The Afghan Alpha II: Pirzads Having a Party

19 September 2011

Episode 8: A Short Time in Paradise (Plot Summary)

I am still watching Alphas. Slightly losing interest, but I am still watching. I like Gary.

Azita Ghanizada as Rachel Pirzad in Alphas
Azita Ghanizada as Rachel Pirzad in Alphas

So Rachel is going to her sister’s engagement party. She is trying to get herself a date to the party so she is not “auctioned off” to her “third cousins” and not having to go on “blind dates” with them.

Now, here is what happens to the majority of Afghan girls who turn in to their sister’s engagement party with a “date”. Well, it does not happen. It is unheard of except in very rare cases of, oh, so liberal families who probably have not much to do with the rest of Afghan community.

Let us say we all wake up one day it has become somewhat normal for an Afghan girl to take a white male co-worker as her “date”, she will definitely have to buy him a nice black suit and a tie that matches her top.

Let me also let you in on another secret about Afghans. Although marrying cousins is quite normal, not all of us marry our cousins. Surprisingly most of us in west marry from other families. Even in cases of arranged marriages, it is still outside own families. Probably mother of the guy sees a girl in a gathering. Then she calls few places to identify the girl, and then find someone who is close friend of that family and asked them if they could talk to the family and organise a visit.

Another thing, the girl’s family do not usually approach to a man or to his family or in Rachel’s terms “auction off” their daughter. In majority of cases, even if it is a love marriage and the two know each other, fell in love and all, when families get involved, the  man’s family would find out about the girl’s family. They then call and ask if they can visit, then they go to the girl’s house. Get to know them, talk about their son who is very respectful, educated and responsible who loves his family, etc. Similarly, the girl’s family would talk about how many other families are interested in their daughter, who is very pretty and educated and loves her siblings, etc. They never act desperate as shown in Rachel’s case.

Let us make one thing clear. It is not unheard of Afghan girl ending up with non-Afghan and non-Muslim guy, but generally nobody knows about such relationship until they are engaged and the guy supposedly converts to Islam and has a Muslim name. Yasin and Yousuf are in public demand. In addition, being in a premarital relationship is not something you would announce to everyone in your sister’s engagement. Therefore, when you turn up with a “date” people will talk about you. There is nothing surprising about it. You are an Afghan and supposedly a Muslim, so you should not engage in dating and whatever comes with it. Doing that and then announcing it in your sister’s engagement party is simply asking for negative attention and hurting and embarrassing your family. Unless, that is exactly your intention. Even those who date generally keep it a secret.

But the talk will not be “Oh I feel sorry for her mother.” or “Her poor mom.” It probably will come up, but in most cases, they will be like “Is that guy with Rachel? Oh man, he is in jeans. How embarrassing!” or comments like “Why is Rachel not wearing something fancy? After all it is her sister’s engagement.” “Is she dating an American now? What a shame!”

Here is another one, in an Afghan gathering the host family would try very hard not to make a scene. If Rachel tells her father that he needs to go to the doctor, the dad will probably say, “I will see”. Then Rachel will say, “Promise me you will, dad!” and then the dad will possibly get mad and without yelling, make an angry face saying, “Ok. I got it. I will. Now get out of my face with your crazy boyfriend.”

The rest of the Episode 8 was ok, I guess. It was those inaccuracies that got me thinking and wrote this. Perhaps, writers should do a little research before writing and making generalized statements.

Afghanistan: No Way Ahead

26 August 2011
AFghan kid
Poor is getting poorer and rich is getting richer

First thing first, I do not like Karzai. I really don’t, but I can’t help feeling sorry for him at times. When he was offered the position of being a puppet of USA, he probably thought that he would go to Afghanistan, help NATO in capturing Osama and Mullah Omar, get some high-profile jobs and government contracts for his relatives, make some cash in the process from different sources, things will go better, US will leave and he would become the saviour of Afghans from whatever they thought they were fighting.

Didn’t work well for him, did it?! Well, he did most of those things, but now he is stuck in a situation that nobody likes him or trusts him. Northern alliance think he is helping Pakistan, Americans think he has a little too much sympathy for Taliban, Taliban know him as servant of America, people are sick of him because his government is very corrupt and incompetent. I would hate to be in his position right now!

