Afaf Ahmed shares her experiences about growing up in a strict household, having faced the challenges of a rigid father and how her attempt at freedom eventually produced a failed marriage. She now fights to remove stereotypes associated with gender and culture, challenges issues within her own community, and is recognized as an important contributor to society in Michigan and around the world.
This story was recorded in partnership with MALA and StoryCorps at the Arab American National Museum.
“I was born and raised in United Arab Emirates. My parents are in medical field. I never liked anything related to medical and I was raised as a boy. I was the second child in the family, the first child was a daughter. My dad was raised very hard when he was a child, tough so he delivered that to me because he still had that mentality that he should have a son that could take care of the family. So what he did, he raised me as a boy.
And at the age of 12 I started having an interest in media and arts so I told him I wanna go and study something related to politics and the economy. And he told me why and I told him I want to be an ambassador one day. And he said why do you wanna be an ambassador? Who are you? Is your dad a president? Is your dad a minister? Why would they elect you to be an ambassador? I said because I would like to help and support and be there for my people. I’m Lebanese.
So he refused and said you are a tough woman and you will fight in the embassy with the men. So he completely refused. I came to the United States. I did not have a good life, no. At the beginning, it was tough, it was rough. I did not want to have a wedding. My mom, she insisted on having a wedding. She said it’s my first child. My dad he refused, he said he’s a Pakistani. He said in overseas, Pakistanis are our maids in our home. How can you be married to a person working as a maid. I said well did the Quran tell us there’s a difference between colors? We’re all human beings dad, we’re all Muslims.
So I married him and I realized on the night of my wedding, they opened the door and I saw 600 people waiting for me and my husband to enter the banquet that night I knew I’m going to get a divorce. I realized I did a big mistake. That I got married to a man that I don’t love. I rushed into a marriage because I wanted to leave my dad’s house.
I said okay… I will try to do my best and make this marriage a success. My husband was a very good man. My marriage failed after four years for two reasons. Number one, I never forgot the love of my life. He was always in my heart. It hurt me so much. Number two, and I never give my husband that much sex because I don’t love him. And I’m tough person, I don’t like to give someone something if I don’t like that person. So we had issues with sex, but he did not care. And he actually refused to divorce me and he told an imam one time I don’t care if she does not want to sleep with me, but I love this woman and I don’t want to cheat on her. So I forced him to divorce me so he can go see his life. And build his own life. The second reason my marriage failed was I was the man at home and he was the woman. He didn’t have a personality. He loved me so much in a way that he doesn’t wanna hurt me or hurt my feelings. Whatever I want, it happened. My dad at the beginning was against the marriage, but when he saw how kind he was, he was against the divorce. And he told me you will never find a man like him.
I got many problems in my way because I started discussing issues that have names. Issues that were actually media and I needed to focus about it and find an issues. Issues that were related to our children, issues related to marriages and divorces, to cheating. Many people, many communities, they liked it and they keep listening. Not only in Michigan, worldwide at the same time. I have people calling me from overseas. I have women calling me to discuss their problems. Couples came to my office here to solve their marriages because I told them my door is open for free, come. You’ll be impressed to hear how many people are waiting for that show. I uploaded it on Youtube. I’m receiving an award from Egypt soon for my work. And for Michigan State they thank me for using the power of the press to tell stories of immigrants and minority communities for giving a voice to the voiceless.
The voice of the voiceless is the most important thing. People cannot have the guts to go out and say what’s going on. So they felt that I am the voice. I am the one who can speak the voice and also the one who is leading the way to correct stereotypes. For bringing attention to important local and international causes and reporting on the milestones and major issues of our times. And also contributing to the history of journalism in the Michigan and USA. And it’s really interesting, I’m gonna say this, that my people many of them are against my mission until today’s date and it’s interesting that the Americans, the fellow Americans appreciate what I do. And this tells you that yes, we live in a country that gives you freedom of speech that you miss in your own mother country. And it’s really sad that my own people, they brought these ideas from back home to the United States, which is the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, anything you want and they still have this mentality and this disease in the brain and try not to support you. It’s funny that one of the newspapers in my community refused to do coverage of my dinner and my award saying they we do not cover this type of story and yet they cover other stories that are meaningless and does not mean anything. But why? Because I am the voice of the voiceless.