Afghan woman writes about her decadelong journey from her home country to America

Author Zarifa Adiba believes all the women in Afghanistan should be free.

May 10, 2024, 3:01 PM

Author Zarifa Adiba discusses her journey from Afghanistan to international music fame in her new book "Playing for Freedom: The Journey of a Young Afghan Girl."

Adiba said she was just like other Afghan girls, with ambition, dreams and courage. However, she says what made her luckier was her passion for music.

Music became Adiba's lifeline, her escape from the harsh realities of Afghanistan. Her dedication to the viola led her to the prestigious Afghanistan National Institute of Music, where she rose to the position of co-conductor of the Afghan Women's Orchestra.

VIDEO: Afghan author Zarfia Adiba reflects on the life-changing power of music

ABC News sat down with Adiba, who discussed her heartbreak about what is going on in Afghanistan today and her new book.

ABC NEWS LIVE: Since the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan three years ago, life for women has once again become much more difficult. But since she was very young, Zarifa Adiba has always had a plan and plenty of ambition to live freely.

In her new book, "Playing for Freedom: The Journey of a Young Afghan Girl," she tells the remarkable, nearly decadelong voyage that has led her ultimately to America. Zarifa, it's so good to have you in our studio. Thank you so much for coming.

I understand that you grew up very poor in Afghanistan. What ultimately got you here? I know there was a lot of drive, a lot of ambition, but what makes you different, perhaps, from other young Afghan girls?

ADIBA: Thank you for having me here. I don't think anything makes me different than other Afghan girls. I feel every Afghan girl has a lot of ambition, dreams, and they are very courageous. But what made me, made me luckier, was music.

I had a different kind of passion for music, and I, I was like: it is music or nothing. So I went for music, and music opened many other doors for me.

ABC NEWS LIVE: So you picked up the viola, feverishly began playing. You end up joining the Afghanistan National Institute of Music and ultimately start conducting, as co-conductor of the Afghan Women's Orchestra. Wanted to take a look at a clip from you performing at just 18 years old in Davos, Switzerland, where -- it's just beautiful to listen to you.

You say that this gave you the reputation back at home as a bad girl. What happened when you returned back?

ADIBA: So nobody knew that I'm a musician. And, it was a risk to perform at the World Economic Forum. A risk that I took it from the very beginning when I started playing my first notes. I feel like, Afghanistan, my beautiful homeland, has been at war for several decades and war usually destroys culture, education, system, traditions. It destroys everything.

And partially it had destroyed music, too; music's reputation. Music was very hard, even for boys. Let's not even talk about girls, because it was just, it was just not easy. Today, girls are not allowed to go to school. Just imagine that. How would it be to play music and hold a viola? Everything that I used to do, I think was making me a bad girl.

And in my country, a good girl is the one who does what society decides for them and, for me, I always have been the one deciding for myself whether it was music, whether it was having my hair out, or, traveling abroad or, studying English or having the dream to go to Harvard. Whatever dream I used to have, I was deciding them for myself.

ABC NEWS LIVE: What do you think about what's happening in your homeland in Afghanistan today? 

ADIBA: To be honest, I'm heartbroken what is happening to my homeland. We could change a lot in Afghanistan, but everyone left us and, the Taliban, who have killed my friends, I cannot forgive them.

But the entire world just gave it up again to them. But today, after three years, now, sometimes I sit and I think I'm like, I wish, I wish I could just hold all the girls and women of Afghanistan out of that country. I wish there was another land.

We could put all the women and girls there and leave the entire country to the men and the politicians and be like, OK, fight now. Do whatever you want to do with with that land, right? But it's not like that.

If it's education, it is banned for girls. If it's music, it's banned. If it is work, not for women. If it is anything, all the politics, all their rules and regulations, everything is on women. And, all of those things. I'm just, I'm just heartbroken, and, I just hope that it change.

ABC NEWS LIVE: Zarifa, we thank you so much for talking with us. Really a pleasure to have you on. Want to let our viewers know "Playing for Freedom: The Journey of a Young Afghan Girl," is now available wherever books are sold.