The Ones I Love: Najib

Tahmina celebrates its 2nd Anniversary with 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.                  

              Najib is the general manager of Tahmina, and has closely worked with us since almost the beginning of our company. He has a tall, lanky figure, and with a witty sense of humor, is known at our office as one of the main jokesters. Najib was born as the youngest of four boys and grew up during the Taliban regime. He has childhood memories of going to school wearing a turban and learning Pashto. All of Najib’s older brothers fled as refugees to Europe during this wartime. One lives in Germany, one lives in Sweden, and one lives in Italy. Najib’s father died when he was a young age, and his elderly mother now lives in Europe with one of his brothers.

             Najib always struck me as a very unique person. He speaks English well, is well traveled, and has the resilience to survive anywhere around the world. With three older brothers in Europe, he would have no issues to get a visa and invitation abroad. And while most Afghans are trying to leave the country because of the war, Najib has chosen to remain in Afghanistan. I remember one time I asked Najib why he isn’t trying to leave the country like everyone else. He replied, “Afghanistan is my home and I feel comfortable here. I want to help my country become a better place.” What I admire about Najib is his character: when he files our taxes, he will fight for justice at one of the government’s most corrupt offices. In all of Tahmina’s years of operation, we have never paid a bribe, and part of this is due to Najib’s wise and diligent navigation of Afghanistan’s government culture.

"I want to help my country become a better place.”

             Last year, Najib was driving home at night when his car was stopped by a group of men. This group said they had been following him for the past 12 days. They beat him, took all of his money, almost took his car, tied up his hands and taped his mouth, drove him two hours outside of the city, and practically left him for dead. Najib wandered around until he found the nearest village and finally made it back home late that night. 

             The very next morning, Najib showed up to work. His face and body were bruised, but I was blown away that he showed up. If it were me, I probably would have taken a week off, or even been too scared to leave my house. But Najib showed up. A few months ago, one of our other coworkers was very close to an explosion. He was deeply shaken after the incident, but he did the same thing: he came to work the next day. This is the courage of Afghans, and this is half of courage: no matter your fear and no matter your condition, you choose to show up day after day.

              At first I was so concerned that Najib was targeted because of his work with Tahmina, and later to my relief found out that the likely cause was more personal and related to his family. Still, this was a pivotal event as a company in facing the reality of the risks of our team on the ground in Afghanistan. Sometimes I’m conflicted: we live in a business climate where people want transparent supply chains, which I completely believe in and support. You can see the origin country on all of our product labels, and we or our partners verify the original source of all our products.

This is my tension, because I want to protect the ones I love.

              On the other hand, conscious culture wants to see the exact farmer or artisan who made their product, and this is my tension, because I want to protect the ones I love. This is why we made a firm decision to keep everyone anonymous and not reveal many names or faces. I could never live with myself if someone from Tahmina or their family member was ever targeted by terrorists or gangs because of any association with our company. 

              Afghanistan’s current unemployment rate is hard to measure accurately, but different sources have given estimates in the range of 40-80%. There is a large pool of talented young people who cannot find jobs. Some of the young men have actually resorted to joining insurgent groups, not because they agree with their fundamentalist ideologies, but simply because they are looking for a salary. We are proud to work with Najib and be a main source of his living income. Najib has gotten married during his time with Tahmina, and we will continue to see him support his growing family. Every time you buy our tea or saffron, you are contributing to dignified work for people like Najib. Najib is just one of many talented and courageous young people in Afghanistan who are fighting for reform and writing a new story for their nation. It has been my privilege to be a supportive witness their journey and I am so excited to see the heights they will reach and how far they will come.