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Afghanistan: Life In Two Cultures -- Afghan Children In The West

By Faridah Saifi Over the years, civil war, drought, and insecurity have forced many Afghans to leave their homeland in search of a better life. Many have ended up in the West, where they have put down roots and begun their own families. But their children then go on to have very different lives. RFE/RL spoke to several Afghan children -- and some parents -- in Prague.

Prague, 24 September 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Farzana is 14 years old. She was born in Canada, where her parents took refuge 20 years ago. She has been living in Prague for the last two years.

Does she know about Afghanistan?

"I can't really say 'yes' or 'no' because I haven't ever been there. But I'm planning on going soon with my Mom, in a few years time," she says.

Farzana's sister Malima has a dimmer view of her parents' homeland: "I don't like it. I really feel sorry for Afghanistan because it's always in war. And I'm really interested in what's going on there and I'll see how it is."

Some children who were born in Western Europe or North America don't know much about their parents' country -- and others don't want to know about it.

Maliha Ahrari says she tries to help her children know about Afghanistan -- but wants to wait a while before she takes them there.

"When I'm talking about Afghanistan, my children don't understand much and I don't want to explain more to them. But I want to take them one day to Afghanistan and show them the opportunity in that country and I want to share my feelings with my children. I know it's very difficult for them, but I want to get them ready slowly and they understand how much I love my country," Ahrari says.

Afghans abroad often try hard to keep their cultural traditions alive. But, as this Afghan father says, this sometimes poses difficulties for the younger generation.

"This is the wish of all parents, that their children should have the same cultural values that we had. But it's very difficult when they live in the Western society and a different cultural environment compared with the Afghan culture. We've been trying very hard to keep them in the same environment and culture, but they can't accept both or many cultures [right now]. It's not an easy task. They have to be in this new culture and new environment and, in the mean time, when they come home the expectations of parents are that kids should be responding to their wishes as well. It's a difficult task; it's not easy," he says.
"When I'm talking about Afghanistan, my children don't understand much and I don't want to explain more to them."

Language plays a large part in preserving the home culture. Often, parents talk in their native language at home. But some children are happy to speak in the language of their new environment.

Malima says English is easier for her -- though she speaks an Afghan language at home.

Eight-year-old Milad has been in Prague for one year. He was born in Pakistan and has visited Afghanistan -- so he's had to adapt more than the children born in Western countries.

"In Afghanistan I was playing with my cousins soccer and in Prague my friends don't play with me, I'm just playing by myself. I don't know how to read yet. I don't know [the] A-B-C [alphabet]. I know the A-B-C but I don't know how to say it, read it, and write it," Milad says.

Whether they were born there or not, it seems Afghan children abroad are still curious about -- and often proud of -- their homeland.