Sunday, January 13, 2013

Jan Salaam!

I have never been to Afghanistan. But I must have. In some lifetime. More than thirty years of war have ravaged a country that was once, like my home country India, surfing the tide of change and readying itself for a new era in its history. But India and Afghanistan, like two siblings, headed into the new world bearing very different destinies. Afghanistan sailed into stormy seas when it was first invaded by the Soviets, followed by a period of Civil war, then the  Taliban, then the Nato-U.S.-Taliban counterstrikes. Whereas India weathered the challenges of being a postcolonial democracy.

A few years ago I travelled to the U.S. to pursue a PhD under the chairpersonship of an American professor who had worked in Afghanistan. Working with her seemed like an ideal opportunity to stay close to populations that were culturally similar to India's. I did not know then how deeply I would connect to the Afghan people, not just for what they could teach me about India but for what they could teach me about resilience.
I spent three years studying the Afghan diaspora through its men, the men who had been severely misunderstood post 9/11. From being a country that people barely knew, it became known as a country that bred terrorists and brutalized its women. This perception demonized the Afghan men and branded them as perpetrators, with a scant understanding of how they too were victims. Victims of a war that has to still end but, depending of the newspapers you read, is also a war that has supposedly stopped and restarted numerous times.
My study of Afghan men was supposed to be a project in itself but now the study has expanded into a larger exploration of the Afghan diaspora in the U.S. I decided I want to also  interview Afghan men AND women to see how identity, gender and culture intersect / integrate/ collide when people migrate from Afghanistan to the U.S. I especially wanted to know what being Afghan-American means at a time when Afghanistan is constantly in the news because U.S. troops are in Afghanistan. Right now, my blog is not a space for me to express my point of view for or against the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. Despite my deep connection to Afghanistan, I feel like my views about what is good for Afghanistan are irrelevant. However, this blog is about centerstaging what I am learning about Afghanistan through its diaspora. As an outsider, I am offered glimpses that I feel compelled to share.

I remember when I was preparing to present a proposal of my study to esteemed scholars, I kept asking myself why this study was important. The answer that rose from somewhere deep inside was that there is a history of Afghanistan that its immigrants and refugees carry, a history that is unfolding on Afghanistan's soil but also beyond its borders through the lives of its more than 3 million immigrants (a catchall term I use for economic immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, etc). I felt like this history needed to be documented and though I could not completely document it, I hope that by exploring their experiences I would be able to share how Afghan immigrants have fought to preserve what they could of the Afghanistan - or the Afghanistans - they left behind.

I hope you will join me on this journey to the field and hold Afghanistan in your thoughts as I meet its sons and daughters who learned to live outside its borders.

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