Back to dari

We had dinner last night at Omar’s house. Omar and his family fled Afghanistan in the early 90s. Dad brought out the photo albums – one thing that I love about Afghan families and that they seem to love to do – showing the family picture albums. I wondered later how he was able to flee with these pictures that show mostly men in uniform, many of whom are not alive anymore, victims of one kind of violence or another. He was close to one of the presidents who was killed. He was lucky I suppose, or smart, or well connected or all of the above.

I got to practice my Dari which had rusted a bit but I could still understand mom who spoke only haltingly Dutch. The sons, both lawyers were fluent, without even the southern Holland accent I had expected. They also speak Dari, the language of home but admitted they cannot write or read their father’s tongue. Their mother tongue is Pashto but it is not the language of home.

The house was decorated in a way I had not expected; stark modern in white and red. Even the carpet was white – no trace of the Afghan origin of this family. I had brought some Afghan treasures, destmals (checkered cloths) for the sons, an embroidered purse for mom and for dad a Nooristani carved wooden box. Now the stark lines and color scheme is a bit messed up. I should have brought a carpet although later I understood that mom prefers the plain white rug.

The unafghan-ness of this family’s living space may have something to do with their last memories of their homeland. Exiting a place full of violence cannot be without consequences; being Dutch may be better. That is certainly true for the next generation: the oldest is a doctor, there are two lawyers and a nurse. One wonders what would have happened had they stayed.

We were treated to a wonderful Afghan meal that was complete except for the traditional bread. I didn’t think Afghans could survive without their naan but apparently they can. My brother and nephew had come along. The latter held out his empty plate several times to the great delight of our hostess. He overdid it a bit, he later told me, but he surely honored the cook.

Over the last two days I have spent some time at the university, introduced as the sister of the prof. There is even a hallway named after my brother the professor, a real street sign that says ‘Vriesendorplaan.’ Underneath it, in small letters, just as at real street signs with names of famous people their claim to fame – professor in law from this date to that date. Actually as of January 2012 he will be a part time professor and working the other time with a law firm. Just as presidents, professors are forever.

I met many students who are second generation immigrants, the ones whose fathers came to work in the mines and factories because we didn’t have enough Dutch people to do that. These young people were born and bred in Holland, are at least bilingual if not tri-lingual or quadri-lingual. They are bridges between two entirely different worlds. We talked much about mental models – it has great relevance both to their future professions and their family live. Many have illiterate grandparents who live in far flung rural areas back in Turkey and Morocco – who don’t understand why their granddaughter is going to study for a semester in the US and what/where is America anyways?

I could have spent many hours listening to their stories. Most surprising was that they look at the US as a success story when it comes to immigration, and to Europe as a failure. I believe it is simply a matter of time – for Europe the kind of immigration that the US has known for over a hundred years is still only a generation or two old.

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November 2011
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