Today, in the U.S., Afghanistan is often portrayed as a poor country that has been a central place of war and conflict for the past decade. However, to Oxford College sophomore Anika Cooper, it is the complete opposite. “It’s so beautiful.” Cooper said. “Afghanistan is like no other place in the world. It is so full of life.”
Cooper had an unconventional childhood. She was born to a German mother and an American father in Pakistan where her parents worked for a non-governmental organization. In Pakistan, her parents worked with Afghan refugees until she was 6, and then they made the move to Afghanistan. There her parents worked with development programs to do things such as creating schools for the blind and deaf, teaching women about hygiene, teaching men to read and write, and developing an Afghan sign language.
Life in Afghanistan and Pakistan was all Cooper knew. It was normal for her to live without running water, electricity, TV and a computer. “We had solar power, but that did not always work. Not having these things was normal to me. Coming to the U.S. was weird for me because I was able to drink water from the tap. I thought it was amazing.”
Cooper loved growing up in Afghanistan, but on Sept. 11, 2001, everything changed. Cooper and her mother were out of the country at the time, but her father and the rest of his organization went under house arrest right before 9/11 due to high tensions in the area.
After 9/11, the whole organization had to evacuate the country within 24 hours. Cooper’s family had to leave everything behind. “We could not take anything with us so the Taliban came and ransacked it,” she said.
Cooper and her family stayed in Germany and Pakistan before eventually returning to Afghanistan. She said that despite her father being an American, all of the Afghan people, including the Taliban, liked the Cooper family for all of the assistance they gave to Afghan society.
When she was 14, Cooper’s family left Afghanistan and moved to Georgia. Cooper said it was one of the hardest adjustments of her life. “It was normal for me to grow up there because I did not know anything else. I only visited the states a handful of times. It is very different. I left everything that I knew.”
Cooper experienced major culture shock when arriving in the U.S. She was not used to the clothes. In Afghanistan, her arms and legs had to be fully covered and she had to partially cover her head. Dress in America was a complete eye-opener for her. “It sounds like something simple, but it was very hard for me to adjust to even see people wearing tank-tops. I thought it was scandalous!”
Developing connections with the people in the U.S. was hard for her as well.
“They say the South is hospitable, but the Afghan people are the most hospitable people I’ve ever known. Over there, they would invite you for tea, then ask you to stay for dinner, and then invite you to stay the night. Here, you have to take the first step to make that kind of connection,” she said.
Cooper is a chemistry major who plans to become a veterinarian. She hopes to use her education overseas to help the people in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“A part of me feels like I belong more over there than I do in the states,” she said.
She hopes that one day she can help with the livestock of the Afghan people, because their entire livelihood depends on their animals.
“Going back over there to help the people is in my blood,” she said.
Cooper acknowledges that the Afghanistan that she knew and where she grew up is not the same place today.
“It has gotten more dangerous since we left, but I am not afraid.” However, Cooper still sees Afghanistan in a different light, despite the many negative news and media portrayals that surround her.
“People have such a misconception of what it is like there. They see the .09 percent of the people who are radical and do bad things. The news shows only the bad rather than the good, but there is so much more good. It is such a beautiful country in so many ways, but the news never shows that,” she said.
As Cooper continues to excel at Emory, she holds her childhood memories and the hope of a better and more peaceful Afghanistan in her heart.