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Zéba Magazine: An Afghan American Dream

New America Media, Media Profile, Katherine Gypson Posted: Jun 18, 2008

Editor's Note: Few publications have documented the rich cultural heritage of Afghans in the United States. Zéba Magazine fills the void. NAM contributor Katherine Gypson is a journalism student at American University. NAM profiles are generated under the J-school partnership with American University.

TYSON'S CORNER, Va. -- Amin and Samira Feda may be the hardest-working husband and wife team in the magazine business.

Just two years after launching their Afghan lifestyle publication from an office in Tyson’s Corner, Va., they moved their business into the basement of their house and cut the staff to its essentials. What's more, seven months ago the Fedas became the parents of a baby girl.

The concept of Zéba Magazine originally brought the two together. Amin Feda was a mortgage banker with an idea for a magazine that would be completely different from previous media depictions of Afghan culture. Samira Feda was the college student who responded to his idea. They married in 2005 and built Zéba Magazine out of their own funds, and with a great deal of enthusiasm.

“Zéba Magazine shows how Afghan culture and entertainment have progressed,” says Omar Ghafoorzai, press secretary for the Afghan Embassy in Washington, D.C. The Afghan embassy hosted the July 2006 party celebrating the publication of Zéba Magazine’s first issue.

“Zéba is definitely a high quality, hip, cosmopolitan magazine that shows Afghan culture in a much more modern light. It serves to connect the younger generation with the older generation and has definitely filled a gap in the community,” Ghafoorzai said, adding that the magazine has a strong following among Afghan communities in Europe and Australia.
zeba and laura bushZéba's publishers Amin and Samira Feda with First Lady Laura Bush. A recent cover story
detailed the First Lady's commitment to education in Afghanistan.

While a myriad of mainstream media outlets cover the political situation in Afghanistan from an outsider’s perspective and a number of smaller ethnic newspapers cover the community, few publications have documented the rich cultural heritage of Afghans in the United States.

“The young generation feels like they have no one to look up to; no music and no culture and for us that is very sad. We have to keep that culture, our generation has to keep that culture strong and be proud of being Afghan,” says Samira Feda.

Feda says the magazine attracts all members and age groups of the Afghan family with its glossy, colorful pictures. The flipside of the magazine contains the entire English-language content magazine painstakingly translated and hand-scripted into Dari.

While the Fedas work on bringing the magazine to mainstream markets such as Barnes & Noble, Zéba Magazine is currently sold by subscription and in Afghan and Iranian grocery stores across the country.

Ameena Kazem began writing for Zéba about a year and a half ago. She says she wanted to work for Zéba Magazine because it provides younger Afghans with topics to discuss with their parents at the dinner table.

“Being so far away from our motherland, Afghanistan, our community has become divided. The older generation focused on working hard and stability, whereas the younger generation focused on fitting in and adjusting to the Western lifestyle and culture,” Kazem said.

The Fedas’ ultimate dream is to parlay the quality and production design involved in Zéba’s cultural and entertainment coverage into an educational magazine distributed throughout Afghanistan.

According to Feda, the magazine “would be about educating women about their issues, educating children on their 1-2-3s, because school is hard to get to in Afghanistan. For women, it’s important to give them self-esteem and motivation because they’ve been through so much and to teach them through the publication, teach them hygiene and education. There is so much that can be done.”

Unfortunately, funding has been difficult to secure. Feda says that she and her husband have explored every possible avenue and gone down every pathway involved in the billion dollar maze of rebuilding Afghanistan.

Feda is clear on one point.

“We’re not looking for a handout. Even if it was a loan, given to us by the government to start up, there would be enough because advertisers would die for a magazine like this. Dell, Hershey’s Coca Cola, these big American companies are launching in Afghanistan and they need a magazine like this to advertise. In terms of quality and content it would have no rivals.”

For now, Samira’s daily schedule is full. She spends most of her days keeping up with the magazine’s thriving MySpace page while answering emails from around the world.

While they work with a staff of 20 to 30 freelance writers on content, Samira and Aman are almost entirely responsible for obtaining national advertising through their contacts.

Six to seven national brands, including Coca Cola, Van Cleef and Arpells and Neutrogena, are featured in the latest issue. With a subscriber rate up 200 percent in the first two years of publication, Samira Feda says that just twenty to thirty national ads would be needed to run the publication without out-of-pocket expenses.

Pointing to a feature on an Afghan makeup artist to the stars who has found a way to give back to his community, Samira says that she is pleased but always ready to improve. “When I look back over from the first issue to now, I see a huge difference,” she says.

“The biggest thing we’ve learned is how difficult it is to get advertisers, given that it’s ethnic media. We thought it would be a lot easier to get the attention of these big companies. We are serious, we have put our lives into this publication and sometimes you have to be blunt with these people,” she continues.

From a little magazine with an unusual twist to the pride of a community, Zéba Magazine will always be growing, Aman and Samira Feda make clear. Even the difficulty of funding the dream of an educational magazine in Afghanistan does not seem to deter them.

“I had no clue how to do all of this,” says Samira Feda. “But my husband had come up with this idea and I think in this life you just have to go with your dreams and do what you feel like you need to do. I literally dropped my entire life two years ago and said I am going to make this happen and it’s going to be one of the best magazines out there.”

Related Articles:

Zéba Magazine Brings Afghan Lifestyle into Focus

Turning ‘Mines to Vines’ in Afghanistan

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