By Ly Nguyen
On Thursday, Feb. 19, the International Student Association, World Around U, and the Political Science Honor Society, Pi Sigma Alpha, hosted a dinner and discussion in Messa House that was focused on on life in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Tariq Maroofi ’16 and Saad Shukran ’16 shared their experiences, beginning from their childhood throughout their teenage years, to the time when each of them got accepted to Union.
Maroofi was born in Afghanistan but moved to Pakistan when he was a child. He was raised in a refugee camp. He often wore the same clothes and only owned pants.
Growing up in under the Taliban regime, he learned that his home country had changed immensely since the 1960s.
He stated that back in the 1960s, there was democracy in Afghanistan, which advocated a lot of educational and financial freedom for women. Female students could pursue higher education and even wear jeans.
After the pro-democracy president was killed by the Russians, U.S. intervened to eradicate USSR communism. As a consequence, in 2000, the Taliban killed CIA-backed warlords and came into power.
In Afghanistan, Taliban soldiers forced people to pray.
Maroofi described a moment when he was driving with his relative.
Maroofi explained, “A mile away, I could hear the screaming of thieves. They were beaten. There was no proper law, but only the tribal leaders would decide on the course of actions.”
His relative was even afraid to put on a song on the radio, out of fear that the Taliban would break the radio and tapes. The only songs that they were advised to listen to were Islamic songs, and for the entertainment, it was recommended for Afghans to “go to a garden and look at roses,” Tariq said.
Maroofi continued, “Additionally, there were U.S. Army cars, which always seemed to be in the front. If they (U.S. Army cars) go ahead, they will shoot you.” He saw how one shot was missed and hit the tree, which burned.
“As a kid, I loved Talibans. But since 2008, I learned different stories about the fate of workers in my uncle’s organization, and I started to question everything. I learned what I believe in, what they believe in. What I want and what they want,” said Maroofi. He used to regard the members of the Taliban as his brothers and role models.
When he came to U.S. for his high school education, he explained that he faced ideological conflicts. As a freshman, he did not know whether he was faithful to himself or not. He learned a lot from his high school peers, who had been smart and tolerant. Learning about ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, he started questioning the ways of living in the U.S. and his home country. After years, he managed to find the “common ground.”
Maroofi talked about the positive and negative aspects of both the U.S. and the Taliban. He noted, “The Taliban hang onto cultural traditions.” Maroofi continued, “The U.S. had good intentions to support the country and brought in educated people, but only one spectrum of the problem was considered. Because the warlords were given the power, we cannot unify. Now many educated people died after the terrorist attacks and there is probably going to be no progress with women.” He stressed that his home country is usually discussed in terms of the Taliban regime. However, all the good aspects of the regional traditions are omitted. For example, he explained that there is a custom of hospitality in Afghanistan, where “if you are at the doorstep, we don’t care who you are. But the first thing we do is that we invite you into our house and we give you food.”
He enrolled at Union after he got in touch with Director of International Students Mary Karen Vellines. He received a decision with a scholarship in the spring of 2012. Saad Shukran was born and raised in Pakistan. He had a father who was an army officer fighting against the Taliban. He said he lived in constant fear growing up. He said, “On TV, we saw that something happened and then we would move on, doing our own thing.”
At the age of 17, the massive terrorist attack on the mosque on Parade Lane was a pivotal event in his life. Shukran’s younger brother and another 60 people lost their lives. Despite his immediate loss, Shukran helped five children jump over a wall to escape the danger during the attack, saving their lives. Consequently, he stayed and suffered from a grenade explosion. He sustained serious injuries and had to go through several surgeries to recover completely. Shukran received the Medal of Bravery from the president of Pakistan, and he was recognized nationally as the youngest person, at the age of 17, to get the award. Later, Shukran wrote about the painful event and the award on his college application, and he was accepted to Union. When asked about the educational system in Pakistan, Shukran explained that there are religious and secular schools. In a religious school, the parents usually do not know what is taught to their children.
He shared, “I attended a normal (secular) school, where the teacher would be always five minutes late, because the school was big, while there were only a few teachers.” Maroofi added that his textbooks were old and “from fifth to eighth grade we learned the same stuff, because the money paid for students’ education were put in people’s pockets.” Maroofi eventually wants to return to Pakistan to help people the way his uncle did. Shukran commented that his return to Pakistan would depend on how much influence he would be able to have in helping people.
Both students plan to stay in U.S. for several years and hope that their experience will bring them opportunities for success.