For Afghans Abroad, Nowruz Is a Chance to Reflect

Translating to “seven fruits” in Persian — the number seven is considered lucky — haft mewa can call for more than seven ingredients, but almost always includes senjid, the dried fruit of the oleaster tree, a symbol of love, and whole dried sour apricots with seeds, an Afghan specialty. In addition, the dish includes more commonly found dried apricots, two types of raisins and nuts, such as almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts and walnuts.

The ritual of rinsing and soaking the fruits and nuts is significant because water reflects light, symbolizing brightness and life.

“Water is really important for us,” said Munazza Ebtikar, who is of Afghan descent and studies the country’s history and anthropology at the University of Oxford. “Whenever someone spills water, we say ‘khair ast, aab roshanest’: ‘It’s all right, water is bright light.’”

But it’s a dark time for the country. This is the first Nowruz since Afghanistan fell to the Taliban in August. While the Taliban says it has not formally banned Nowruz, celebrations will likely not be held openly in Afghanistan compared to years past, as the group opposes the holiday’s roots. For many Afghans across the globe, this will be a different holiday as they reflect on the events unfolding in the country.

When Ms. Ayubi and Ms. Ebtikar brought up the country’s collapse, their tones turned somber. But they were quick to note that the land now called Afghanistan has been subjugated to upheaval and political turmoil for thousands of years. And, despite it all, Nowruz has persisted “because it’s so ingrained in our history, our literature, our cultural memory and our traditions,” Ms. Ebtikar said.

Ms. Ebtikar said she anticipated that, among the diaspora, Nowruz would be taken very seriously as a form of resistance, and more specifically serves as a testament to the enduring beauty of a culture long overshadowed by the narrative of war and violence.

Ms. Ayubi and Ms. Ebtikar said they planned to go all out with their festivities to honor those whose celebrations will be muted. Walnuts will be peeled, fruits will be soaked and new life and new beginnings will persist, with plenty of water lighting the way.

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