One Story, Thirty Stories
An Anthology of Contemporary Afghan American Literature
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: University of Arkansas Press
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American literature like America itself is a patchwork of ethnic influences. Today a new voice is joining that multicultural conversation. Afghan Americans are among the newest (and smallest) of America’s ethnic communities, just several hundred thousand people distributed across the country in scattered pockets, a community born of a disaster...
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Thirty years ago, on December 27, 1979, the Afghan Communist president Hafizullah Amin, his family and staff, had their meal laced with sedatives by their Russian chef. This was just hours before Soviet soldiers, disguised as Afghans, raided the palace in Kabul. In forty-three minutes, a war began that would last thirty...
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Sedika Mojadidi’s prose poem is a dream of the one who has survived war. “What if” she had married the cousin she had been promised to as a young girl? Mojadidi’s cousin Azim was killed while living as a refugee in Peshawar. Mojadidi was a teenager growing up in Florida when she received the news. Gendered spaces and expectations for young...
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Writing on his blog, chronicling his trip back to Kabul, Masood Kamandy connects his photos of the family home with this poignant poem of homecoming and the meaning of time. There are exiles of place, and then there are exiles of time. In this poem, his father is an exile of both place and time...
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Donia Gobar’s poem is sister to the poem “Dead Are My People,” in which Khalil Gibran laments his helplessness as a poet who would be more useful to the starving Lebanese (during World War I) if he were an “ear of corn.” As an Afghan American engaged and emotionally involved with the situation back in Afghanistan, Gobar has written...
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Index of the Disappeared is an ongoing, collaborative, community based inquiry into the human costs of public policy; the erasures and absences created in real lives by the secrecy and suppression of documents and data; and the role played by language–not just as spoken by but as spoken about and around communities—in defining...
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Nahid Fattahi heard stories of laborers in Herat, who stand on the corner of a street for hours in hopes of being picked up for construction work. There are some days when they are lucky and work for some hundred afghanis, but there are endless days that these men go home with nothing, ashamed of their empty pockets and hands...
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Jessamyn Ansary has been writing poetry since before she was able to commit the words to paper. As a child she would wake her parents up in the middle of the night, asking them to transcribe her latest lines. Although she never became fluent in Farsi, she heard it spoken often growing up. She became fascinated with the way words sound, even...
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Qais Arsala’s poetry captures the exilic Afghan experience. The longing for homeland is evident in these poems. Arsala shares his memories of Afghanistan in an effort to rebuild the collective memory of Afghans’ post-Soviet war...
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Sahar Muradi’s poetry deals with the family, and through this storytelling, we enter an understanding of the experience of Afghans in America. The running theme in the following two poems is loss—its unspeakableness, its consequences. Exile is sometimes a physical manifestation, such as in the second poem, where feet are allergic to...
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Khalida Sethi’s poetry challenges gender expectations within Afghan families. The narrator of the poem is living in two worlds. One place that is aware—hyperaware—of the sexualized body and another, the mother’s world, that attempts to neutralize the body of desire...
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Ariana Delawari revises an Afghan nursery rhyme and gives it a feminist twist. She writes: “‘Oh La Lo’ is a nursery rhyme that my grandmother used to sing to me when I was a baby. I wanted to cover the song somehow, and when I sat down to cover it, I started thinking of the song from the perspective of a mother or a grandmother...
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Zohra Saed’s playful poem about a polyphonic childhood in a swarm of cousins introduces the perspective of the child refugee. Conscious of the multiple languages acquired in the trip from Afghanistan to America, but not yet fully conscious of the reasons for this constant moving, the child sees Neptune Avenue as more than a place in...
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Naheed Elyasi’s poem is about the struggles of Afghan American women. On the one hand, she counters the racism that she finds in her new home, and on the other, she speaks out against the sexism within her community. In this tracing of her journey from there to here, she realizes that she is lost and that the return she is hoping for is...
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Yalda Asmatey, coeditor of the first collection of work by Afghan American writers in California, writes this poem as inspiration for those who are struggling to find a place for themselves. She offers not only her thoughts on the topic of faith and perseverance but encouragement to continue building one’s life despite challenges...
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Aman Mojadidi has been working in Afghanistan for several years now in the nonprofit sector. This prose poem documents the conflicting emotions and realities of being an Afghan American in Kabul. Meant to capture Kabul in a specific time, this prose poem is a time capsule, one that is honest about the political...
