“We need to stay optimistic about the future of Afghanistan”

Lina Rozbih-Haidari is an acclaimed Afghan journalist working with Voice of America (VOA). She is also an award-winning Dari language writer and poet

Q. When did you leave the country and what are your earliest memories of growing up in Afghanistan?
I left Afghanistan in late 1980s. My family was originally from Herat but we lived in Kabul. My earliest memories are associated with the neighborhood we lived in, my school, my classmates and relatives we had in Kabul. I also have vivid memories of Eid celebrations, family events, birth of my youngest sister that happened during war, and the invasion of Afghanistan by Soviet forces.

Q. A large majority of Afghans are now based abroad, mostly in Europe and U.S. How difficult is the cultural adjustment, especially for someone coming from a third world country?
Life for me as an Afghan was much more difficult in Iran and Pakistan where we lived as refugees. Even though we shared same religion but my rights were limited as a refugee. I was not allowed to go to school in Iran; the treatment meted out to Afghan refugees was far from civilized; the basic human rights were taken away from them.

It was the same situation in Pakistan, where many Afghan refugees had settled during the war. Dealing with police officials in Peshawar was nightmarish. So, when I moved to Canada, I was happy because they respected my identity, my religion and the freedom to be who I wanted to be. I studied in Canada and I used to go to university wearing hijab. They fully respected my ideology and my beliefs. I hardly ever came across any bias or prejudice in that country as an Afghan Muslim woman.

I respected their laws and they respected my identity. From Canada, I moved to the United States, and I was accorded the same respect here as in Canada. Both these countries, compared to Iran and Pakistan, were easiest for me.

Q. It is safe to suggest that as an Afghan living and working abroad, you have not faced any stereotype, prejudice or racism in West?
As a Muslim woman and as an Afghan refugee, the law applies to me same way as it does to any U.S. citizen. I was given the opportunity to work here and I got all the support I wanted. There was nothing that barred me from pursuing my goals in life here.

Q. When you come across the news reports about suicide attacks, violence against women and children in your come country, how do you react?
Given my profession, I deal with news from Afghanistan on daily basis. Most of the time, it does affect me emotionally and psychologically. I become depressed, angry, outraged and sad. I have a fan page on Facebook where I keep posting poetry and other random musings. One thing I have noticed is that a lot of people share the pain and concern but many people tell me that it is not as bad as it is being portrayed.

As an Afghan living abroad, I mostly come across negative stories about Afghanistan, but when I read the comments of people on my Facebook page, I realize how we overlook the positive developments taking place in Afghanistan. We just need to keep going and stay optimistic about the future of Afghanistan.
Q. Do you believe the Afghans who are settled abroad should return home and help in rebuilding their country especially with the political and security transition happening now?
I believe it is important for every educated Afghan who has something to offer to country to go back. However, when I think about going back, it is not the war and violence that keeps me away from my country; it is the gap in mentality that I have developed and the mentality of people in Afghanistan.

My fear is if I go back, they will not be able to understand me fully and I will not be able to understand them fully. This gap in mentalities has happened over the period of time and it is important to bridge this gap.

Q. Tell us a bit about the work you do?
I moved from Canada to the U.S. after my marriage and started working with Voice of America in 2004 as a radio broadcaster. Three years later, they launched Aashna TV for Afghanistan and I was chosen as the main anchor. Since then I have been anchoring this show being broadcasted from Washington and telecasted throughout Afghanistan. My affair with journalism happened by accident when I was looking for a job and I think it is the best decision I have made because it has helped me stay in touch with Afghanistan and the daily news coming from there.

Q. As they say, you can take the person out of country, but you can’t country out of the person. What is the one thing that makes you proud as an Afghan?
Adhering to the traditional Afghan lifestyle even in western countries is something I am proud of. I still have the same lifestyle and values as women in Afghanistan and that is one thing I shall never give up.

This interview was published in August 2014 issue of Afghan Zariza magazine

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