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Wartime Translator Explores Her 'Father's Country'

Apr 22, 2012 (Weekend Edition Sunday)

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Saima Wahab was born in Afghanistan and moved to the United States as a teenager. Previously, she was cultural adviser with the U.S. Army.

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As an Afghan-American woman, Saima Wahab straddles two worlds — disparate places that have been brought together over the past decade by war.

Wahab has literally mediated those two worlds. As a Pashto translator and cultural adviser for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, she often found herself standing between American soldiers and Afghan civilians.

In her new memoir, In My Father's Country: An Afghan Woman Defies Her Fate, Wahab writes about leaving Afghanistan as a young girl, growing up in the United States and later returning to her birth country.

Wahab says she titled the book in reference to her father because he was always incredibly supportive of her. Traditionally, Pashtun men fire gunshots into the air when their wives deliver a son. But Wahab's father fired his gun when she was born, too.

"When he came out and did that, people assumed automatically that it was another son," Wahab says. "And he just told them, no, it was a daughter. To this day I talk about it very proudly, because he was so ahead of his times."

Wahab says she was afraid to return to her father's country, but not for the reasons one might expect. The perils of war didn't trouble her as much as the prospect of reconnecting with a country she left long ago.

"I was afraid I might have changed so much that I would go to the country of Afghanistan and hate it," she says. "I was never afraid for my safety. I was afraid of what I might find out about myself and my connection with Afghan people."

Wahab recently joined NPR's Rachel Martin to discuss exactly what she found out about herself, straddling cultures, Afghanistan and war.

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