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Wajma Ahmady captures both the joy of family life, a transplanted Afghan family, and the shame of not having her American friend understand or appreciate the delicious messiness of home...
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Mir Tamim Ansary
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Abel considered announcing that he had changed his mind. He had what he had come for, his father’s letter. Besides, his heart was churning badly, and he needed to process what he’d read. Yet he felt a strange duty to the man who was buried here, a strange reluctance to show him any disrespect...
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Within a few minutes, I was out the door, heading for the refugee identification card office. When I got off the bus, I saw an Afghan man sitting on the sidewalk trying desperately to keep a flock of flies away from a couple of fruit baskets that he had prepared for sale. As I asked him for directions to the refugee office, I realized it was about a twenty-minute...
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The window was dusty from the outside. The rain hadn’t washed it for months. Dirt caked the broken glass. The wind blew harshly through the cracks in the glass, making a ghostly sound. The noise awoke the boy, and he opened his drowsy eyes. He got up from his cold bed on the bare, hard ground. He then gingerly walked over to the window and...
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The faint light of a candle trembled in the bareness of what was their home. Dusky shadows quivered over the narrow drugget, clean-swept mud floor, rusty stove, rolled-up old blankets beside the wall, few cracked dishes upon a shelf, and the only window, with some of its panes covered by old newspapers. The young man watched Aya’s old hands...
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I am sitting on the edge of my bed, the radio playing Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer.” My world ceases. I stop hearing the music and the only thing that exists for me in my small bedroom is my mother, my tormentor, coming toward me. She sits directly across from me, very close, to where her knee is touching mine. She doesn’t say anything and looks around...
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You said, “America, is that where it happened to you?” I lied to you, and said, “No, that was NOT where IT happened.” You said, “I know about America. Their girls are loose. Afghan girls go to America and become bad.” I said, “How so?” You said, “They go dancing. They meet boys. They become faased, polluted.” You said, “Toobah,” and pulled at...
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Occasionally, my maternal uncle, Wahid, would pick me up from the daycare center in Kabul, Afghanistan. He had a small chair on the back of his bicycle, where he placed me, before riding home. A great sense of excitement engulfed me when I saw him. We rode past open market bazaars where they sold an assortment of delicacies as well as novelty...
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When my mother kissed me goodbye, I remember her whispering in my ear, “You will come back with a diploma or you will shame us both.” To leave for abroad, mainly to Europe and the United States in those days, was the ultimate desire of all Afghans graduating from high school. Theoretically, the students with the highest grades from high...
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We leave the house in Peshawar early, right after morning prayers, before the sun becomes an amber disc filtered through layers of thick brown haze. I climb into the back seat of a Toyota Custom pickup and am immediately flanked by two AK-47-wielding mujahideen, rebels from the Afghan National Liberation Front (ANLF). Aql Khan and Baznoor...
Yasmine Delawari Johnson
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At the time, I was performing in a play called Nanawatai, by William Mastrosimone. I played a young Afghan girl who is killed by the Russians. I stood on the stage of the Los Angeles Theater Center and wondered why I was here, in America, and she was there, in Afghanistan. What if Mom and Dad had decided to stay in Afghanistan? Would I be the...
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December 24, 1979, was another ordinary day for an eight-year-old child, except the day itself wasn’t ordinary. Overhead, close to Kabul International Airport, Wazir Akbar Khan, where the world seemed to be, there were an unusual number of frequent flights by large airplanes, both arriving and departing. The vibrating sounds of their engines...
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Every wrinkle in my mother’s hands used to embarrass me. Parent-teacher night was a nightmare of Persian accents and bad, slow English. I would die if my teachers found out where I came from. I hated my mother’s hand-me-down clothes (that acid-washed denim skirt set my aunt was too good for). I hated the smell of Brucci lipstick...
Rameen Javid Moshref
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The Afghan community is a relatively new community in the U.S. Afghan Americans still do not have elected officials. People still call us Afghani, which is actually the Afghan currency. Others say Afghanistani, but the correct term is Afghan. With about two hundred thousand Afghans living all over the U.S., we have traveled a long way to be...
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My grandparents start early every morning. At sahar, the first light of morning, he in his undershirt, she in her white chador, entering each day with a groan as if disappointed by the reality of morning after the long possibility of night. They wait for dawn, for the first prayer...
