As I surf my Facebook newsfeed, a photo catches my attention. Two Afghan boys smile broadly as they board a Turkish airplane. The boys are Fawad Mohammadi and Jawanmard Paiz, the lead actors in “Buzkashi Boys,” an Oscar-nominated short film about friends who dream of becoming horseback riders in Afghanistan’s fierce version of polo. These two young actors are traveling from the dusty streets of Kabul to the red carpet at the 2013 Academy Awards in Hollywood.
This journey is especially auspicious for Fawad, a 14-year-old who sells maps to foreigners on the streets of Kabul, and was chosen for the role because director Sam French, who lived in Afghanistan, would bump into him on the street (French described him as “the kindest and most warm-hearted street-kid”). The youngest of seven siblings, but also a breadwinner for the family, Fawad is about to make his Oscar debut beside prominent movie stars such as Daniel Day-Lewis, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence.
However, this picture soon kindles other thoughts in my mind. I ponder over the matters of destiny and coincidences; what would have happened if director Sam French had not met Fawad on the streets of Kabul? Was it fate or mere coincidence that took Fawad to the red carpet?
The questions evoke in me a nostalgic memory, a memory as vivid as my accounts of yesterday.
I have just confirmed my spot at a university after a protracted period of anxiety and uncertainty. I now have to go through the ordeal of receiving my I-20 form, getting my visa and tickets, and bidding farewell to all I was leaving behind. I know that soon I will be leaving this place and will call another country home for the next four years of my life.
An urge to record memories of the city I live in propels me outside. I set foot on the narrow street that connects my house to the main road. It is near dusk and the beams of the fading sun permeate the thick smoggy air and shine on the façades of the muddy and marble-clad houses that sit next to each other as uncomfortable neighbors. As usual the dust penetrates my skin and my lungs. It tightens my chest and burns my eyes. The atmosphere is further polluted with the honking of cars and buses, the sound of cart wheels on the paved road, and the cacophony of shopkeepers advertising their products.
Soon I will leave behind these realities and start on my path towards a successful future. I feel elated that my hard work has finally paid off. I think about all the time I spent sharpening my English skills, writing numerous essays, cramming for the SATs, and filling out applications.
I start to peruse the expressions of the people in front of me – those I will be leaving behind: the youth in their tight jeans and colorful t-shirts, the old men with their turbans and wrinkled faces, and women of all ages, some draped with burqas and some with scarves.
These youth grew up fancying a world, on the other side of the oceans, where people lead comfortable lives, where violence is not a ubiquitous reality, and where freedom is an inseparable human right. So many would, and some will, risk their lives to travel across those oceans, legally or illegally, in search of better futures, and yet in the older generation I see the harsh truth – most will have to sacrifice their dreams of success for mere survival.
That day, despite my heartfelt sadness for all the challenges they faced, I merely wished them good luck as they passed by. I had hoped that life would start to treat them better.
But as I reminisce now about that day, I realize that mingled in the crowd I saw that day could be so many people much smarter than I am, but who did not have access to the opportunities that I have had. Kids who had to give up school in order to work and support their families, or kids whose dreams did not extend beyond being allowed to attend a school.
I know that I worked hard to achieve what I have, but I also know that I am lucky to have the opportunity to travel halfway across the world and pursue the highest quality education. I catch myself wondering: was it just my hard work, or is it an invisible hand of fate that earned me my modest successes? Am I the beneficiary of sheer coincidences and luck?
And this raises even more questions in my mind. How many of these kids who wander on the streets have the possibility of receiving a decent education, if any? How many of them will have the luxury of learning English and applying to American universities like I did? Wouldn’t I be one of these street children, had it not been for a fluke of chance?
Perhaps under the desolate figures of each of these children who labor on the streets lurks a talent that has not been given a chance to flourish. Perhaps each of these kids could have enjoyed the opportunities I did and could have ended up at a decent American university instead of me.
Each of these kids who walked around me could be a Fawad, if only Sam French had bumped into them on the streets instead. How many talents worldwide perish undiscovered just because they are not recognized?
I have begun to question the role fate and chance play in our lives. I remember that the settings in which we are born and the coincidences that happen to us significantly shape our futures. After all, we could as easily have been born a peasant in China or a beggar in an Indian slum.
And I am left wondering how much of our successes can be attributed to hard work, and how much to destiny and coincidences.