Fahime Mohammad, Afghan

Interviewed: March 7, 2014

Fahime Mohammad was only a child when the Soviets rolled into Afghanistan in 1979. Brought in to support the newly-established socialist government, the arrival of Soviet troops marked the beginning of a decade-long conflict that would divide the country between state forces and various insurgent groups, known as the mujahideen. Growing up in the capital city of Kabul, Fahime was forced to undergo mandatory training for the Soviet military during high school. As the conflict grew more desperate, involuntary conscription became widespread, and Fahime learned that he would be inducted into the Soviet forces to contend with the mujahideen groups. Utterly disgusted by the thought of fighting other Afghans over a foreign power’s ideological interests, Fahime instead chose to flee the country. Together with his brother, several other family members, and a couple neighbors, he managed to slip past numerous border checkpoints for both sides. Hiding underneath the seats of a bus zigzagging through the countryside and hiking across snow-dappled mountains, they finally found themselves safely in Peshawar, Pakistan in 1989.

Fahime and his brother stayed in Pakistan for two years, but were not legally allowed to work or go to school. This, along with discriminatory attitudes against the growing population of Afghan refugees, prompted them to search for a way to emigrate. Using Pakistani passports, the two brothers hopped on a plane and flew through several major Asian cities before arriving in LAX in California, where they immediately declared their status as refugees. Fahime and his brother then took an Amtrak train to St. Louis to live with their uncle, and began to peruse the vast body of American cinema while waiting for work authorization. Realizing that they were just biding their time, Fahime decided to enroll at Roosevelt High School to finally attain his diploma (since he left before finishing his senior year in Afghanistan). Though he knew very little English at first, he managed to pass with the help of ESL tutors from the International Institute.

Fahime and his brother found jobs at Old Warson Country Club, where they worked for several years as Fahime earned a degree in IT from St. Louis Community College. After graduating, he found a position with Edward Jones, which is where he stayed until 2005, when his brother had the idea of opening Missouri’s first Afghan restaurant. Despite fears of failure and some rocky times, they now manage Sameem Afghan Restaurant, the critically-acclaimed spot in the Grove. Grateful for the hospitality he received as a newcomer in America, Fahime encourages the people of St. Louis to continue welcoming new immigrants and refugees to the city. When the diverse neighborhoods of St. Louis flourish, the entire city reaps the benefits.

Facts about Afghanistan

Ahmad Shah DURRANI unified the Pashtun tribes and founded Afghanistan in 1747. The country served as a buffer between the British and Russian Empires until it won independence from notional British control in 1919. A brief experiment in democracy ended in a 1973 coup and a 1978 communist countercoup. The Soviet Union invaded in 1979 to support the tottering Afghan communist regime, touching off a long and destructive war. The USSR withdrew in 1989 under relentless pressure by internationally supported anti-communist mujahidin rebels. A series of subsequent civil wars saw Kabul finally fall in 1996 to the Taliban, a hardline Pakistani-sponsored movement that emerged in 1994 to end the country's civil war and anarchy. Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, a US, Allied, and anti-Taliban Northern Alliance military action toppled the Taliban for sheltering Usama BIN LADIN.

Despite gains toward building a stable central government, the Taliban remains a serious challenge for the Afghan Government in almost every province. The Taliban still considers itself the rightful government of Afghanistan, and it remains a capable and confident insurgent force despite its last two spiritual leaders being killed; it continues to declare that it will pursue a peace deal with Kabul only after foreign military forces depart.

Population: 33,332,025 (July 2016 est.)

Location: Southern Asia, north and west of Pakistan, east of Iran

Languages: Afghan Persian or Dari (official) 50%, Pashto (official) 35%, Turkic languages (primarily Uzbek and Turkmen) 11%, 30 minor languages (primarily Balochi and Pashai) 4%, much bilingualism, but Dari functions as the lingua franca

Religions: Muslim 99.7% (Sunni 84.7 - 89.7%, Shia 10 - 15%), other 0.3% (2009 est.)

Ethnic Groups: Afghanistan's 2004 constitution recognizes 14 ethnic groups: Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Baloch, Turkmen, Nuristani, Pamiri, Arab, Gujar, Brahui, Qizilbash, Aimaq, and Pashai (2015)

Information from the CIA World Factbook