On Saturday, my family and I returned from our summer vacation which was in Aruba – a Dutch-influenced Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela. The transition from leaving the United States and arriving in Aruba was seamless. However, I can’t say the same for our return.
At Queen Beatrix International Airport in Aruba, the Mausser family was randomly selected for a full-blown security check by Homeland Security as we prepared for our return flight. Now, being the upstanding U.S. citizens that we are, the only contraband our luggage contained were a bag of sea shells and my favorite snacking vice – pistachios. Neither of which were confiscated I might add. But I can let you know that I was annoyed by the time that three security checks took to make our way to the airport bar. Can you say cocktail? (I mean, we hadn’t actually left paradise yet.)
Yet, I didn’t like the way our fellow passengers stared at us as we were detained. It made me feel as though we were criminals and had done something wrong. Also, if we were the nefarious type, I loved the ocean view in Aruba, but I don’t think I would want it from my prison cell. So, once we arrived in Charlotte, N.C., I was actually relieved to be an American back in the good, ole U. S. of A.
But it got me thinking, it is so easy for myself and fellow U.S. citizens to take our lives, the American way of life for granted. We have the freedom to choose the types of restaurants, careers, schools and vacations we want. It’s not as though I don’t feel that we warrant a decent lifestyle, but this freedom is not always an option, especially for young adults who live in other countries. I never had this perspective until I lived with a roommate who helped me to change my point of view.
Naz, an Afghan woman in her thirties, came into my life when I moved to Manhattan Beach, CA. She was a flight attendant who had just moved to Los Angeles from a suburb of San Francisco, and she needed a place to live. At the time, my mother-in-law had hooked me up in an apartment shared with a few United flight attendants. It had sort of a revolving door since these women were relocated on a regular basis.
So for the first few months, I hardly knew Naz was there because she was so quiet. She kept mostly to herself, but one evening she invited me into her room to talk.
I noticed an interesting, old photograph on the wall among her family pictures; It was a photo of Harry S. Truman, before his presidency, shaking hands with Naz’ maternal grandfather in Afghanistan.
She explained that her grandfather had had a successful career as an Afghan politician during the 1940s and ‘50s. Although her family hadn’t been royalty, politically they were the next best thing and that allowed them some special privileges. While growing up, Naz and her family were able to enjoy the benefits of going to good schools, having nice vacations and living in beautiful homes.
This all changed in 1978 when the Afghan War – an internal conflict between anti-communists, Muslim guerillas and Soviet troops seeking to maintain a communist government in power in Afghanistan – broke out. The Afghan government was overthrown in April of that year, and left-wing military officers handed the power over to two Marxist-Leninist political parties. Life as Naz and her family knew it was over.
Leaving her house one day, Naz noticed Soviet soldiers stationed outside every house on her block. She was confused and scared. There was little anyone could do except wait and see what would happen.
A few weeks later, the soldiers became troops, and were everywhere.
About this time, modern Afghan women were changing the course of history in the male-dominated country by getting an education and expressing their opinions.
This spurred Naz and her friends to plan a protest to show their resentment towards their country’s turmoil.
Before the rally even took place, the rumor of it spread like wildfire. Naz’s mother received an anonymous telephone call revealing that a warrant for Naz’s arrest had been issued. That same day, her family sent her to live with relatives in France.
She has always considered herself one of the lucky ones. The other two women had no prior warning of their arrests, were sent to prison.
The political conditions in Afghanistan progressively worsened and it was almost a year before Naz’s whole family, except for her father, were able to immigrate together to the United States.
Before I met Naz, I knew from newspapers and television that these situations existed in the world, but most certainly never fathomed their reality. My year of living with Naz taught me a lot, and made me appreciate my life as an American.
So, today, on the 4th of July, our Independence Day, please join me in honoring our great nation. Please take a moment to be thankful for the freedom in our lives and why we are able to revel in it. As Americans, we are lucky to live the lives we do in a country that allows us to control our own destiny.
Happy Birthday America!