From Refugee Camp to Hollywood with Fahim Fazli
His mom was in tears when Fahim got home from school. The 12 year old boy didn’t know why at first. Then his mother told him, “We’re leaving.” Amidst a swirl of confusion, Fahim slowly realized what his mother meant, and his nightmare began.
Life hadn’t been exactly easy for Fahim or his four siblings up until that point. Still, even with an abusive father and even with the sting of his mother’s selection of him as her outlet for her own frustration, it was the only life Fahim Fazli knew.
His family is of royal lineage. His father was president of the National Bank, and his mother, in spite of his father’s control of everything else in their lives, held fiercely to her job as a midwife for the president of Afghanistan.
They may have lived under the iron fist and explosive temper of their father, but Fahim and his four siblings never worried about having a home to live in. Fahim’s wounds may have burned stronger with the salt of his mother’s cruel words, but nothing could have prepared him for his family – however troubled- to be ripped apart.
It was impossible to ignore the fear and turmoil sweeping his homeland upon the invasion of the Soviet Union. “They took Afghanistan over in 24 hours,” recalls Fahim. High priority targets included people like his mother, who worked directly for the president. While Fahim’s father believed the Communists would be quickly defeated, his mother knew she was in danger. “I have to leave,” she said, “before they kill me.”
Ultimately Fahim’s father agreed to allow his wife and three of their children to flee. But Fahim and his younger brother Hares (Air-as) were told they must remain behind with him.
Fahim Fazli was devastated.
His mother, however flawed, was still his mother, and he was just a young boy who wanted his mother.
It would be five long years before the family was reunited.
The next time Fahim saw his mother, he was more a man than the child she’d left behind.
Fahim had lost interest in most of life after his family split up. Those things belonged to the boy that was, not the boy he became the moment his mother left. Instead, he went to work for the Freedom Fighters.
It seemed innocent enough. When he was approached and offered money to pass out flyers, young Fahim thought nothing of the politics behind those flyers. He was just excited to have money to buy kites or go to the movies.
Eventually, he began venturing onto the Soviet bases, trading t-shirts with American logos, offering the Communist cigarettes, and sharing the things he observed on base with the Freedom Fighters. He laughs as he remembers how they learned to sell the Soviets opium or hashish before 6 pm. That way, the Freedom Fighters could attack later in the night and encounter little resistance from the Soviets rocking major buzzes.
Looking back, he realized those had been dangerous games he’d been playing – they’d all been playing. In hindsight, he understood his shoe repair boss was, in fact, working with the CIA, and those adventures had been part of important work.
He’s proud when he thinks back; proud that he played his own part in defeating the enemy who’d turned his country upside down.
With his mother and siblings having fled and his father under pressure to embrace Communism, extra vigilance was paid to his remaining sons. Fahim may have thought he was staying below the radar, but he’d caught the eye of the people in power. The principal of his school told Fahim’s father that his son had potential, but was demonstrating dangerous behaviors. It would be best, his father was told, to send both Fahim and his brother to Siberia, where they could be properly “educated.”
A humorless laugh escapes Fahim as he explains that “educated” really meant “brainwashed into perfect little Communists.”
Fourteen-year-old Fahim Fazli looked at the father who sometimes beat him, and sometimes protected him, and sobbed, “Dad, I want to go where mom is.”
For the next year Fahim, his brother, and his father rotated staying with his aunts. His dad had sold their home, and done his best to stall the Soviets as he prepared to flee with his sons. Finally, one night Fahim was jostled awake by his father. It was time to go.
With wads of cash carefully sewn into the linings of their jackets, the three met their “coyote,” the man who would guide them on their treacherous journey, and embarked on their path to freedom.
For the next 7 days and nights, the group traveled on foot through the mountains – some as high as 22,000 feet – until they reached the refugee camp in Pakistan.
A few days after they arrived, a smiling Marine told Fahim they’d found his mother and siblings. They were safe and well in the United States.
For two years, Fahim Fazli, his father, and brother lived in that refugee camp awaiting their entry into the United States.
It was not an easy two years, but Fahim doesn’t regret it. He insists it was his honor to come into this country legally and respectfully, and he is proud of his adopted country. He doesn’t consider himself an Afghan-American. He is simply an American, and freely voices his thoughts on others who come to this great country; “Do not bring your fundamentalist culture. Respect what this country gives you. Stand on your own two feet.”
Fahim made it a point to give back to the country that has given so much to him. When the government sent him one check to help him get on his feet, he cashed it. When they sent him a second one, he tore it up. “I’m a man,” he told his father,” and he was going to act like a man, and not expect any handouts.
In the years since he arrived, Fahim Fazli has made a name for himself in Hollywood. He’s worked as an actor and a consultant alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest names, in some of Hollywood’s biggest movies. Charlie Wilson’s War, American Sniper, and Rock the Kasbah have all been graced with his work and his company. Now there is movement on a film being made about him.
Fahim Fazli could have stayed in Hollywood and capitalized on his momentum.
Instead, he took a break to work as a combat linguist with the United States Marines, returning back to his native land. Some people there called him a traitor. A bounty was placed on his life. But Fahim was intent on paying his dues and giving back to the country that saved him from the Communists.
Indeed, his story is deep and powerful and told in his book, Fahim Speaks.
Fahim has a message for anyone who has a dream.Don’t give up. Make it happen. If I can do it, you can do it. – Fahim FazliClick To Tweet
And if one dream isn’t enough, says Fahim, “It’s okay to have two dreams!”
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