Twenty years ago, Abbas Nazari fled Taliban-rule in Afghanistan with his family. The seven year old and his family were rescued from a sinking boat by the cargo ship Tampa. Brought to New Zealand, the heart-rending story of a child refugee who grew up to become a Fulbright scholar has inspired his book, After the Tampa.
Abbas had just graduated from Georgetown University in Washington DC when he returned to New Zealand as the country went into lockdown. We spoke to Abbas about personal determination, the power of books, and what Kiwis can do to help Afghan refugees.
What is your day job?
Currently unemployed and loving it.
What is your connection to Vic Books?
I did a semester at Victoria University of Wellington and it was my local bookstore and cafe for a while.
What are you working on at the moment?
Campaigning for an intake of Afghan refugees, and helping the parents with some major reno work at our house.
What is your latest publication?
Beyond sporadic tweets and finely crafted Instagram captions, my memoir, After The Tampa.
On arrival at your new home in Christchurch in 2001 you discovered a room full of books. Had books played a part in your life before then and how did that exposure to books influence your life after?
Books have been an integral part of my life growing up. Those books in the shed helped me to read and write, and learn the ins and outs of the English language.
You clearly have a ‘determined nature’ – tell us about how you feel that determination has inspired or developed you.
When you go through something we went through, escaping the Taliban, almost drowning on a sinking, overloaded fishing boat, being rescued by the Tampa, and ultimately being brought to Aotearoa, it imbues one with a sense of perspective that any obstacle, no matter the size, is surmountable. Once you realise this, then those challenges then start to look like opportunities, and then its a whole different ball game.
You have returned to Afghanistan since New Zealand Aotearoa became your home: how was that experience? Describe the Afghanistan that is meaningful to you.
In After the Tampa, I describe it as an out of body experience. Wandering through the valleys and climbing the mountains, it was almost as if I couldn't distinguish between dreams and reality. Afghanistan is an incredibly beautiful place, with beautiful people, and I hope that readers get a sense of that through my book.
Afghanistan is now in the news with another avalanche of its citizens wishing to leave for a different life than that under Taliban rule – is there anything that New Zealanders can do to make a positive difference, individually and at government level?
You can email your local representative and lobby for an emergency intake of Afghan refugees. You can volunteer with the NZ Red Cross to help with resettled families once they get out of their orientation program at the Mangere Refugee Centre. Or you can educate yourself on why people are forced to flee. After the Tampa is a good start.
Some quick fire book recommendations please!
Alt-America (David Neiwert), Hillbilly Elegy (JD Vance), A Thousand Splendid Suns (Khaled Hosseini)
What are you reading at the moment?
All of the pdfs which I saved throughout grad school, thinking I'll get to them later.
What do you like about it?
Which literary character do you most identify with?
The boy from Hatchet (Gary Paulsen).
Hardback or paperback?
Pictured below Abbas, Ali & Abbas's father helping with apricot harvest in Sungjoy; Sunset over Sungjoy; and Abbas enjoying New Zealand.