Batol Khan Mohammed
Audio Recording of Interview
Batol shares her experience as an Afghan minority woman, growing up as the child of a diplomat in Pakistan before working in the World Bank and United Nations, and then subsequently moving to the United States in 2013 due to political instability at home. She describes her personal relationship with her Shia Muslim faith in the context of her identity as a woman and as an autonomous, educated professional in the United States.
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Narrator: Batol Khan Mohammed
Date: July 19, 2019
Location: New York City, NY
Length of Interview: 40:38
Summary: Batol shares her experience as an Afghan minority woman, growing up as the child of a diplomat in Pakistan before working in the World Bank and United Nations, and then subsequently moving to the United States in 2013 due to political instability at home. She describes her personal relationship with her Shia Muslim faith in the context of her identity as a woman and as an autonomous, educated professional in the United States.
Topics: Childhood, Cultural adjustment, Education, Employment, Family, Gender, Gratitude, Immigration Process, Personal finance, Politics, Religion, Religious Practice,
Section 1: (00:13 - 06:17)
Childhood - Ms. Mohammed was born in Kabul, Afghanistan. When she was about five years old, her father who worked for the United Nations was posted to Pakistan because he and his family would be safer there and away from the wars in Afghanistan; so the family moved and lived there for some time.
Education - While in Pakistan, Ms. Mohammed attended school.
Politics - Ms. Mohammed belongs to the Hazara tribe of Afghanistan, which is the minority tribe. She notes that communities in Afghanistan are organized by tribe.
Religion - Ms. Mohammed’s mother strictly follows Shia Islam. As a result, Ms. Mohammed was raised similarly.
Gender - Growing up, Ms. Mohammed learned to believe that it was not condemnable for women to have rights unequal to men’s.
Family - Ms. Mohammed’s father passed away when she was seven years old.
Employment - Immediately after high school, Ms. Mohammed began working for the World Bank; she needed the money to support her family as she was the eldest child and her father was no longer alive.
Gender - The gender dynamics at the Ministry of Higher Education, which Ms. Mohammed had been assigned to help at some point, and those at the World Bank headquarters in Afghanistan greatly varied: the female employees at the latter were seemingly more empowered as they held higher leadership positions and, most astonishingly, did not wear headscarves.
Gender - Ms. Mohammed’s time around the female leaders at the World Bank headquarters in Afghanistan expanded her view of the potential and dignity of women.
Section 2: (06:17 - 15:33)
Employment - To move to the United States, Ms. Mohammed had to give up her stable and fulfilling career in the United Nations.
Gender - Before immigrating to the United States, Ms. Mohammed consulted her American supervisor and her mother. Her American supervisor was supportive, telling her that unlike in Afghanistan, in the US, she would have access to better job opportunities regardless of her gender.
Immigration Process - While she worked for the USAID and the UN, Ms. Mohammed applied for her visa in 2013 and it was approved two years later, in 2015.
Employment - While in Afghanistan, Ms. Mohammed held jobs not only at the UN, but also at the World Bank and eventually at USAID. This was uncommon for a woman like her in Afghanistan; consequently, she was sometimes slandered with prostitution because that is the only way some people in her community imagined her gaining the aforementioned, greatly coveted opportunities.
Family - Ms. Mohammed found it difficult to have transparent communication with her mother who she defines as “conservative.” Her mother would discourage her from building her career.
Immigration Process - Ms. Mohammed landed in New York in November of 2015. She moved in with one of her sisters who had already settled. She remembers noticing positive differences between Afghanistan and what would be her new home starting from the airport.
Religious Practice - Ms. Mohammed stopped wearing her headscarf, something that was mandatory in Afghanistan. She reveals the discomfort she experienced wearing it under hot weather.
Personal finance - Ms. Mohammed was very worried about finding a job and being able to support herself after moving in with her sister. She explains how Catholic Charities helped her get her first job, by for instance, engaging her in mock interviews.
Section 2: (15:33 - 28:22)
Education - In addition to her Bachelor’s degree, which she obtained in Afghanistan, Ms. Mohammed pursued a master’s degree at New York University (NYU) while she was at her first job in America.
Employment - Ms. Mohammed appreciates the work culture in the United States, especially how it has fostered her independence and creativity.
Cultural adjustment - In her work places in Afghanistan, Ms. Mohammed had to be explicitly reverent to her higher-ups. During a meeting, for instance, it was expected that staff stand up as a head walked in. It was astonishing to Ms. Mohammed how none of that was entertained or even welcomed in the companies she worked for in New York.
Gender - In New York, unlike in Afghanistan, Ms. Mohammed did not have to behave according to her gender; she could just simply be a person.
Cultural adjustment - Ms. Mohammed bought into the research and reading cultures of America; these were not encouraged in Afghanistan as the necessary resources were either insufficient or unavailable. She is now an avid reader.
Cultural adjustment - Ms. Mohammed dislikes the abundance of junk food in the United States.
Section 3: (28:22 - 36: 36)
Education - While in Afghanistan, most of the books Ms. Mohammed read were academic; she believes the rest that circulate the society are religious books, which are available in libraries in mosques.
Gender - Most of Ms. Mohammed’s friends in Afghanistan are men. Despite this, they do not support her career advancement and lifestyle in America.
Religious Practice - Ms. Mohammed no longer wears the hijab. She has been condemned for this as it does not align with the societal norms of Afghanistan. As a result, she maintains a distance even from Afghani communities in America.
Cultural adjustment - Since resettling in New York, Ms. Mohammed has intentionally avoided fellow Afghanis because of her past experiences with being condemned for making choices that are not expected of Muslim women.
Family - After her father passed away when she was seven years old, Ms. Mohammed co-headed the family with her mother. Her first job – at the World Bank – drastically approved her family’ finances as they were able to eat better and she could provide more for her younger siblings who were all dependent on her and a pension the family received due to her late father’s service in the UN.
Section 4: (36: 36 - 40:38)
Religious Practice - Ms. Mohammed has never observed Ramadhan since she started living in the United States. This is because although she identifies as a Muslim, she feels that many of the practices of Islam were forced upon her. She appreciates the freedom she now has to choose what she wants to do.
Gratitude - Ms. Mohammed is very grateful for the lifestyle she keeps in Brooklyn: she has a good job and she is autonomous. However, she worries about her mother and sister who still live in Kabul.