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The above sentiments have been overwhelming my email accounts since September 11. I am a member of several Afghan or Muslim e-groups discussing the continuing tragedies in our homeland or the true peaceful teaching of the Quran. People outside these communities for a long time...
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One week after the destruction of the World Trade Center, I take the 6 train to the downtown Manhattan area with my Afghan American friend Shekaiba. Since the Wall Street station has been shut down, we pass by in seeming slow motion; we emerge from the Bowling Green stop. Shekaiba and I don’t know what to expect after seeing so many...
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Webster’s defines “Afghan American” as . . . just kidding. I heard it’s good form to start every single paper with “Webster’s defines.” I am an Afghan American. My dad came to this country from Kabul when he was eighteen for studies and later sent for my mom. I was born in Everett, Washington (Seattle to anyone I meet outside the state). My...
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I sat quietly in the room, waiting. The plastic chair rocked back and forth on its bad leg as I shifted around. Other than the chair and the table a few feet in front of me, the room was barren—an out-of-the-way room in an out-of-the-way place. After several minutes the door opened, and two cleancut men wearing khakis and dress shirts walked...
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It was late when we arrived in Delhi. The line to get through customs was long and slow moving. There was an express line for wheelchairs. Pretty soon about a dozen different families had obtained wheelchairs and were putting their eldest relatives in them. It was my first encounter with the haphazard, chaotic airports of the east that I would later...
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I wake in a foul and grumpy mood because I had to leave my radio and mobile on in case of alarming evacuation news and both had spilled forth the most inane messages. People sent me messages like “Vote 2day for a better 2morrow.” Well, I was planning on doing that anyway, thank you very much. Or “Plse do not go out before...
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Just before dawn the cry of the muezzin, calling Kabul’s faithful to the first of the five daily prayers, awakened me. I arose—a painful process given that I’d spent the night with only a two-inch mattress shielding me from the hard wooden plank that served as my bed—and put on my yoga clothes. No Lycra sports bras or hipster yoga...
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He has one of the most sincere smiles I have ever seen. Suddenly, you realize how all the wrinkles got there. We go about our lives normally. My father goes to work. I head off to class. The morning mingling consists of “good luck on your test” and “hope business is good,” with one response to everything: Insh’Allah. God willing. I get into my...
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The journey from Kabul to New York took us two years. I won’t go into all our difficulties, except to say that the time did not pass pleasantly. I was a carefree seven-year-old when we left Afghanistan, an anxious nine-year-old when we arrived. No one met us at JFK Airport. We sat down to wait. What were we waiting for? I didn’t know. When...
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As the youngest of ten children, I saw in my father a striking resemblance to Mother Theresa, who performed God’s work through kindness and immediate action. No one person can be compared to our prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him), but in many ways I personally saw similarities between my father and our magnificent...
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Bright and early Wednesday morning, approximately ninety other Afghans from Fremont, aside from myself, met in the parking lot of Flamingo Palace, ready to board two blue passenger buses en route to Mystery Mesa Ranch, nestled high amid the mountains in Santa Clarita Valley, the site for the movie...
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“Most evidence points to Osama Bin Laden. The Taliban is harboring Bin Laden,” stated a reporter. Blood drained from my body and left me paralyzed. I was haunted by images of war and struggle in my birthplace, Afghanistan. Here, young and old fought not so much with weapons but with ammunition fueled by the desire to win the...
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I grew up in two worlds: the private Afghan world at home, and the public American world outside. We spoke Pashto at home, ate Afghan food every day, learned how to pray and read the Quran in Arabic. The Afghanistan my mother and father conjured for my siblings and me was simple, mischievous, saturated by the sweet taste of melons, juice...
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On October 1, 2004, I will begin my long journey to Kabul, Afghanistan. This blog is meant as a travelogue to document the experience as it happens. An introduction to me: I’m a twenty-three-year-old Afghan American photographer, recently graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. I live and work in New York. On...
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Wow. In less than twenty-four hours I will be on a plane to India and then Afghanistan. I’m not sure what to think or do, so I’m just going to go with the flow! No use stressing! I’ll be in each country for one week between September 28th and October 14th, and I’ll do my best to update this blog so you know what’s going...
Appendix: Themes Index
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Chronology of Afghan American History
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Index of Authors and Titles
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Page Count: 290
Publication Year: 2010