By Stephen Magagnini
The Sacramento Bee
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Basira Haidari has became a symbol of resolve for her neighbors in Skyview Villa, where about 50 other Afghan families have settled. She has urged other Afghan women in the area to report domestic violence to the police. Her Facebook name is “Moon Brave.”
The Sacramento Bee
Basira Haidari arrived in Sacramento three years ago from Afghanistan and vowed to stand up to her husband if he abused her. That pledge broke her family apart.
Basira had watched women in Kabul beaten or even killed for speaking their minds or marrying the person they chose. She wanted to take advantage of her new freedoms in the U.S. but was unfamiliar with the rules here.
Basira said she first witnessed family violence against women as a child and has resisted becoming a victim of it.
She and her husband Omid moved to a Skyview Villa apartment in Arden Arcade with their daughter Raheel. She gave birth to her son Subhan about two years later. As she had feared, arguments with Omid turned physical, and he recalled they often argued about little things.
On Jan. 22, he said, his wife took $300 from his wallet without asking him. He confronted her and slapped her in the face, he said. She hit him back.
“She was trying to make me stop and I was trying to make her stop shouting,” he said. “Because we are humans, we all make mistakes. Everybody has anger.”
The fighting escalated. The next day, she called 911 for help. She didn’t know how to get a restraining order against her husband. She didn’t know her case would be turned over to Sacramento County Child Protective Services.
She didn’t know she would lose the custody of her children.
Her struggle to regain that custody has called attention to what has long been unspoken — culturally sanctioned domestic violence in the homes of Afghan refugees living in Northern California.
Sacramento County is among the most popular destinations for Afghan refugees in the U.S., especially for those who worked with U.S. forces.
A gaping cultural disconnect has emerged between their understanding of what is permitted between husbands and wives in Afghanistan and what U.S. laws allow, said marriage and family therapist Homeyra Ghaffari.
Ghaffari is an Iranian immigrant who speaks Basira’s native Dari dialect and has become a lifeline for more than 30 Afghan refugees in the Sacramento area coping with emotional challenges ranging from domestic strife to post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by decades of war. She said she often bounces from one crisis to another trying to resolve family disputes and explain American laws.
“(The wife’s) assumption was as long as he’s not touching their kids, they’re safe,” Ghaffari said. “They’re coming from a culture that has always taught men to dominate women, and Omid’s a victim as much as Basira.”
Omid, 25, and Basira, 23, are now living apart because of a temporary restraining order she won against her husband. She has resisted being a victim.
Basira became a symbol of resolve for her neighbors in Skyview Villa, where about 50 other Afghan families have settled. She urged other Afghan women in the area to report domestic violence to the police. Her Facebook name is “Moon Brave.”
“I know some families that beat their kids and lock their wives in the house,” said Basira.
“Their husbands tell their wives, ‘Don’t go to Basira,’ or maybe they’ll lose their kids too.
Basira’s longtime next door neighbor in Skyview Villa, Faisal Razmal, was aware of the fights between Basira and Omid and the friction they caused elsewhere.
“I told my wife not to call Basira anymore because she’s a troublemaker,” Razmal said.
“Everywhere, people are talking about Basira.”
Basira first witnessed family violence against women as a girl.
She was Basira Alam then, and said when she was 4, her 13-year-old sister Rahima was forced to marry a distant relative, a member of a militant Taliban group. He moved her sister to the mountains of northern Afghanistan where they had three children together. One of them was committed to marry another member of the Taliban in exchange for money when she was only 10 days old, Basira said.
Rahima returned home seeking a divorce, and her husband followed, looking for her. Unable to find his wife, he attacked her mother.
“He nearly stomped her to death and cut her stomach open from her belly button to her chest,” Basira said. She displayed a picture of her battered mother on her cellphone.
“There was blood everywhere,” she said. “She was in a coma.”
Her sister’s husband was imprisoned, but his family didn’t relent. His father threatened to blow up Basira’s house and kill their family, she said.
Basira vowed to never let that same fate befall her.
She learned English to help find a better job in Afghanistan or overseas, and studied taekwondo.
At 18, Basira accepted an arranged marriage to Omid Haidari a translator for U.S. military forces. As far as arranged marriages went, it was a progressive union. Basira’s family didn’t ask for any dowry.
“I only saw him twice before our wedding day but liked him because he was educated,” she said. “When he saw me, he said, ‘I can’t believe how beautiful my wife is.’ ”
A thousand people attended their wedding. Omid, the son of a mechanic and a school teacher, was Basira’s ticket out of Afghanistan.
About a year later, he was granted a Special Immigrant Visa for interpreters, guides and others who had aided the U.S. military.
On Feb. 19, 2014, the couple moved to their new home in Sacramento County, the destination of roughly 3,800 Iraqis and Afghans with SIVs since 2008, by far the highest number of any county in California and more than the total in 47 states.
Most of those men supported U.S. forces in some of the war’s most dangerous battles. They are also products of a culture that often considers women the property of their husbands and, in some cases, justifies so-called honor killings of women for disobeying their husbands or families.
In February, police in the Taliban-controlled far eastern Afghan province of Nuristan arrested an 18-year-old married woman after she was caught running away with her lover. According to news accounts, a mob of 300 demanded the police hand over the couple. The woman’s brothers killed her, and her husband executed her lover.
Basira recalled that when she asked her dad why he didn’t intervene in her sister’s troubled marriage, he answered, “If I don’t marry her (off), the Taliban is going to come to my home and kill us.”
In Afghanistan, Omid studied computer science in college and took a job as an interpreter with the U.S. Marines for $600 a month, more than 30 times the average monthly salary in Afghanistan. He now works as a Lyft driver and has other odd jobs.
Jaffar Samadi, 42, came to Sacramento two years ago from Afghanistan, and he, too, learned that his experiences had not prepared him for his new country. Samadi had worked with U.S. forces as an interpreter for seven years and won a Special Immigrant Visa. But in California, he could not feed his family.
“We didn’t know where to get our food or how to cross the streets,” he said. “I had a lot of problems.”
Many Afghan men who were doctors or engineers now must work as security guards or clerks.
Feelings of inadequacy are common, as are bursts of frustration.
In a fit of anger, Samadi said, he wrote an email to the resettlement agency threatening to kill himself and his family if he didn’t get help. Samadi and his wife, Batool Moshref, 42, were referred to Ghaffari. She now meets with each of them individually for weekly counseling.