Mustafa Stanizai

I am sure that we can all agree that childbirth may be one of women’s most formidable processes. Now imagine that childbirth with a ten pound ten ounce son…go a step further and now imagine that same birth amidst the peak of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, one of the most pernicious wars of history.

Try to fathom that same birthing without the safety and comfort of a hospital, nursing staff, or amenities conducive to a smooth delivery. Just a husband, father, a midwife named rosemary, and from what I’m told a waterbed. Needless to say my life had already begun with the odds already stacked against me, so my mother defied the odds. Little did that ten-pound son know that a sequence of odds would be defied for him, throughout his life by his own mother.

Those who know can attest to the fact that leaving Afghanistan in 1980 was almost an impossible feat. So a mother and child defy those odds as well, leaving a war-torn country alone with a father who had defy his own odds to join us a few months later. As an eighteen-month-old toddler with limited memory and cognition, I wouldn’t even be able to grasp such a dire scenario. And 34 years later I still try to imagine what it must have been like for a twenty-six-year-old woman to travel half way across the world with a baby in tow, limited English, money, and little to no family support at all.

My mother did what ever it took to ensure my survival, and not see the grim fate so many thousands of mothers and children saw in Kabul.  This is only one chapter of many, in which my mother’s resiliency affected my life.

My mother and father raised me as a Muslim, and they also raised me as an Afghan. To this day, I am certain my first words were in Pashto. I learned to speak two languages, Pashto and English before I even knew how to ride a bike. My parents were devout Muslims, and transitioned me slowly and gradually into the teachings, verses, and disciplines of Islam. I actually learned all my prayers and dua’s right here in this mosque through out my adolescence. The irony is a bit bitter that I am standing in the same mosque two decades later giving a eulogy on my mother. In hindsight I must say that it was a bit rough for me to assimilate in Los Angeles as a young Afghan Muslim kid. Just a young naïve, refugee boy trying to fit in with California culture.

We grew up fairly poor, but I can never remember a day in my life, that I went hungry. My mother never spoiled me, but she would reward me with toys and gifts as she saw fit, and affordable. I can still remember her buying me my first (pink) skateboard from Fedco for my birthday. A few months later, I got a Nintendo game system from the same Fedco store. But on the same note, she denied me several toys as well, and my public displays of crying, begging, and pouting had little to no affect on her.

My mother was sometimes a stern woman, and when need be, a disciplinarian, she would not hesitate to “discipline” me publicly or privately if I was acting up. In hindsight, I actually am happy that she kicked my butt a few times, because I needed it. Children are spoiled today, and act out in many ways, and commit crimes that exceed their mental capacities. We see it in the news all the time. I come from an era before child protection services, and bogus child abuse claims. Further more, 35-year-old Afghan women with kids were exempt from such children rights. If you act up with an Afghan mom or dad, you get punished. And if you were with your Afghan relatives, you were subject to their spankings as well. But I digress.

Point Blank, my mother always did everything for us within the realm of human capacity, and on a few rare occasions extraordinary things as well. I look around and see everyone who’s suppose to be here, and a few people who haven’t been able to make it because of such short notice and or circumstances in their individual life. I do not fault those who didn’t make it one bit; this celebration of life is not a popularity contest for my mother’s honor and name. There is no guest list at the door, and I am not counting people. I simply tell family in other countries and states, to simply do a prayer in her name at a mosque, and if your not Muslim, then simply keep my mother in your thoughts and that should suffice with me and hopefully Allah (swt).    

I want my mother’s brothers and sisters who are not aware, that the extent of my mother’s ailments went back a few years. She has fought off cancer before as well as a few other internal issues. If she did not inform you of her medical problems, it’s because she is a very strong, proud, and discreet about her physical life. Even in the hospital two months ago when she was in her deathbed, she refused to let us contact her family, because she could not bear to see their reactions or pity. Despite my mothers pride we had to involve her family. 

Calling Uncle Nasser and Aunt Majana was the best thing we ever did. My mother’s bedside went from 3 people to 30 in one week. The strength of her family came through with overwhelming response. I always tell people you don’t know who your friends are until your wedding and funeral. I come from a family of 5, and I know my sisters always come through for me in time of need. But seeing thirteen siblings come together in unison to my mothers aid was absolutely amazing. They divided their time amongst themselves so that my mother was not alone for even one second. I have no words do describe the love and devotion they have given my Mom in her last month.

My aunts and I have an inside joke about who is my favorite aunt and who’s my second favorite aunt, and third etc. After witnessing their actions this last month, they are truly equal. All of them are pieces of my mother. For those who don’t know who my mothers sisters are, stay and talk to people here, talk to everyone, I guarantee you will be able to discern who my mothers siblings are 5 minutes after you talk to them. My mother doesn’t come from a family, she comes from a legacy, she comes from a father who raised and reared nineteen children if you include the 5 who died at an early age. She comes from a name that ascends through Afghan history and time. A name that will pop up more than 40 people on a Facebook search. My mother can be described with a lot of words; I have chosen such words as strong, proud, stern, outspoken, opinionated, and traditional.    

My mother is not remembered today as an Alam, or an Afghan, or Muslim, or an interfaith advocate. First and foremost she was a human being before anything. She was first a daughter, a sister, wife and by the grace of Allah a mother. She may have not conformed to any religious boundaries, but she was a god-fearing woman, who was respectful of all faiths and beliefs. She befriended people of all walks of life, and I know because I know most of them.      

In the end my mother was a spiritual person, finding her peace and harmony under her own accord. She found solace in her interfaith group of Culver City, and her social and spiritual life soared. She was an active member and leader in something she believed in. And for the most part, that’s what all humans are prone to doing. Finding something to believe in.  I couldn’t possibly summarize my Mom's life with a few words and pages that is an injustice. But I can say this; my mom did things for me since the day I was born. And she never stopped doing things for me, all the way until 7 days ago. I learned a lot from her human strength, and her ability to fight off a virulent, evil affliction that ate her body. The RN nurse Jim, who treated my Mom to the last moment was astounded by my Mom's internal strength. The last thing I remember him saying as he took my Mom’s vital signs was, “She’s a fighter… your Mom is a fighter.”  And I thought to myself…you have no idea.