Ariana Delawari

Posted by on Nov 30, 2009 in Inspired by Dan

My Story

I was born in Los Angeles the same year the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. My mother says that I never slept in a crib. Twenty days before I was born my father’s family left their country and sought refuge in our home. I was constantly held and never alone. They named me “Ariana” after the ancient name of Afghanistan. It means “land of the Aryans”. My earliest memories of those days are as follows: Afghan parties at our house that lasted till 3 in the morning, dressing up like Madonna with my cousins while my older sister choreographed and directed “music videos”, dislike for my kindergarten teacher who said I “talked too much”, listening to bands like Madness and Depeche Mode, the color pink, an old Afghan nursery rhyme that my grandmother Ko Ko-jan used to sing to me that went “Oh la lo, la lo, la lo”, my father’s “V 4 AFGHAN” license plate, and side pony tails.

My first language was Dari, and, yet the first song I learned to sing was “lucky star” by Madonna. I was playing with rainbow bright dolls and watching The Wizard of Oz while families were lost in the crossfire of constant battle. My life as an Afghan American was clearly worlds apart from that of a young girl growing up in Afghanistan. And though I always felt deeply connected to Afghanistan, I never dreamt of actually getting to see this magical land of my ancestry. My father would tell stories of his childhood and the only reference I ever had were the pictures I had seen in National Geographic. I was born when the war began there. The Afghanistan I grew up hearing about was too dangerous to see.

I have been an artist for as long as I can remember. Whether it was drawing, dancing, music, theatre, taking photos, making movies- I have always had to express myself creatively. So there were lessons, and teachers, and schools, and mentors. I was fortunate to grow up in a family that supported this craving of mine. September 11th 2001 brought forth many changes for my family. At the time, I was finishing my last year of film school at the University of Southern California. I remember waking up to a phone call from father telling me of the devastating news. That day I knew that our lives would be changed forever.

Over the course of the next several months, my parents decided to move to Afghanistan and help reconstruct the country. My father left in February 2002. My mother stayed behind to sell the house, the cars, and their business. I took my first trip to Afghanistan on my twenty second birthday, October 21, 2002. I felt that arriving on my birthday would complete a cycle of my life and begin a new chapter of revelations. In all of the years of living here, all of the schools and experiences, nothing could teach me or change me more than this first trip to Afghanistan. The evidence of destruction was everywhere. There were huge bullet holes in the window of our hotel room. But what shocked me the most was the beauty and resilience of the Afghan people. I could see the wear of loss in the lines around their eyes or the roughness of their hands, but never in their spirit. These people are full of joy and love. I expected devastation and was met with faith. This is perhaps the greatest lesson of my life. I feel so blessed to be able to see and document this time in the history of Afghanistan.

I hope to bring you a glimpse of my culture in a light that you may not have seen. I can only attempt to bring you the joy that these people have brought me. An Italian man working for the Italian Embassy in Kabul during my last visit to Afghanistan said to me, “Ariana, I can see in these pictures that you are giving something to the people, not taking from them. This is a gift you have. Now you must go back to the United States and share this gift with the world.” I hope that this site begins that quest.

Thank you for sharing this experience with me.

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