The Ones I Love: Ali

Tahmina celebrates its 2nd Anniversary this week, and we’re kicking off a blog series called, “The Ones I Love,” featuring stories from our anonymous founder and the relationships she’s built during her time in Afghanistan. These will be personal and intimate stories of courageous Afghan people who have endured unimaginable injustices and yet have responded with the most incredible resilience. Names have been changed for security.        

            Ali is the driver of our office, and he is actually the last person I see when I leave Afghanistan at the airport and the first person who greets and drives me when I return. Through all of our car rides there have been countless conversations, and Ali is one of the more joyful people I’ve interacted with, who can always be heard by his deep, belly laughter. I admire and respect his joy, especially after hearing more of his story.

            Ali was born into a poor family in a rural province, and was one of the luckier Afghans who studied up to high school and can read and write. He’s done a mix of jobs from throughout his life, from farming to being a doorman, and several years ago started working for a variety of foreign nonprofits and companies. While there are certain fundamentalist groups who are against the presence of foreigners in Afghanistan, Ali is probably more representative of the rest of the population. Ali has enjoyed working with foreigners in the past because of the various aid projects that have brought development to communities throughout the country, and he gets to interact with a diversity of people who come from all different backgrounds and worldviews. Ali is part of a larger population in Afghanistan that wants their country to rebuild, modernize, and interact with the rest of the world.

            A few years ago, Ali was working and commuting back and forth between two provinces. He would spend the weekdays in one province, and then go to his family over the weekend a few hours away in his hometown. Ali’s hometown has become more restive recently, with the terrorist presence growing heavier. One day, Ali came home to a letter that was a death threat from the Taliban. They threatened to kill him because it was widely known in his village that Ali was working with foreigners. Ali quickly moved his wife and five sons out of his hometown to another city. Fundamentalist groups will often threaten Afghans who work in jobs that are against their ideology: from foreign offices to media to music and arts. There are many Afghans like Ali who risk their life every day to show up to work and support their families.

Tragedy is no stranger to Afghanistan and tends to knock on doors in a diversity of forms.

            While terrorism is a major threat, crime is also a risk for many Afghans who live in urban cities. Last year, Ali had a cousin living in the capital city who was killed. This cousin was outside early in the morning to exchange some cash and was mugged and stabbed by a petty gang. No one else was nearby to help him, and he died from the bleeding of the knife wound. I found out later that this man lost his life because of the $600 that he had in his pocket. Tragedy is no stranger to Afghanistan and tends to knock on doors in a diversity of forms.

            In spite of this, I hear Ali laugh every day. He has a huge heart that creates spaces of joy, but does not invalidate or ignore the moments of sorrow. I’ve watched him cry when his mother passed away, and through many conversations in the car, I see him wrestling with an Afghanistan that is caught between the past and the future.

            Ali has five sons and this year his two oldest sons took the university entrance exams. One got into a public university, which means he will have free college education for the next four years. The other got into a private university, and the family will have to pay for his tuition. Ali is of a lower socio-economic background, and cannot pay for the tuition while supporting the family with his salary. Ali’s wife is going to sell all of her gold jewelry to send the second son to school. She said, “I received all of this jewelry years ago when I got married, and now this isn’t as important anymore; what is more important is my son’s future.” Some Afghans may dismiss Ali’s wife as an illiterate housewife, but she is a profoundly wise mother. Ali’s two sons are the first generation in his family to attend university. They are a symbol of hope and the new generation of Afghanistan.

            Tahmina donates 10% of its revenue to nonprofit efforts in Afghanistan, and we have a few key causes that we invest in. One of those is education and the next generation of Afghanistan. We hope that our investments can help break cycles of generational poverty and provide sustainable pathways of rebuilding for the communities that we work with. Our sale will end today, but we hope that you will take advantage of it knowing that a significant portion of your purchase will go to the valuable investment of transforming communities. We are always amazed by the courage of those in our midst and walk towards the future with brighter hope.