On December 25, 1979, the armed forces of the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in support of pro-Communist forces engaged in a power struggle with insurgent forces known as the mujahideen. Soviet forces marched into the capital city of Kabul and later succeeded in staging a coup in which President Hafizullah Amin (1929-1979) was removed and replaced with Soviet loyalist Babrak Karmal (1929-1966). Thousands of Afghan citizens were rendered homeless as bombs fells and brutal fighting produced collateral damage. For Enjeela Ahmadi-Miller, the war changed her life in ways she could have never imagined.
This moving autobiography is Ahmadi-Miller’s story of life in Afghanistan and her family’s journey across cities and countries in search of a better life far removed from war torn Kabul. As the book begins, we are taken inside her home where she and her seven siblings are being raised by their parents Abdullah and Miriam. Their daily routine is what we would expect of large family and the interactions between siblings is something that anyone with brothers and sisters can easily relate to. Her parents care deeply for each other but Abdullah, whom Enjeela affectionately calls Padar, has a vice that eventually fractures their marriage. Though they are able to move past it, changes in the Afghan government coupled with a crackdown on opposition voices, results in Miriam making the decision to leave the country with half of their children, leaving Padar and the rest behind. He is determined never to leave Afghanistan and is certain they can ride out the war. However, the reality of the conflict begins to hit home as he finds himself suspected by the Soviets of secretly working for the United States. Time begins to run out and Padar decides that they will join their mother who has settled in India. He sends his children on their journey with a trusted friend, Masood, and promises to join them in neighboring Pakistan. Masood is a loyal and dedicated friend who serves as their guardian as they traverse across mountains, valleys and small villages across Afghanistan and Pakistan. Enjeela and her siblings soon experience the realities of the world that have a profound effect on all them.
As they move through Afghanistan and later Pakistan, they encounter many dark realities of life that children in the west are never exposed to. Soviet fighters had engulfed the city and their presence alone is enough to cause fear and consternation among the local populace. Enjeela has plenty to tell us and her memories of the migration between the two countries are filled with anecdotes that reveal the brutal reality that is life in remote locations. Nomads, rebels, shepherds and bandits roam freely resulting in Masood keeping a watchful eye over his group. Mina enters the story and young Enjeela soon makes a new friend. But over time, Mina’s life at home reveals a dark side of Afghanistan that Enjeela was unaware of. She is slowly growing up on this trip but in ways she could never have imagined. Their bond as siblings and support for each other are tested time and again as they are forced to use critical thought in situations that could have easily gone the wrong way.
Pakistan proves to be a refuge for the group of siblings who eventually realize that they are in fact refugees. But they have many guardian angels along the way and their roles in the story were unexpected but definitely welcomed. Those moments add a touch of humanity to a story filled with adversity. Padar eventually reenters the story and the Ahmadi family that has survived thus far, is determined to make it to India. The next leg of their journey to what they believe is their final destination, is by far the most dangerous and the escapades that ensue are what we would describe as “close calls”. Padar remains the voice of reason and their source of eternal faith. Throughout the book he is anchor upon which everyone relies for support and reassurance. His strengths and flaws are on display but it is clear that Enjeela truly loves him and the two have a special bond. After a series of mishaps, Padar and the four siblings finally reach India where a sense of normalcy sets in again. However, their mother Miriam has her own struggle and needs the support of her family at this time more than ever. Her plight and the family’s status in India, forces her and Padar to make another life altering decision that will take the family across several continents to place none of them ever thought they would live in.
This book came as a recommendation on Amazon and at first glance, the cover caught my attention. I have always been fascinated about the Middle East, a region which many westerners still struggle to understand. Enjeela’s story shows a side of Islam that is often omitted and her observations about what true Islam is and how we should treat each other, are insightful and thought provoking. My only complaint is that I wish the book had continued for a few more chapters to see how life changed for the Ahmadi family after their final move. Perhaps that part is not as important or possibly boilerplate in development. Regardless, this story of her early years in the Middle East and the struggle to survive and emigrate is enough to inspire anyone that decides to read this story. And her account goes to show that broken circles can be repaired.