Today is my birthday. May 20th around 10:07 p.m. at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia to be exact. Looks like I have always been a night owl from the very beginning. My brain awakens in the evening and much of my best writing is done when the world quiets down into a slumber underneath the dark sky.
Looking back at the past year, while writing A Seat at the Table: Women, Diplomacy, and Lessons for the World, I estimate that I wrote more than 60% of the book in the late evening hours. Ideas and stories wrestled in my mind until I forced myself to close my computer.
With each birthday, I learn valuable lessons and become more in tune with my emotions. This past year was no exception. While interviewing leaders for the book, the discussions would strike me on an emotional level. The women shared touching, heartbreaking, and challenging anecdotes. One particular conversation with the Afghan Ambassador Roya Rahmani circles in my mind.
Our in-person interview was rescheduled a few times due to news of the Taliban being invited and disinvited to Camp David for negotiations, Afghan elections, the U.S. declaring a potential troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, and attacks by suicide bombers in her country. Rahmani was slightly busy.
Her staff arranged a phone interview to make the conversation possible. To write her story, I read articles where she was quoted, looked at photos, and watched videos of her speaking. With her loose-fitting hijab gracefully framing her face, her wide eyes show purpose and direction. Her lips are typically painted in shades of red or pink, pursed into a smile.
In her childhood, her family was pushed out of their home and fled to Pakistan along with many Afghans escaping the conflict. Her journey eventually led her west where she attended McGill University in Canada. She returned to her home country after graduation to work with nonprofit organizations focused on women’s education and human rights. Later, she attended Columbia University for a master’s degree and became a Fulbright Scholar. The year 2011 marked when Rahmani joined the Afghan government, first in the Ministry of Education, and then in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In the book, I write in detail about her struggles and triumphs in diplomacy. Challenges and tough decisions fuel Rahmani’s fire. Her mantra is “very simple — quitting is not an option.” At the time of the interview, Rahmani was one of four Afghan women serving as ambassadors.
As the Ambassador of Afghanistan to the U.S., Rahmani said she doesn’t want to lose sight of the “huge responsibility” of being posted in Washington. This city is a pivotal location for crucial decision-making on a daily basis. Government officials write reports, present data, and create statements that “impact the lives of people they never knew and will never know.” The choices made in Washington often touch human beings that will never set foot in this city.
In the final moments of the interview, Rahmani poignantly said, “Everything, at the end of the day, is personal. We should not lose sight of the fact that this world is run by human beings. Human beings with feelings, human beings with ego, human beings with kindness, human beings with envy, and everything that makes a human being. Nothing is absolute and everything is personal.”
Silence filled the air while I meditated on her poetic words. Emotions ran through my veins and I could feel the swell in my eyes and a trickle down my cheek. I knew if I spoke, my voice would be a soft whimper. I stayed silent until she finally asked, “Are you there?”
I swallowed the lump in my throat to quickly respond, “Yes, yes, I’m still here.”
A few months later, I met Rahmani on International Women’s Day with the Women & Politics Institute at American University. She spoke on a panel along with multiple ambassador colleagues. As the crowd dispersed after the program, I weaved my way to greet Rahmani. I introduced myself to her, and we locked eyes.
While we had a few conversations over the phone for the book, we had never met in person. It was a moment of connection, and I felt a lump in my throat again. I gained my composure and shook her hand.
Looking at this past year, I am fortunate that I embarked on a journey to write the stories of these women and share why gender-diversified leadership is imperative for our world. It is a happy birthday, indeed. And while there will be no party in this quarantine, I’ll cry if I want to. Happy tears—for the goodness in humanity shall prevail.
In this article series, I share excerpts and stories from my book A Seat at the Table: Women, Diplomacy, and Lessons for the World. I hope you enjoyed the post! If you’re interested in reading A Seat at the Table, it is available on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and Kobo. If you want to connect, follow me on Twitter @realSusanSloan and reach me on my website susansloan.com.