He knows the issues and he knows that he is nobody’s favourite anymore. He tries to change things but it is too late for him. He constantly asks NATO to schedule a withdrawal of their troops, he encourages Taliban to make peace, he even once confronted his own brother about his illegal activities months before he was killed. But nothing seems to be going his way anymore. When I was in Kabul in 2002, I thought Karzai was doing some positive things and since he inherited a fairly peaceful Kabul city and surroundings, we didn’t believe American occupation would last this long.  At that time at least people in Kabul kind of liked him, because they copped it worst from Taliban’s social and recreational restrictions.

I am not a political analyst, but the way I see, the whole thing is one big mess. To be honest I do not see anything that is happening over there in a positive light. It is dim and grim; US  is supposedly staying until 2024 now, which by the way indicates how badly they have failed, insurgents have changed their strategy and are doing more targeted damage now and it is very clear from the recent assassinations that they are picking up momentum, corruption is through the roof, poor is getting poorer and rich is getting richer. Well, actually the last one is true about everywhere in the world.

Right now, I do not believe anyone has a solution for Afghanistan. It looks like they are letting chips fall wherever they may and nobody has a sense of direction. As a matter of fact there is no destination to have a sense of direction for. Walking blind and hoping the next step is the right one, or do we even care if the next step is the right one?

The Afghan Bazaar or Boat Bazaar?

15 August 2011

Dandenong is home of great diversity in Melbourne. Like other parts, there are people from different backgrounds living in this heavily multicultural suburb. Rightly so, it is known as the most culturally diverse suburb in Victoria.

Afghan Bazaar, Dandenong
Afghan Bazaar, Dandenong

Afghan businesses have flourished in Dandenong for the past 10 years or so. Specially, Thomas Street is home to many Afghan businesses including restaurants and takeaways, Afghan carpet and rugs stores, Afghan groceries and more. In 2009 after the successful precinct branding of Little India, the Afghan traders advocated for the development of a recognisable brand for Thomas Street. The project was implemented by the City of Greater Dandenong in 2009 and later on the Afghan Bazaar Tour was developed for tourists to have a taste of Afghan culture in the heart of Victoria.

Recently the City of Greater Dandenong has undertaken Afghan Bazaar Streetscape Enhancement Project in Thomas Street Dandenong. Many members of the community have shown interest in this project. There has been face-to-face meetings and workshops, and the City of Greater Dandenong has welcomed opinions from all member of Afghan community.

Some days ago, I received an SMS from a friend suggesting that some members of Afghan community are advocating for changing the name of Afghan Bazaar to something that is either more specific to one ethnic group or strangely enough “Boat Bazaar”. Initially I thought it was just a rumour but this was confirmed by other more active members of the community.

Afghans have been part of the diverse Australian community for over 200 years since the arrival of the cameleers. Contribution of Afghan community is not a new trend that started after arrival of “boat people” but it is well-documented in Australian history. As a matter of fact the rebranding of Thomas Street as Afghan Bazaar was to recognise the contribution of Afghans from the time of the cameleers to date and not that of a particular ethnic group. This is visible from the branding logo.

It will be a sad day for Afghan community in Melbourne to lose this

Afghan Bazaar, Dandenong Photo by: Star Community

recognition to a particular group of people who are trying to score political point. Besides, entertaining the idea of rebranding Afghan Bazaar to “Boat Bazaar” is unethical. This will encourage the arrival of illegal migrants that has caused a lot of issues in the country whether due to unfortunate deaths of boat people or political controversies.

I have always voiced my concern about arrival of illegal migrants and the fact that many people undeservingly used the prosecution of certain ethnic groups in Afghanistan in their advantage to get residency status in Australia. I am not suggesting that all those people were lying about their situation in Afghanistan, but I know for a fact that many people arrived to Australia from Middle East or Pakistan who have used their background to gain sympathy from Australian government and now they are promoting a dangerous and ethnocentric ideology. No matter what ethnic group we belong to, we came to this country as Afghan migrants and anyone denying this fact has a personalised and political agenda.

I do not believe the City of Greater Dandenong will agree to changing the name, however to know that there are people in Australia who would promote such ideas is a cause for concern.

