lives and their future families. Living bi-culturally has great benefits as we are the agents of change within both societies. In the American society, we can educate and live as Afghan role models that our grandparents and their parents as well as our own, would be proud of us regardless of how we labeled ourselves culturally. Being bi-culture can create a deeper understanding of a different society and its practices and being the bridge that helps understand and accept oneself and each other. Being able to choose cultural traits of our family background and our daily life, we have to dig further to understand the meaning of what is cultural and what are merely our habits and what is important to us and our faith and family?

Young Afghans get to create their own culture. We get to ask ourselves, what is important to me? What do I like about our culture? What do I do everyday that’s part of my current culture and meaningful to me?  What do I want to teach my future kids and practice daily as a family? Faith should play a big role. This is our responsibility to our children and theirs as Afghanistan might merely become a word to them without personal association. It is important to keep this identity alive as it has so many beautiful cultural traits and traditions that include our faith and the togetherness of family and creating love for each other. This is what a balanced life looks like, whether you want to call it Afghan or something else.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Afghan Culture: Creating Food as a Family Tradition

The beautiful aspect about Afghan culture is the formation of family and community life as one of the most important intrinsic values of the Afghan society. We love to be around family and value traditions that have been passed down to us by our Afghan parents and grandparents  and other elder members.  The afghan people have settled in different parts of the world and yet are very much connected through the culture of its people who reside outside Afghanistan. One of the biggest ways, Afghans have kept their identity strong and alive even while living elsewhere  is practicing and living in a community where these same traditions are taught and practiced daily by members. The most favorable tradition is food, as cuisine  is used to maintain the national identity of Afghans throughout the world as a staple of our culture and traditions. My favorite family tradition is that of always being around Afghan food when visiting family or Afghan friends. I love our 4-5 course meals served in gatherings, whether for one guest or 100 guests!

The first course of the Afghan meal for house gatherings starts off with a light refreshments, such as tea and dry fruit or baked goods. Depending on the weather or affinity of guests, a nice, cold juice with fruit will be served until the rest of the guests arrive for the meal. The meal can be served at lunch time or dinner. Breakfast is another wonderful event!
The second course is the buffet! We love our different options and freedom to choose what we eat and how much. Most every buffet in an Afghan gathering will include rice in different varieties and some kind of meat, beef, lamb, chicken, goat, maybe some fish, seasonal vegetables and something most of us love in any form, bread or nan.  The main difference between afghan food from neighboring countries and culture is the use of particular spices and the cooking process for each dish. Cumin is widely used in rice and meats such as lamb and beef are steamed in a pressure cooker and seasoned with fresh blended vegetables.
After the main meal, comes course number three with green or black tea, sometimes even milk tea (Sho Do Chai) paired with delicious sweets of homemade rice pudding, freshly baked gourmet cookies, dried fruits and nuts, cheesecake, paneer (cheese)  and raisins.
This is really the time to relax with the guests and family members and usually it is accompanied by music, a favorite tv, show, dancing (if its in all women gathering) and is really the social part of the evening as the hustle and bustle of the main course is done with and  cleaned up and both hosts and guests can relax and enjoy the company and atmosphere. Afghan people love to be around music and laughter and lots of food at family celebrations and gatherings.
The fourth course consists of seasonal fruits, cut up and arranged beautifully on a platter and served in large decorative dishes and passed around for guests to help themselves to large portions. Afghan people have a tendency to offer and give and will consistently offer more tea, food, sweets to their guests even after they have refused.  

For the guests who like to stay late when visiting an Afghan home , the fifth course of tea and sweets is brought out one last time to say our good byes and prepare for the journey back to where we came from and end the visit with how it started : kindness. One thing my friends always loved, especially my best friend in high school, was that she knew to come to our home hungry and leave extra full! It is through cuisine and hospitality that Afghans have used in generations past and still practice that brings us together as one. The great thing about afghan culture and its importance on hospitality is that it extends to all from every culture.

Written by: Afghan Wife
Afghan Food Pictures: