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The Dreams of a Mother and her Son: Fahima and Fahim’s Journey from Afghanistan to America 

My mother, Fahima Fazli, who was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1945, faced early tragedy and difficulties when she lost her mother at the young age of five. She grew up in a large family of 11 siblings, under the guidance of her father, Lieutenant Colonel Abdul Aziz, and her stepmother, along with her brother and sister, until she was 16.

Since childhood, she dreamt of becoming a doctor or a midwife. When she was 16, her father arranged for her to marry Jamil Fazli, the son of Lieutenant Colonel Fazli Barikzoy.

Jamil, a handsome 25-year-old, had his first job as a banker but still lived with his 12 brothers and sisters.  Following the cultural norms, Fahima and Jamil got married and moved in with Jamil’s family of 12 siblings.

Fahima was unhappy sharing a three-bedroom space with her brothers and sisters, so she persuaded Jamil to move out and get their own place. It took them two years to achieve that. She became pregnant and lost her son; a year later, she gave birth to Suhail Fazli. Life was wonderful until her second son, Fahim Fazli, was born in 1966. Things started to go downhill. 

My father, Jamil, a good-looking man, always socialized and partied with his banker friends while Fahima raised her two sons mostly by herself. Her brother and sister helped look after them while she focused on going to school to become a nurse. Jamil was busy making money and partying with his friends. He would sometimes come home drunk, and arguments would break out. He would tell her she couldn’t go to school to become a doctor or nurse, demanding she stay home to raise their children. But she remained determined to pursue her dream, no matter what, to be independent. 

The arguments continued for a couple more years, sometimes turning physical or mental, with the two young sons seeing it all. Five years later, she gave birth to a third son, but she kept pursuing her degree. The arguments persisted and worsened because she would spend her first paycheck on her three sons and the house, even buying the first TV and plumbing for clean water for the house, which somewhat offended my father. She continued working and enduring the abuse until 1979, when the Russians invaded Afghanistan. 

While she protected my brothers and I from her torment, she strived, and was left with nothing. Again and again.

Despite all this, Fahima never gave up on her children and never asked for a divorce, as it would have been shameful in our culture. She continued working, eventually becoming a nurse for the president of Afghanistan’s family. Three years after her third son was born, she had two daughters, one year apart.

Reflecting on my life in 2024, I remain grateful for my carefree early Kabul childhood. Then came the 1979 Soviet invasion. I’ll always appreciate that my beautiful mom, Fahima, was brave enough to leave Afghanistan with my two sisters and my older brother—even though my dad, younger brother, and I were left behind.

Kindness didn’t come from family but from strangers who sponsored her to come to America. And from you, Mom. When you talked with me, you were not bitter. You accepted what your life was and what you made of it.

I lost my mom in 2011, shortly before my book was finished. Cancer never ran in our family, but her worst fears about that illness sadly came true at age 66. I wish I could have protected her from it all. I wrote about her at the end and the book’s dedication to the women of Afghanistan was important to me. They especially need our thoughts and prayers now.

Good moms and dads are like cushions, providing soft places for their children to land—or fall—together. I’m very grateful to my beautiful parents, Jamil and Fahima, for separately getting us to this wonderful country, the United States of America, and then for reuniting us here. They sent us to school, supported us through work, marriages, new families, and all sorts of challenges. I now understand why my folks emphasized the importance of family gatherings. Unfortunately, with my parents now gone, we siblings no longer connect as we used to. We went our different ways, becoming busy with our own children, spouses, and lives. But I hope we can eventually rekindle the warm family flames of the past.

I have reached this point in my life so comfortably by eating the fruits of your striving. When I am frustrated, wondering how I will pay the bills or irritated at a friend or tired from long days at work, I remember how privileged I am to live in this great country and how my life is so blessed, because of you.

I love you, Mom.


Fahim Fazli is an actor, author, and combat interpreter for the U.S. Marines. Born in Afghanistan, he has appeared in notable films such as Superman, Iron Man, American Sniper, 12 Strong, and Argo, and is also celebrated for his memoir, the award-winning Fahim Speaks: Between Two Worlds: A Hollywood Actor’s Journey as a U.S. Marine Translator through Afghanistan.


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