Images from  the City of Greater Dandenong

Ramadan: The transition is easy, the upkeep not so much

7 August 2011
Ramadan a month for Transformation

I know some inspiring brothers and sisters who make being a practicing, obedient Muslim look so easy. But it is not. It takes constant struggle and for people like myself who are not very disciplined it is very hard to keep up the pace.

I know several brothers and sisters who decided to start practicing and become better Muslims, but after some time, the enthusiasm wore off and in some cases some are left in worse condition than before. It is a struggle to wake up for Fajr. It is a struggle to pray Isha because you have delayed it and now you are sleepy. It is hard.

Lucky for us, once a year we have this amazing month. The month that the doors of Jannah opens. There is something in this holy month that make obedience to Allah (SWT) so easy. As a friend of mine once said and I quote:

I don’t know about you, but fasting is easy. Some over-hyping it to their white friends making it seem like we are super humans for doing it when we are not.

Fasting is not that hard if it was about stopping eating only. But Ramadan is not just about not eating. Ramadan is the month of hope that we pray our previous sins are forgiven and hope that we stay on the path until next Ramadan.  It is a month that should be foundation for the rest of our lives. We establish our good deeds in this month and should build up on it even after Ramadan. This holy month should be used as a transition phase for becoming a better individual, more spiritual, more practicing. How you act in Ramadan should be how you act always.

Like any other year, this year, we fast, we break our fast, pray more Nawafil, pray Tarawih, repent for our past sins. What then after Ramadan? Obedience is not only for Ramadan. A Muslim should be in the state of obedience to Allah (SWT) all the time. Ramadan is an opportunity to be ceased so that we repent our past sins and do not go back to our old habits once Ramadan is over.

Ramadan will end this year like the year before, but our commitment to doing good deeds should not end. There is always voluntary fasting, there are always extra Nawafil prayers,   getting up for Tahajud and giving from your wealth to the needy. If sacrificed your needs for one month, sure you can sacrifice your wants after that.  I am not suggesting separating ourselves from the world completely. What I am suggesting is that sure we can limit our self-indulgences and instead focus on deeds that bring us closer to Allah in the times other than Ramadan. Who knows whether we will see the next Ramadan or not.

So getting back to the original point of this, not eating food during the day is not hard. Even stopping yourself from using bad language is not hard for one month; it is the commitment that makes it hard. Will we  take this challenge this year and see if we can stay committed to what Ramadan has transformed us until next Ramadan? I sure hope so.

Our Lord! Let not our hearts deviate (from the truth) after You have guided us, and grant us mercy from You. Truly, You are the Bestower.” [Al-Qur’an 3:8]


The Afghan Alpha

29 July 2011
Azita Ghanizada in Alphas
Azita Ghanizada in Alphas

American TV Channel, Syfy, has recently started a new TV show, Alphas. It is about a group of people with extraordinary abilities.

Azita Ghanizada, an Afghan-American is playing the role of Rachel Pirzad, An Afghan girl whose superpower is magnifying her senses.

Rachel Pirzad is not an assertive woman. She is portrayed as a woman with this amazing superpower who is very passive. The show does not directly link her passiveness to her background but indirectly shows some relevance.

Her family considers her condition as an illness and feels that this illness may cause her to live alone for the rest of her life.  In the story, her mother is trying to arrange her marriage with someone that she has not met yet. It also shows that her parents are obsessed with her way of clothing. The first scene she appears in episode 1 she is telling her dad that her skirt covers her knees. Very typical, indeed!

First, when I watched the show, I was a little angry for stereotyping. I even found it insulting. However, later I realized that they had actually done this very accurately.

There you have a young educated Afghan woman, living with her parents. She wears western style cloths and is not fully covered, however she is required to get married with someone that her parents choose. She is allowed to stay out late, however she must not date….

The story of Rachel Pirzad is very typical of a “modern” Afghan. It is the story of all of us Afghans in west who are stuck between the three cultures. We have our Islamic values, Afghan traditions and newly discovered western trends that for most of us are dominating. Most of us find it very hard to manage all that.

The society that we live in is not compatible with most of our values. Obedience to parents and respect is seen as weakness. At the same time, parents are overly protective and inconsiderate towards their children. If you notice, Rachel is not disrespectful to her parents. She is trying to have a voice and make her own choices. Her parents are pushy indeed, but do not seem to be the cruel type. All they want for their daughter is to have a secure future with a decent man from a decent family.

