Part 1 of Kamilah’s essay.

I do not blame people who question my religion and culture because all they have heard about Afghanistan is war and violence. Most of the time when we talk or I give a presentation about Afghanistan they are happy to learn about my culture.

There are many positive points that I like about my culture. These include unity and sincerity within families, respect and love between people, and respect of family order. Although I love my culture, I don’t accept the absurd traditions that have been mixed with it.

I feel very sad when I hear my American classmates, friends, and other people around me talking about Afghanistan as a home for bomb blasts, suicide attacks, war, murder, and other crimes, but I feel lucky to have found a chance to change their views about my people and my country.

As a result of our talking about Afghanistan, one of my professors would like to go there and teach now. My culture class gave me the opportunity to share some of the beauty of Afghanistan and the generosity of Afghans with my school’s community. I brought changes to my school and I intend to bring more.

I always dreamed of being a journalist, of working with the BBC or CNN, and starting a media company in my province—a place where people still live in caves, have never heard of politics, and where women work tirelessly like machines and the girls walk four hours every day to get to school.

I am majoring in journalism. It is much easier to influence educated people through writing than arguing or having long discussions.

I have seen this when classmates react to the poem “And You Called Me Colored?” by an unknown author, or the Holocaust memoir “Night” by Elie Wiesel. 

I’ve seen how “The Kite Runner” by Khalid Hussaini moved the world. When I worked with the Afghan newspaper Adlu Refah as a reporter, I criticized the outdated tradition of my own ethnicity of hurting themselves during Muharram-ul Haram, a holy month for Shia Muslims.

The publisher of the magazine was surprised that I dared to write about such a sensitive topic that most people try to ignore. I was the only female reporter at the time, and he thought my story was important enough that he translated it to be published in Arabic papers.

We change the world by changing the world’s citizens’ ideas about each other. This does not happen by military attack or colonization. This happens when people talk and listen to one another.

According to my traditional society, the woman’s place is at home: getting married, raising babies, and serving her family. Too often a woman’s position is as a wife of a man who comes home angry and tired and then beats her.

Often a woman’s position is as a sister—a selfish brother yells at her for forgetting to wash his socks; or she is a neighbor of a man just searching for a small mistake to share it with the whole neighborhood; or she is a student of a professor who does not want to believe in her abilities.

Breaking those outdated traditions is difficult, but not impossible, and we Afghans need to take steps toward it.

I taught my brothers to do their work themselves and I taught my sisters to not allow anyone to interfere in their lives. I taught my family to believe in their daughters’ abilities as much as they trust in their sons’. I changed my father’s idea about girls. He allowed me to continue my education wherever I want.

Now my younger sisters will not be forced to marry a man who sees women only as feeble-minded, second-class citizens, or weak members of society. My relatives will not laugh at my parents for having a bunch of girls who are, in their perspective, nothing but “additional dependents.”

It is said, “A man only teaches himself, but a woman teaches the whole family.” As I work to make my dreams of becoming a successful journalist come true, I am choosing my way: education and action. But not just for myself. For my family, and for Afghanistan.

By Kamilah

Kamilah is currently a student in the United States. Photo by Steve McCurry.