I met Mujeeb at Costco before Christmas. He was pushing a dolly which held a half-dozen deep grey plastic bins, some more full than others. When I asked him what he was doing, he explained that he was filling orders for an on-line computer shopping site. He was using an iPad to keep track of the orders. Apparently, people choose what they want to buy on the website. He is their personal shopper who fills the orders and later delivers them. He told me the name of his company but I have lost the note on which I wrote it down. (I should have used my iPhone “notes,” as I normally do to record such information. Perhaps I was so excited about meeting Mujeeb that I forgot.)
Sensing that he might be new to Canada, I asked where he was from. He replied that he was from Afghanistan, and that he had come to Canada with his parents and his siblings. I told him about my son and daughter-in-law in the Canadian army who had deployed several times to Kabul and/or Kandahar. He told me that all his family were now working in Canada and that his sister was a student at the University of Toronto. He also told me that there was a book written about his family.
No kidding? I had vaguely heard of a book written by CBC journalist, Carol Off, about an Afghan family whom she befriended and had helped come to Canada. Apparently, four months post-9/11, Off was in Afghanistan gathering information for what later became a very successful CBC documentary. Among her most significant sources at the time was Mujeeb’s father, Asad Aryubwal, who provided her with information about war crimes by Afghan warlords. His forthright cooperation with a western journalist however came at a cost. After numerous threats to his life, he had no choice but to flee to Pakistan which, as the political circumstances continued to change at home, he did four times before he was forty. In the fall of 2007, Off learned that Asad needed her help. Contrary to customary professional journalistic practice, she felt she had no choice but to become involved.
Needless to say, I rushed off right away to find Carol Off’s book, All We Leave Behind: A Reporter’s Journey Into the Lives of Others (Random House Canada, 2017). Reading it was a revelation, a totally compelling view of how a single family dealt with the turmoil in their homeland and their seemingly-interminable seven-year wait for permission to immigrate to Canada. Off’s description of their travails will break your heart.
This book is an absolute must for everyone who wants to understand what it means to be a refugee from a society such as Afghanistan.
Carol Off now co-hosts the CBC Radio current affairs program, “As It Happens.” Several weeks ago, this book won the prestigious $40,000. British Columbia National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction. Jury members praised it as “a timely memoir that offers both context to, and a closeup of, uncomfortable truths: the failures of the West’s involvement in Afghanistan, the hurdles confronting refugees who seek safety in Canada, and the dilemma of a combat journalist expected to maintain professional distance from her sources.”
It’s a wonderful book. The Timeline of Major Events and the Cast of Characters at the back of the book are in themselves an invaluable thumbnail guide to Afghanistan’s history. I am thankful that my chance meeting with Mujeeb brought his family’s story and this book to my attention. I wish them all the best.