An interview with Farah Ahmedi, the winner of The Story of My
Life, a project of ABC-TV and Simon & Schuster.
This interview is reproduced with the kind permission of
Doris Booth of Authorlink.com. It
took place before Farah was announced as the overall winner of the contest.
Everyone has a story to tell, but few have the resources and connections to
find a publisher and an audience. For the three lucky finalists of The Story of
My Life contest, however, their stories are being publicized nationwide as Simon
Spotlight Entertainment, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, teams up with ABC-TV's
Good Morning America to discover a first-time author of a compelling American
Three finalists have been chosen from among 5,000 essay entries and have
appeared on ABC-TV's Good Morning America and 20/20. They are Betty Ferguson, a
mother who forgave her daughter's killer; Mercedes Florencia Brudnicki, a sister
whose brother was trapped in Castro's Cuba; and Farah Ahmedi, an Afghan girl who
lost her leg to a landmine. The American public voted and chose Farah's story.
Farah Ahmedi, a 17-year-old girl whose childhood in Afghanistan was
filled with horror and sadness. What she endures in her war-torn homeland and
how she escapes is tragic, yet ultimately hopeful. Her father and sisters were
killed and her brothers went missing, never to be heard from again.
On the way to school one day at age seven, she steps on a land mine. The
local hospital can do little but add to the excruciating pain by pouring alcohol
on her horrible wounds. A humanitarian organization transports Farah to Germany,
but is too late to save both her legs, infected with gangrene. One leg is
amputated below the knee. The other is fused and rigid to this day. After two
years alone in a German hospital, she returns to Afghanistan a changed person.
After most of her family is wiped out by a rocket attack, she and her mother are
left without a male relative to care for them. They walk across the mountains to
reach Pakistan and somehow make it into a refuge camp. After four years of
hardship she and her mother are chosen to come to America.
Since arriving here three years ago, Farah has blossomed into a thriving high
school student who is being actively recruited by Yale and Harvard. Her new life
in America is guided by mentor Alyce Litz, who rescued Farah and her mother from
Authorlink: How did you come to participate in the contest?
Farah: My friend Alyce says 'You should write your story.' I say 'I will write,
after I am done with my education. Yes, I will write about my life.'
Alyce: I had already encouraged her to write her story. Then I was watching Good
Morning America and heard about The Story of My life contest. I thought it was a
great opportunity for Farah. So, I helped her write her 600-word submission. I
thought a lot of people would want to hear the story. We talked about how she
overcame the tremendous odds to stay alive in Afghanistan and to get to America.
Farah took over from there.
After having completed only first and second grade in Afghanistan, Farah was
placed in a freshman class at high school. She had only learned 'survival'
English. We found volunteer tutors for her from the local college to help her
catch up. She was an extremely fast study and after only three years her English
is amazingly good.
Authorlink to Farah: How did you and Alyce meet?
Farah: Alyce was a volunteer for World Relief. She liked my mother and me and
she visited us in America for three months. Then she kept being our friendfor
three years. Now we are friends forever.
Alyce: I have been involved in social service with abused and neglected children
for many years. I am the president of the board for Love, Inc., a Christian
clearinghouse that serves the poor and needy of DuPage County. My husband and I
took training at World Relief before 9/11. We read books about women in the
Middle East. I hoped to find a pen pal from that area. After our training I was
assigned as a volunteer mentor to Farah and her mom. It dawned on me that God
answered my prayers to an even greater degree. I got both a mother and a
daughter right here in the U.S.
Farah: Yes, now I have a second family. Alyce told me, 'Don't just call me mom.
You have a mom.' So I call Alyce Mommy Two.
Authorlink: I understand you worked with professional writer Tamin Ansary,
assigned by the publisher to help you tell your story. What was that like?
Farah: We sat down and I talked about my past life for five days. I was
comfortable with him because he spoke my native language, Farsi.
Alyce: He wanted this book in her voice and words. He recorded and transcribed
exactly as she said it, telling the story in her own words.
Authorlink: And if you win this contest, your book will be released April 22?
Farah: Not if I win; when I win.
Alyce: The finalists have three wonderful stories. Only the winning one will be
published. But Farah's spirit of confidence has always been what keeps her
Farah: People have told me I am special, that I have a specialhow you saygift?
I didn't believe anybody. Now that I am a finalist I say, 'Oh my gosh, maybe I
Authorlink: You spent two years in a German hospital recovering from your
injuries and completely separated from your family. How did that affect you?
Farah: In hospital I didn't have any hope that I can walk again, no hope to see
my family again.
Authorlink: How were you able to get to America?
Farah: In Pakistan they announce on the radio that the American government will
take 1,000 Afghanis who need to go to the United States. There were so many
people, we waited for two days for the interview. They saw my condition and that
I needed a prosthesis. They said, 'Okay, your case is special. You and your
mother can come.' We were on the list to go when 9/11 happened. It was sad. A
door was open for us and then it closed. We had to wait for several more months
to leave. By the time they were ready for us, mother was ill and very frightened
to come to America. I knew it was her only chance for a future. She wasn't ready
to come, but I dragged her out. [There's humor in her voice when she says this].
Authorlink: Has the experience of being a finalist in this contest made you want
to become a writer?
Farah: I'll be happy to write books. I would also be happy to be in medicine,
working with prosthetics. But I have to find out how smart I am. I also like
technology, working with computers. My career could go in different directions.
Alyce: I have been telling her about artists and famous people in history and
reading to her. She has a thirst for knowledge. We have talked about doing a
children's book together. She would write the story and we would both illustrate
the book. Farah is a good communicator. She has wonderful listening skills and
is sensitive to other people.
Authorlink: What was life like for you in Afghanistan?
Farah: I was so scared. A lot of times I wonder why I didn't die. Those were
hard times. When hard times come to you, you don't care whether you die. You
just want to get away.
Authorlink: What would you say to people who are still in war-torn countries?
Farah: In life there is a high part and a low part. When you are in the low part
you must try to get up. Just run, climb. Don't sit on the bottom.
Authorlink: What is the biggest problem in Afghanistan?
Farah: The biggest problem is education. I would tell parents to see that their
kids go to school. I'm still struggling with my education. I am starting from
the beginning. You suffer when you don't go to school. One day I will go back to
my country and tell kids to go to school. I will tell parents to encourage their
children to get an education.
Authorlink: What has kept you going through these hard times?
Farah: In Afghanistan I didn't have anyone. In the US I have Alyce. Before I met
Alyce, I was alone. No one was asking me, 'How was your day?' My mom was quite
sick. Alyce would call me and say 'You're doing great. You are smart.' It helped
a lot. I began working harder. I had a chance to learn English with Alyce. She
explained every word slowly. Mom speaks Farsi. I was the only who could speak in
Authorlink: What was your first impression of America?
Farah: When the airplane got over Chicago [Alyce lives in Wheaton, IL] I looked
down and saw the beautiful lights. I never saw that much lights in my life.
There were buildings and many cars. I was thinking, 'Oh my gosh, did I die?
Maybe I die and this is what they call heaven.'
Authorlink: How does it feel to be in America and what do you like the most
about being here?
Farah: It feels great to be in America. I like that I have a friend, Alyce, who
cares about me. She is there if I need someone. I'm safe here, no war. I like
the love I have here, and the system. I like shopping.
It is so clean here. People take care of nature and things are in controlthe
streets, traffic lights. It is peaceful . . . safe.
Read all three finalists' stories on Authorlink.com