Fariba Nawa is a journalist, speaker, lecturer and author of Opium Nation: Child Brides, Drug Lords, and One Woman's Journey Through Afghanistan. She is based in the U.S.
Q. When did you leave the country and what are your earliest memories of growing up in Afghanistan?
A. I left Herat, Afghanistan in 1982 and my earliest memories before the war include going to picnics, fishing on the Helmand River in Lashkargah, playing in my family’s orchard in Herat and being a happy child in a peaceful country.
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?
A. I am an Afghan-American because I grew up here. In the U.S. as compared to Europe, it is easier to adjust because it is easier to assimilate. Everyone was an immigrant here at some point, and so there is a certain respect for being different. But I think once you become an exile, you will always be an exile. The concept of home becomes the people around you rather than the place. At least, that is how I feel. Therefore, I can live anywhere in the world if my loved ones are with me.
Q. As an Afghan living and working abroad, have you faced any stereotype, prejudice or racism?
A. Of course, we all do. I think that exists everywhere in the world. But post 9/11, Muslims are dealing with an unprecedented Islamophobia in the U.S. In my case, it is mostly in reactions to what I write. Many racists will respond with negative, hurtful comments.
Q. When you come across the news reports about suicide attacks, violence against women and children in your home country, how do you react?
A. Upset. I think we need more balance in the media to show the positive and negative. However, Afghans need to confront the negative and stop blaming everybody else for their problems.
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?
A. It is ideal for Afghans to come back but for those of us with children, there needs to be more security to return. The main reason I stay away is because of my two girls. I grew up during war after 1978 and I do not want to raise my kids in a war zone. I know how damaging it can be.
Q. Tell us a bit about the work you do?
A. I am a journalist, speaker, author and lecturer. I teach journalism and speak about various issues, such as human rights and war, to audiences across the U.S. and internationally. I write about whatever issue that interests me, but often that includes Afghanistan or Islamic societies. I wrote Opium Nation, a book that explored women’s roles in the Afghan drug trade. I worked in South Asia and the Middle East from 2000 to 2007. I am working on a second book about Afghans in the U.S.
Q. As they say, you can take the person out of country, but you cannot take country out of the person. What is the one thing that makes you proud as an Afghan?
A. The importance of being there for those you love, especially family.
Q. How do you view the latest political developments in Afghanistan, especially the formation of national unity government?
A. The second round of elections was a waste of time and money. They should have created this unity government after the first round. The voting process was crucial because it gave Afghans a voice.
Most of us in the diaspora were happily shocked at the turnout. It meant Afghans did not want the Taliban to return and were willing to risk their lives for it.
The unity government seems to be bringing hope to many Afghans and I hope that this coalition can tackle some of the problems Karzai could not, including security, corruption and the economy. First Lady Rula Ghani is already making waves and talking about women's rights. It is a different era with a tech savvy, informed generation of Afghans leading the nation. Some of them believe in pluralism and I hope they triumph over the war mongering, misogynist bigots ruining the country.