Afghan author to talk about his new book on the country tonight at Pleasanton's Library

Memoir details the story of a country's 'Lost Decency'

Atta Arghandiwal, who immigrated to the Bay Area in the early 1980s, will talk about his recently published memoir at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Pleasanton library.

The book, "Lost Decency: The Untold Afghan Story," tells of his happy, secure childhood, then his loss of innocence with the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union.

From an independent, bucolic country respected by its neighbors to a chaotic and corrupt war zone -- the last 50 years have seen tragedy unfold in Afghanistan.

"What happened?" people are always asking Atta Arghandiwal, who immigrated to the Bay Area in the early '80s. That question inspired his recently published memoir.

"Afghans' history was remarkable, peaceful, a people who believed in values and traditions," Arghandiwal said in a recent interview. "We lived in society together, a communal society. My neighbors were my uncles."

The 1950s and '60s were its glory days, he said, and Afghanistan was beginning to enjoy industrial growth. Even into the late 1970s Afghan women pursued higher education and built careers alongside men.

After studying English at the U.S. Information Services in Kabul and taking typing and shorthand classes from Peace Corps workers, Arghandiwal was hired in the marketing department at the Hotel Inter-Continental.

A gripping chapter in the book tells of Atta's stealthy trip from the hotel to his family home across the city, evading soldiers and tanks, the day the Russians invaded Kabul. When suspicion fell on him, Atta was forced to flee to the West.

He went first as a refugee to Germany and then the United States, where he persuaded managers at a bank to hire him and ended up having an illustrious career in that industry.

"I looked for a bicycle but was able to drive a car," he marveled, recalling his arrival in the Bay Area.

When the Russians pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989, the American support ended, leaving a vacuum that led to a civil war.

"Ordinary Afghans did not have the resources to put the country back on its feet again, making it extremely vulnerable to interference from neighboring countries, especially Pakistan and Iran, and ultimately resulting in the rise of the Taliban," Arghandiwal wrote.

When the U.S. and its allies went to war in Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban was overthrown but efforts soon went to the war in Iraq.

"After 9/11 there was so much hope," Arghandiwal noted. "I'm bringing people not only to understand the history of Afghanistan but that if this third-world, impoverished nation were going to be helped, it could not only survive but thrive."

Arghandiwal returned to Afghanistan in 2011 to find Kabul greatly deteriorated.

"The streets were bumpy. There was no rule of law, no lights," he said, describing people and animals traversing the streets helter skelter.

He describes in his memoir how he and a friend were included in a secret gathering of warlords. They showed interest in his profession as a banker but there was a lot of tension.

"I thought I was going to go and start helping but when I saw the level of corruption I knew I didn't have a chance," Arghandiwal said. "Money went to the elite -- they have their own armies, and have bought land and buildings in Dubai."

Corruption is not traditionally part of the Afghan culture, he said, although since 2001 millions of dollars have gone into the hands of warlords. The lucrative opium fields feed into this corruption.

"Now having written the book there's no way I can go back," he added.

People here ask why the Afghans don't rise up as in Egypt.

"They are so out of power," Arghandiwal said, it's impossible to overcome the disconnect. "Their rights were taken away by the elite, they're not as educated, so they are afraid."

"The people all curse Karzai, a puppet of the elite," he added. "A 70-year-old man told me, 'Do you know how many American bodyguards he has? More than 50.'"

Arghandiwal envisions a promising future for Afghanistan. He hopes that, first of all, the warlords join their money and mansions in Dubai. After that he would like to see the creation of a national assembly that includes all ethnic and tribal political parties.

"Our national independence is our biggest attribute," he said.

The educated Afghans who have spread throughout the world must return to help build their nation, he said, adding that his own children would do so. His son Edreece is 23; daughter Hailai is 16; both are fluent in the language and have played on the Afghan national soccer teams.

"They want to go and help. There is that kind of willingness," Arghandiwal said.

Meanwhile, his next writing project is a financial guide geared to American immigrants.

"It's motivational and practical," he said. "From my own immigrant experience I know what they need."

There are 10,000 Afghans in the Bay Area, and Arghandiwal has strong views on the importance of immigrants standing on their own two feet as soon as possible.

"It's a social responsibility to learn English," he said.

"Every single one of my brothers and sisters have gone for higher education," he added. "It was expected."

Arghandiwal says he's received good feedback from the book, which is also selling in New Zealand, Australia and Europe.

"Messages say, 'Now we understand what really happened,'" Arghandiwal said. "This is very rewarding to know I helped explain."

Author appearance

What: Atta Arghandiwal speaking on Afghanistan and signing his book, "Lost Decency: The Untold Afghan Story"

When: 7 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 24

Where: Pleasanton Public Library, 400 Old Bernal Ave.

Cost: Free

Afghan dolls for sale

Handmade Nadera Dolls, made by Afghan widows, will be for sale at Atta Arghandiwal's talk at the library Thursday evening. The dolls have been sold since 2003 by Rising International, which helps the world's poorest people participate in the global economy.

Each doll sells for $34: The widow that makes the doll receives $11 (enough to buy six meals); the project manager in Afghanistan earns $1; the shipping cost is $2.66; a local Rising Representative earns $6.80; and Rising raises $12.54 to reinvest in purchasing more dolls.

More than 60 widows have participated in the project, each earning about $238; the average income in Afghanistan is $250.

In 2007, one of the doll makers, Nadera, was killed by a suicide bomb placed in a vegetable cart, and the Afghan Widows Doll Project was re-named the Nadera Doll in her honor.

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Like this comment
Posted by liberalism is a disease
a resident of Birdland
on Jan 18, 2013 at 8:53 am

liberalism is a disease is a registered user.