In the latest episode, there is a guy who has the ability to make people around him angry to the extent that they start rioting. In one scene when he uses his ability where all Alpahs are present, Rachel is on the phone with her mother. She becomes angry, starts yelling and telling her mother to shut-up and that she hates her, and that she will move out; the worst things that you could say to your parents, especially if you are Afghan. It is not clear whether she has decided to leave home or she was kicked out (which I doubt). However, she says to Nina (Laura Mennell) that she will stay with her cousin. Nina offers her to move in with her.

I am not sure why so much attention was paid to her life outside Alpha team. So far I haven’t been able to see any relevance. I am not sure how they are going to shape Rachel’s story in later episodes. It seems that there will not be good relations between her parents and her in the next few episodes, which is sad, really. She didn’t intend for it to happen that way and her parents are not bad at all. It cannot be said whether she will meet the man her mother found for her, or whether she will move back with her parents. Alternatively, it could be that her moving out becomes a pivotal point in her life and she can fully focus on her power.

We will have to wait and see.

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The future is bleak

24 July 2011
Afghan kids
42% of Afghans live below national poverty line. Photo A.P

Afghanistan government estimates that 42 per cent of Afghanistan’s population live below the national poverty line and another 20 per cent just above the line in a position that they could fall below the line at any time. That is pretty sad, however you look at it.

There are probably thousands of organisations that are funded by their governments or through fundraising that have taken oath to help these people. But it seems that the money people so eagerly pay to these organisations do not reach the people who truly need it. Obviously when the field director of an NGO and other expats are paid so handsomely than most of us are paid over here, not much is left to reach to the poor.  Sure, there are some reputable agencies and they are doing the best they can, but obviously they are not enough.

At the moment there is no hope for sustainable future for people who have little to no income. Most of those if lucky are living on either charity or begging. It is also expected that this coming autumn, millions will be struck by hunger. UNWFP is short in funding for its Afghanistan mission and US Congress has proposals to cut funding for humanitarian projects.

In Kabul one Joraie (ie double) Naan costs 10.00 Afghanis, one kilo of potatoes about 20.00 – 30.00 Afghanis. To factor in other staff that are used to prepare a meal of potato and have it with bread for a medium size family will probably be around $2.00  (AU$1.00 ~= AF40.00).  With an average income of $30.00 per month, a man can barely feed his family.

The future looks bleak with little hope of improvement to the life of common man. Corporations are still trying to milk whatever is left from this country. Security is getting worse by the day with recent attacks and assassinations in sight. While US is trying hard to convince us that Afghans are better off now (than say 10 years ago), the statistics are against them. May 2011 was apparently the deadliest since 2007 in terms of civilian casualties.

So on one side, war is causing so much death to innocent civilians (we are not debating who is doing most of the killings here), on the other side, poverty.

When people come back from a trip to Afghanistan they all talk about development. I say to them, what development? Of course we have many TV channels now, but what percentage of population have access to electricity and TV to watch those channels? Sure there are booming shopping centres and modern buildings around Kabul, but who are in them? Obviously somewhere along the line, people have lost their sense of priority.

While we do not see anything in foreseeable future that can provide means of sustainable income to people who are below the poverty line, we can still help those in need to survive the coming autumn and winter. The summer is gonna pass, although it is hot and dry, but when cold comes and people not only have not much to feed themselves, they don’t have any means to stay warm either.
Through however way possible we have to assist those less fortunate. Whether you have family in Afghanistan, or know of a reliable agency whose aim is to help people and not make money on the process, you should help. Forget about computers and technology, people don’t have food and drinking water. Forget about sending computers to schools in Kabul, there are places where there is no school. There are children who do not have access to a pen to write with.

Let’s also pray that, this coming Ramadan, our Du’as are accepted and peace and security is established in Afghanistan so that people can start living again.

My first blog

22 July 2011

I have been trying to start a blog for several months… no, not months,  years… yes several years and I never did. Part of it was that I am pretty busy doing things and sometimes doing some other things and some other times doing those other things.

Anyways, I am not sure what to write about in this one. I guess, I will just say Salaam…. so Salaam. I should have said that in the beginning. Very rude of me.

I guess, this is it for now. I’ll hopefully write a proper blog some time soon, now, that I know I have a weblog to maintain.