Thursday, November 19, 2009

Letter from An Afghan (American) Woman

I read this wonderfully enlightening note on a listserv I subscribe to and just *had* to get in touch with its author. I am reprinting it here, with permission from the writer, Zohra Saed.

Here is a bit about Zohra from her website:
Zohra Saed was born in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. She learned to walk in Tehran, Iran. Zohra spent her childhood first in Amman, Jordan and later in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia before her father brought his family to Brooklyn. She is a poet, academic, and editor.

And here is her very thought-provoking post . . .
Okay, I have to bring this up because I've gotten into too many conversations with women "writing for" Afghan women and referring to us as Afghani. What is this odd little "i" at the end?

Let me clarify why I feel tense whenever I hear the term "Afghani" used by well-meaning friends (okay, maybe they don't want to be friends with me. Maybe they just want me as their sounding board to fact-check their story that is about an "Afghan-I-" woman. They will usually not know that I think these things inside my little round head).

When you use the term "Afghani" it means that you do not really know us, Afghans, very well and that perhaps a few newspaper clippings have intrigued you. Perhaps you heard a few stories, but really when it comes down to it -- you really wouldn't know a Pashai from a Kandahari from a Mazari. etc. But you'll just ride the elevator with me telling me all about your Afghani experiences. (Please, please--this doesn't mean Afghans know themselves any better or each other for that, but least we don't ride elevators telling one another how well we know what Afghans think or would do under so-and-so situation).

When you use the term "Afghani," it means that you do not know that our currency is the Afghani (well, I haven't used an Afghani since I chewed one up when I was a year old in Jalalabad, but you know, even if I grew up with dollars, I wouldn't refer to myself as the currency of the place I was born in).

I suppose us 'Ghans use the term Afghani as well, but we get dirty looks from each other just the same. Usually we use Afghani to describe things, not people. Like "Did you get some Afghani bread at the Afghani store with the Afghani carpets everywhere?" But we would never say, "Hi, I'm Afghani Zohra, how do you do?"

So, please, at least write more than newspaper headlines and understand our nuances.  This is not to boast that Afghans all know their nuances, we're so varied from one another, and so many years of war and scatterings have kept us from knowing ourselves. But at least we would never attach that gangly "I" at the end of Afghan because we are Afghan, not like-Afghan, which is what the "i" connotes.

I have made a big issue out of this, but I must share it with you, my sisters. Please . . . in the love of global sisterhood, at least name us properly. Give us some nuances, some texture.

Zohra, the brutish/brooding Afghan(American)


mayra lazara dole said...

Thank you, Neesha, for educating us about the indecent "i" at the end of Afghan. Every newspaper in North America should publish Zohra's piece so we can all get it right. Gracias, Zohra!

Anonymous said...

As an Afghan and not an Afghani (our currency), I am glad somone is enlightening the rest of us. Thank you Zohra jon.

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I just got called Afghanistani in a review of my writing... I have mixed feelings! I love the review -- but what do I do about being called Afghanistani? :P

Neesha Meminger said...

Zohra, I had a wonderful review in a well-known, established, respected industry resource that consistently referred to me, and the main characters in my novel (almost all Punjabi, Sikh, Indian), as South East Asian. So, I feel your pain. But focus on what a wonderful review it was, and enjoy that (the reviewer must truly have connected with your writing)! Then write posts like these on your blog and everywhere else ;).

Anonymous said...

You are a mastermind! I cannot wait to read your book!

nessreen said...

I never knew that, thanks. I'll be sure to tell everyone I know, as I've only ever heard people say it with the "i".

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