The author posed the question and the answer is already provided in the story: the Taliban and opium. What more needs to be said? It's a fatal combination that even our dear leader cannot overcome....the surrender and retreat are already in progress.

Like this comment
Posted by USAfghan
a resident of Golden Eagle
on Jan 18, 2013 at 9:39 am

As an educated Afghan, it would be inconceivable to go back to Afghanistan at this point. We as US/European Afghans have adopted the rules of law from these Western countries and going back to a now corrupt country is just plain ludicrous and suicidal. Between the crazy uneducated religious zealots and the want-to-be-terrorists, I would not recommend anyone visiting Afghanistan, especially after the supposed pull-out which is planned for next year.

Regarding Karzai or any other imposed leader, they have to abide by the extremely complex socioeconomic dynamics that exist today so one cannot blame everything on them, at least someone is trying to patch this mess together.

Hopefully the future generation of corrupted Afghans in Afghanistan will attempt to use their new found monies to rebuild America similar to what the Kennedy's did with their bootlegging empire.

Until then, all Afghans should send money, medicine, clothes, pens/papers, blankets and other essentials to support the rest of the folks using certified charitable channels.

Like this comment
Posted by Charlie Brown
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2013 at 10:05 am

When the US fights politically correct wars they end up with results like Korea, Vietnam. Iraq and Afghanistan. In World War II we went into win and when we did we changed the culture of the Axis powers. No problems there today, Today, when we go to war we're afraid someone might get hurt.

Like this comment
Posted by Afghan
a resident of another community
on Jan 18, 2013 at 10:20 am

Afghanistan is how you don't build a nation. The glory days were hard earned and short lived. The western powers that congregated after the Taliban brought to power hated warlords that provided the Taliban the excuse to take over the country. Unfortunately, everyone who is an expert in Afghanistan has come to become an instrument of chaos in Afghanistan. Instead of bombing Afghans with TNT, we should have showered them with pens, paper, and economic incentives. The cost of this approach would not only have been success in Afghanistan, but also a fraction of what we dropped as TNT.

Like this comment
Posted by Lucy
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2013 at 10:39 am

Dear Charlie Brown,

I recommend that you enlist at your earliest convenience and insist they put you on the front lines in Afghanistan.

Yours sincerely,

Like this comment
Posted by Major Butttired
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2013 at 11:04 am

Charlie Brown,
You are 100% on target. The purpose of war should not be politically correct nation building. The purpose of war is to correct a horrendous wrong, and the methodology should be bomb the h*ll out of them until they fly the white flag (as we did with Japan and Germany).

I recommend you enlist at your earliest opportunity. Three years in the military might cure your diseases (liberalism and pacifism) which endanger our security.

Like this comment
Posted by Charlie Brown
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2013 at 3:16 pm


I would love to re-enlist, but I received a Honorable Discharge from the service over 50 years ago and I don't think they would take me back, when did you serve?

Like this comment
Posted by Lucy
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Not too many front lines to serve on in the early 60s. Why the honorable discharge? Did you fall and hit your head or something? Left you today reading nothing much more sophisticated than Peanuts?

Back in the 60s I served on the streets of Chicago and Berkeley. Did another tour with the Peace Corps. Many of us were giving ourselves to a higher cause back then.

Like this comment
Posted by Goofy Lucy
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2013 at 1:39 pm

"Back in the 60s I served on the streets of Chicago and Berkeley. Did another tour with the Peace Corps. Many of us were giving ourselves to a higher cause back then."
Lol, let me guess the Weather Underground? Black Panthers? symbianese liberation army? Now it all makes sense......why didn't you just identify yourself as a worthless old hippy with anarchistic tendencies and leave it at that?
You can add your draft dodger credentials to that wonder resume of yours.....too bad folks like Charlie Brown sacrificed his time to ensure your freedom and liberties you obviously take for granted.

Like this comment
Posted by Lucy
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2013 at 2:09 pm

It just seemed clear to me at that time, and still does, that our Peace Corps work accomplished more than dropping bombs on Vietnamese civilians. Maybe, too, that's why we lost that war so decisively.

You continue to have residual effects from that head injury, Goofy Charley. In case you didn't know, women were not being drafted in the 60s.

And you think we as a society should allow you to purchase a fire arm? I do sincerely hope yours is taken away from you - that is, if your wife hasn't taken it and hidden it from you already.

Like this comment
Posted by Self righteous lucy
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2013 at 5:34 pm

Lucy, you disparage someone who sacrificed to keep you free? Is that what you free love liberal hippies are all about? The Peace Corp was a safe haven for students who refused to grow up and get a job. Lots of like minded useful idiots led to believe they were better than working families and soldiers.
Respect our military or don' your own peril.

Like this comment
Posted by Lucy
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2013 at 7:14 pm

Yes, self-righteous/goofy/charlie/buttired, please tell us what freedom was preserved in Vietnam or, for that matter, what good of any sort was brought about by US troops in Vietnam. (Seems I refute you each time, leaving you desperately posing with yet another name. So, don't worry, none of us actually expect you to address my question. No, you'll post with some other superficial inanities that I'll have to yet again swat down. You're truly pathetic. But, of course, there's the head injury, which tells us a lot.)

Oh, and maybe you want to tell us how to win decisively in Afghanistan. Maybe you might want to look up Alexander the Great, the British Empire, the Soviet state, or Bush's Folly for reference. Don't worry, we don't expect you to provide anything substantive here. Simply slither back under the rock from which you came.

So, the military couldn't get rid of you quickly enough. Does that explain your lack of employment and reliance on your wife all these past years? Rather difficult I imagine to hide brain damage.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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