Disability Studies Quarterly
Spring 2006, Volume 26, No. 2
Copyright 2006 by the Society
for Disability Studies


Ahmedi, Farah with Tamim Ansary. The Story of My Life: An Afghan Girl on the Other Side of the Sky. New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2005. 249 pages, $22.00, 1-4169-0670-3.

Reviewed by Kristina R. Knoll, University of Washington

Farah Ahmedi's The Story of My Life: An Afghan Girl on the Other Side of the Sky, written in collaboration with Tamim Ansary, was inspired by "The Story of My Life" competition co-sponsored by ABC's Good Morning America and Simon & Schuster. It plunges the reader into a detailed narration of the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of her experience as a young girl in her war-torn nation of Afghanistan and the bold journey that brought her and her mother as refugees first to Pakistan and then to the United States of America, in 2002. The complex interweaving of topics, including cross-cultural perspectives of women's issues, nationality, class and racial privileging, religion, and disability, should leave many disability studies scholars thirsting for more narratives with such explicit intersectionality of lived experiences.

Farah's amputated leg, resulting from a land-mine explosion about ten years ago, during the peak of conflict between the communist government of Afghanistan and the mujahideen rebels, seems to be what is often highlighted by the media. However, the story Farah tells is far more complex and focuses on the trauma of how she and her mother lost their family to the war; the confusion, fear, and excitement of cultural change from moving or fleeing from one country to the next; and the goodwill of random strangers that has brought her and her mother to a new home and a much more peaceful life in the United States of America.

Alyce Litz is one of the people who brought such goodwill to Farah and her mother, becoming an advocate and life-long friend. Alyce started as a volunteer English tutor from World Relief for Farah, and their relationship quickly developed into nearly daily visits, eye-opening outings, and advocacy for Farah and her mother when they were trying to navigate through medical systems with very little knowledge of the English language and with limited resources as refugees. Another example of Alyce's role as an advocate was when Farah insisted that she be able to learn how to drive, after being mocked by a peer, who said that a girl with a leg missing couldn't possibly pass a driver's test. Alyce demanded that the high school fund her driving lessons at another school that provided accommodations for people with disabilities.

It does not appear as though Farah's experiences with her disability and her mother's disabilities (asthma and anxiety) "take center stage" in her memories, but there is consistent reflection by Farah on her cross-cultural experiences with the health care systems, and what it means to be a woman with a disability in Afghanistan, Germany, Pakistan, and the United States.

Cultural standards for accommodations break through in the text periodically. For example, Farah was flown to Germany for her injuries from the landmine after spending a month or two in the Children's Hospital in Kabul. In Kabul, families had to run about a city under siege to find scarce medical supplies for the hospital to use, and the wounds of children were hastily and painfully cleaned on the same table where other children's blood and tissue remained. In Germany the hospital was pristine and calm, and the nurses let Farah clean her own wounds, which she greatly appreciated. The stark juxtapositioning of the two conditions seems to leave Farah feeling eternally grateful to the German doctors and nurses, even though there is no mention of a translator ever being brought in to explain to Farah what was occurring, or to ask her permission. She did not even know that they had amputated her leg, until she finally moved the covering and tried to feel for her leg. She was left alone in silent fear, not knowing what had happened or would happen next. A violation of personal sovereignty, this ought to be questioned not only on the level of disability oppression, but also in relation to age, class, ethnicity, and nationality, as well as international responsibility for health and disability access and accommodations.

Farah concludes her story by contemplating what she would like to do professionally, and although she is unclear about her career choice, as are most juniors in high school, she knows that she wants to help bring better lives for people with disabilities. Within herself, this young woman has found resistance to pity, and pride in being an Afghan-American woman living with a disability. Many acclaimed universities are pursuing Farah Ahmedi, and I hope that a Disability Studies program will also be able to extend an invitation to this budding Disability Studies scholar and advocate.

Copyright (c) 2006 Kristina R. Knoll

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