Audio Recording of Interview
Javed Khan, a refugee from Afghanistan, discusses his experience of becoming a refugee as a child and living in several countries before settling in the United States in 2019. He discusses the difficulties of cultural adjustment – language barriers, worries about religious community, and fear of discriminatory hiring practices – but overall expresses hope for his family’s future in America and for the future of Afhganistan.
Other interviews of this person can be found below:
Narrator: Javed Khan
Date: November 16, 2021
Location: Great Falls, VA (Virtual)
Content Warning: Description of violence.
Summary: Javed Khan, a refugee from Afghanistan, discusses his experience of becoming a refugee as a child and living in several countries before settling in the United States in 2019. He discusses the difficulties of cultural adjustment – language barriers, worries about religious community, and fear of discriminatory hiring practices – but overall expresses hope for his family’s future in America and for the future of Afhganistan.
Topics: Multiple displacements, employment, personal finance, family, home, religious practice, places of worship, education, children, advice for change.
Section 1: (0:01:06 - 0:10:52)
Childhood, family, displacement, education, employment - Talks about being forced to leave Afghanistan to escape active war after the Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan. Moved to Pakistan to live with his uncles. He went to school in Peshawar and later had the opportunity to go to Malaysia for his Bachelors. Returned to Afghanistan after completing his studies to work in international development organizations and in the US Embassy. In 2019, the threat to his life became evident, and he left the country.
Section 2: (0:10:52 - 0:22:32)
First and second migration waves, politics - Describes the experience of moving to Pakistan as a child as difficult because of having to leave his parents but he had access to all state facilities like education, healthcare etc. Refugees staying in other countries e.g. Iran did not have the same privileges. Pakistan became home. However, the present-day migration wave is different. There are more hostile sentiments between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Immigration process, cultural adjustment, pandemic - Was afraid of not being able to provide for children in the US. Was skeptical of children not being able to fit in in American schools because of language, cultural barriers. However, diversity of the community made the adjustment easy despite COVID restrictions.
Section 3: (0:22:32 - 0:35:08)
Home, age, generational differences, history - His definition of home has constantly changed throughout his life. This was often confusing. It was hurtful to leave places where he had set up roots. For example, he now cannot return to Pakistan despite having grown up there because the people of the two countries (Pakistan and Afghanistan) now hold less welcoming opinions about each other which are spread through social media. Watching history repeat itself in Afghanistan has also been hurtful. He has found it more difficult to adapt to these changes as he has gotten older. There came a time when he craved stability.
Violence, family, financial insecurity - Recounts how recent events in Afghanistan caught him off-guard. It was a shock that’s still sinking in. His cousin was among the Afghans attempting to flee the country on an American cargo plane at Kabul airport after the Taliban takeover and he was shot in the head. The worsening economic crisis, particularly the lack of jobs, concerns him. He feels responsible for his family who are currently living in Afghanistan, because he was the one financially supporting them before he left for the United States.
Section 4: (0:35:54 - 0:45:30)
Religious practice, places of worship - There is a masjid across the street where he prayed often before COVID, and he looks forward to visiting regularly once restrictions are eased. His children are taking Quran classes online. There are family events and community programs that take place in the masjid. There are also many newly-settled Afghan families in his neighborhood, so there is a sense of familiarity.
Faith, resilience - Talks about how his faith has always stayed the same. During unclear or unpredictable times, like when he was reluctant to leave his family to move to the US, he left everything to God. Despite his doubts at the time, he now feels he made the right decision. He is grateful that he did not have to experience the challenges that most Afghan refugees experience, such as living in camps for long periods of time, housing insecurity, and documentation problems.
Section 5: (0:45:30 - 0:55:05)
Complications with faith, religious practice - Describes how the biggest challenge in terms of practicing his faith is the fewer masjids and Islamic spaces in the US. In Afghanistan, going to the masjid and the madrasa for an education in Islam and the Quran was just as important for his children as going to school. It is also hard for him here to pray at work. He talked about his co-workers not understanding his need to pray multiple times a day. However, overall it has been easy to adapt.
Personal finance, youth, parenthood - Talks about working small jobs as a student in Malaysia, selling books or working in restaurants, and how that instilled an appreciation for hard work in him. He recounts going hungry many nights. He describes his struggles with financial insecurity to his children to encourage them to work hard and to be grateful for what they have.
Section 6: (0:55:05 - 1:05:13)
Advice for change, education - He believes that the only way forward for Afghanistan is through education. He fears a return to the climate 20 years ago when there was no value for education because there were no jobs. He is also frustrated by polarization and divisions in the country on the grounds of ethnic and linguistic differences. He believes that the only way young Afghans can avoid these traps is by educating themselves.
Section 7: (1:05:13 - 1:10:56)
Politics, government, advice for future - He urges Afghan people to select their leaders wisely and to bring forward people who will work for the betterment of the country rather than exploiting its resources at the expense of the people.
Section 8: (1:10:56 - 1:21:36)
Media, pre-conflict developments, historical context, future - Talks about how, except for some Americans who have served in Afghanistan, most people are exposed only to the bad things about Afghanistan by the media. Often, this makes him very hopeless because he wants to communicate to the world that “this is not who we are.” He recounts how Kabul was becoming one of the most rapidly developing cities in the region, with many private schools and universities. He also touches on the economic potential of Afghanistan, specifically if natural resources are untapped. Says he is an example of an Afghan who is cooperative, a team player, and a contributor to the American economy.
Cultural adjustment, discrimination - Says his adjustment in the US was very smooth. His director at a previous job would express his concern about him experiencing any form of discrimination or abuse. He appreciated this gesture. He is grateful that despite his different background, religion, and language, he has gotten along well with everyone and overall, he does not have any regrets about his decision to move to the US.