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A pediatrician takes pride in her Afghan cabdriver father

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By Waheeda Samady as published in the LATIMES

In the morning, before my father and I go our separate ways to work, we chat amiably. “Good luck on your day.” “Hope business is good.” And our one response to everything: “Inshallah.” God willing.

I get into my mini-SUV and head off to the hospital, groaning about the lack of sleep, the lack of time, but also knowing that I am driving off to what has always been my dream.

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My father gets into his blue taxi, picks up his radio and tells the dispatcher he’s ready. Then he waits. He waits for someone wanting to go somewhere. He waits to go home to my mother, the woman he calls “the boss.” Maybe today will be a good day. He will call her up and tell her he is taking her out tonight. He can do that now that we’re all grown up; now that he doesn’t have to save every dime for the “what-ifs” and the “just-in-cases.”

There is very little complaining in his car. His day starts off with a silent prayer, then a pledge: Hudaya ba omaide hudit. God, as you wish. Then he hums or sings. Some songs are about love and some about loss. They are all about life. He sings. He smiles the whole time.

My father is the type of person who is content to listen, but I love it when he speaks. There is wisdom there, although he does not intend there to be.

“What’s new?” he’ll ask over a Saturday morning breakfast.

“Not much,” I reply. “My life revolves around these books, Dad; there is little to say unless you want to hear about the urinary tract.”

“You know when Gandhi’s minister of foreign affairs died, his only true possessions were books. It is the sign of a life worth living,” he replies and begins to butter his toast.

Sometimes, the years of education and learning shine through the injuries and lost dreams. I get a glimpse of the man who once existed, and the one who never will. Who would he have been, I wonder, if the bombs hadn’t come down in 1978? What if I could take away the time he spent in a coma, the years of treatment and surgery, the broken bones and disabilities. What if there were no refugee ghettos, no poverty, no fear, no depression written in his life history. Who could he have been? The thought saddens me, but intrigues me as well. Is it possible that he is who he is because the life he has lived has been filled with such tragedy? Perhaps these stories were the making of my hero.

Sometimes he’ll tell me about his college days, about an Afghanistan I have never known and very few people would believe ever existed.

“In the College of Engineering, there was this lecture hall, with seats for 1,000 students,” his says as eyes begin to get bigger. “At the end of the lecture, the seats would move. The whole auditorium would shift as you spun along the diameter. The engineering of the building itself was very interesting.” He continues to describe the construction details, then sighs. “I wonder if it’s still around?”

There is a pause. For 25 years I have tried to fill that silence, but I have never quite figured out what to say. I guess silence goes best there. He is the next one to speak. “You see, even your old-aged father was once part of something important.”

When he says things like that I want to scream. I don’t want to believe that the years can beat away at you like that. I don’t want to know that if enough time passes, you begin to question what was real or who you are. I am unconcerned with what the world thinks of him, but it is devastating to know that he at times thinks less of himself.

We are the same, but we are separated. People don’t see him in me. I wish they would. I walk in with a doctor’s white coat or a suit or my Berkeley sweatshirt and jeans. High heels or sneakers, it doesn’t matter, people always seem impressed with me. “Pediatrician, eh?” they say. “Well, good for you.”

I wonder what people see when they look at him. They don’t see what I see in his smile. Perhaps they see a brown man with a thick accent; perhaps they think, another immigrant cabdriver. Or perhaps it is much worse: Maybe he is a profile-matched terrorist, aligned with some axis of evil. “Another Abd-ool f—–g foreigner,” I once heard someone say.

Sometimes the worst things are not what people say to your face or what they say at all, it is the things that are assumed. I am in line at the grocery store, studying at a cafe, on a plane flying somewhere.

“Her English is excellent; she must have grown up here,” I hear a lady whisper. “But why on earth does she wear that thing on her head?”

“Oh, that’s not her fault,” someone replies. “Her father probably forces her to wear that.”

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Hena Zuberi is the Editor in Chief of Muslimmatters.org. She leads the DC office of the human rights organization, Justice For All, focusing on stopping the genocide of the Rohingya under Burma Task Force, advocacy for the Uighur people with the Save Uighur Campaign and Free Kashmir Action. She was a Staff Reporter at the Muslim Link newspaper which serves the DC Metro. Hena has worked as a television news reporter and producer for CNBC Asia and World Television News. Active in her SoCal community, Hena served as the Youth Director for the Unity Center. Using her experience with Youth, she conducts Growing Up With God workshops. hena.z@muslimmatters.org Follow her on Twitter @henazuberi.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. umm.esa

    October 4, 2010 at 7:08 PM

    a very well written…and thought provoking piece.
    may Allah bless our parents and have mercy upon them…and allow us to respect them no matter how they are and what they are!

    • Hena Zuberi

      October 5, 2010 at 4:58 PM

      isn’t it umm.esa? it made me reflect on the arrogance of some children. She is not ashamed of him and why should she be? He worked hard, earned halal money to raise his daughter, empowered and educated her. She is who she is because Allah (SWT) granted her this man as her father and she acknowledges this so beautifully.
      salaam

  2. abu Rumay-.s.a.

    October 5, 2010 at 1:30 AM

    masha`Allah tabarak Allah…it really brings happiness to the heart when I hear these beautiful stories. May Allah ta`ala protect her and her family…ameen..

    A considerable number of Afghan fathers disappeared (murdered) during invasion of 1978 (including some of my relatives)… some of the families managed to escape to neighboring countries and ended up migrating (mainly) to the West.

    since then, the diaspora of afghan families to the west has had its share of very remarkable and tragic stories. Stories such as Waheeda’s are a just a sign of what earlier generation Afghans had to go through at onset of war and the hard work and sacrifice that both parent and child invested thereafter in order to achieve some of their life goals.

    tamim

  3. Middle Ground

    October 5, 2010 at 12:19 PM

    Salam

    Any Afghani with any sense of decency, after reading this, would never raise a gun to another muslim again.

    • Mansoor Ansari

      October 5, 2010 at 3:13 PM

      totally didn’t understand how ur comment is related to this story!

      • Middle Ground

        October 5, 2010 at 3:49 PM

        Salam

        This part:

        Sometimes he’ll tell me about his college days, about an Afghanistan I have never known and very few people would believe ever existed.

        “In the College of Engineering, there was this lecture hall, with seats for 1,000 students,” his says as eyes begin to get bigger. “At the end of the lecture, the seats would move. The whole auditorium would shift as you spun along the diameter. The engineering of the building itself was very interesting.” He continues to describe the construction details, then sighs. “I wonder if it’s still around?”

        There is a pause. For 25 years I have tried to fill that silence, but I have never quite figured out what to say. I guess silence goes best there. He is the next one to speak. “You see, even your old-aged father was once part of something important.”

  4. Farhan

    October 5, 2010 at 8:18 PM

    When Muslim men reach a certain age and the years of their ibadah and devotion begin to show on them, and they dress in their traditional garments, whatever that happens to me, there’s something awing about their face and appearance. I never claimed to see noor in a person’s face, because I don’t know what to look for. But, this must be it.

  5. SA

    October 5, 2010 at 11:14 PM

    Subhanallah the article brought tears to my eyes. May everyone be blessed with such amazing fathers!

  6. U

    July 10, 2011 at 7:24 PM

    There are many quick answers btw to the hijab q.

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