Natives long for Afghanistan of their youth

The Schenectady County Public Library will be the site Saturday of the Afghan Cultural festival.

Nila Khaliqi wants to share stories with people in the Capital Region about memories of her native country, Afghanistan.

“I love it here in America,” said Khaliqi, 44, who lives in Guilderland. “It is my second home. But someday I would like to go back home. The sad thing is nothing is left but my memories. All my friends — I don’t know where they are. The place I grew up in — Kabul, the capital — is different. Everything has changed now.”

Khaliqi and her 15-year-old American-born daughter, Sarah, will be reading Afghan tales in Persian and English, and Sarah will present a dance and singing performance and fashion show of Afghan dress native, during the Afghan Cultural Festival from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday in the McChesney Room at the Schenectady County Library.

“I hope by coming to the festival, people learn that Afghanistan is not a country just about war, and that it has not been destroyed,” said Sarah Khaliqi, a freshmen at Guilderland High School who enjoys dancing, writing and sports.

Afghan Cultural Festival

WHERE: Schenectady County Public Library, 99 Clinton St.

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday

HOW MUCH: Free

MORE INFO: www.scpl.org

“I hope people understand that our culture is rich, and our people are so nice and hospitable. I don’t want people to think that Afghan people are uneducated or less than other people just because they live in a Third World country.”

Fleeing to India

Nila Khaliqi left Afghanistan about 30 years ago as a teenager shortly after leaving high school. Before she fled her country after the Russian invasion, she had planned to study law.

Instead, she fled to India where her father was living and working as a newspaper reporter.

“My father was absolutely against the government he left behind,” Khaliqi recalled.

In India, she was introduced to an Afghan-American man, who she married in an arranged marriage, as is the Afghan custom.

“My husband used his vacation to come to India,” said Khaliqi. “We got married within two weeks, and he returned to the United States. I stayed in India for six months till all my paperwork was finished. Then I moved to Guilderland to be with him.”

Khaliqi works as a dental technician. Previously, she worked at Prentice Hall for eight years until she gave birth to Sarah.

Sarah would love to visit Afghanistan some day.

“Sarah really wants to go back home, but it’s not safe now,” said Khaliqi, who still has cousins in the country. “Right now I am too scared.”

Khaliqi described the culture as very “strong and rich.”

“We are very proud of our culture,” said Khaliqi. “I am so sad to see how my culture has changed. When my dad went back home after 20 years, he said everyone had run away from the country, and now there are different people with different cultures.”

Khaliqi remembers a very respectful society.

“When we used to use the public bus, if we saw an older woman or children, we always gave our seat to them,” she recalled. “Even if you didn’t know somebody, you always say ‘hi.’ If you didn’t, people would think you were impolite.”

Although the country was poor, neighbors would help neighbors.

“If you were having company and needed some food, you could go to your neighbor’s house and ask them to help you, and they would,” said Khaliqi. “That’s the way people were. No one was rich in Afghanistan.”

Seeking the familiar

Khaliqi said she misses her childhood, her friends, and her country.

“The thing that bothers me, and I can’t stop my tears, is when I see video recordings on television from the place where I lived,” she recalled. “I try so hard to find something familiar, and I can’t.”

Khaliqi said she is grateful to the United States for trying to help her country fight the Taliban.

“My dream is that people who come to the festival will learn about my culture and the freedom we used to have,” said Khaliqi. “Women in the capital and other cities were trying so hard to educate themselves. Although we are a Third World country, I am proud that we are also a very rich country culturally.”

Ahmad Yusufi of Schenectady, 48, an official for the Schenectady Department of Development, came to the United States as a refugee when he was 19 after the Russian invasion.

“Most Afghans were very friendly, hospitable, and had close family ties prior to the invasion,” recalled Yusufi, a committee member for the festival.

“My childhood and high school days were very happy, spending time with friends in a peaceful environment, picnicking outside, celebrating national Afghan days,” said Yusufi. “Today, people are basically trying to protect themselves from bullets and bombs and various other scary situations.”

Yusufi said it saddens him to watch news of Afghanistan on television.

“It even hurts my feelings when I see a bomb going off in the ground, let alone the people who are hurt,” he added.

Yusufi said he misses the peaceful life in his country that he had when he was young, as well as the beautiful scenery and open, free, atmosphere that existed at that time.”

At the festival, Yusufi said he hopes people will see what Afghans look like, what they eat, how they dance and what kind of music they enjoy listening to.

“I want them to take some of the culture with them,” he said. “Not just see Afghans in turbans with guns. I’m hoping they will see the happy Afghan side of the story.”

Schedule

The Afghan Cultural Festival will take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 19, in the McChesney Room of the Schenectady County Library, 99 Clinton St.

— 10 to 11 a.m.: Kite-making program for children ages 6 to 11 in the Children’s Room.

— 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Afghan kite-making demonstration and display; exhibits of coins, carpets, clothing and other cultural items; children’s craft corner; Community Service Project table.

— 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Sample free authentic Afghan cuisine such as samosas, (green peas, potatoes and onions); pallow, (rice with almonds, raisins and pistachios); chicken kabobs; lamb curry; salad; sabzi, (spinach); shor nakhod (potatoes, chickpeas, onions; Naan, (Afghan bread) and baklava.

— 1 to 2 p.m. Storytelling, “Tales of Peace,” presented by the Storycrafters.

— 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.: Hossin M. Noorzai will play traditional Afghan music both solo and as background music for a dance performance and fashion show provided by Sarah Khaliqui and her friends. Khaliqi will also read an Afghan tale in Persian and English.

Categories: Life and Arts

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