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Zba Magazine Brings Afghan Lifestyle into Focus

Publisher Sees Opportunity within Afghanistan's Diaspora

New America Media, News Feature, Khalil Abdullah Posted: Nov 06, 2006

Ehsan Aman, an Afghan singer and musician, graced the June, 2006, cover of the bright and colorful Zba Magazine. For publisher Aman Feda, choosing Ehsan Aman to appear on the premiere issue served notice to the worldwide Afghan community that, Zba, meaning beautiful in Dari (Afghanistans native language), would be more than just about lifestyle, but about identity.

zeba editors Ehsan Aman settled in United States after leaving Afghanistan in the early 1980s when the then-Soviet backed regime deemed his music too threatening to the governments stability. While unknown to many Americans, through the years Aman has amassed a popular following across the Afghan diaspora.

Feda and his wife Samira, the editor and production manager, know exactly where that diaspora lives in America Arizona, California, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Texas, and Virginia -- and about how its members view themselves. They know who the sports heroes are, the artists, fashion designers, and writers.

I wanted to publish a magazine that showcases our people in a positive light, Feda said, a magazine that could serve as a meeting place where Afghans could put politics aside for a moment and revel in their accomplishments and culture -- past and present. Yet, his impulse to launch Zba also was fueled by his sense that Americans had only a one dimensional view of his native land in light of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent U.S. bombing. That there is so much more to his homeland than the world knows was the theme that underscored Fedas relatively brief remarks at Afghanistans Washington, D.C. embassy in July, 2006. Zba was being feted in a coming out party that featured delectable Afghan cuisine, joyous music, and remarks by Said T. Jawad, the countrys ambassador to the United States. Zba, however, is neither subsidized by the embassy nor the Afghan government; it will have to stand on its own two feet.

Zbas market potentially extends beyond the United States. Half the magazine is printed in English and half in Dari (Farsi in Iran). Feda calculates that he could capture about 20 percent of the Iranian market. He envisions selling Zba in Afghanistan, and regardless of what transpires there politically in the short-term, there are also now long-established Afghan communities in Europe and Canada.

The stretch of Route 7 through Tysons Corner, Virginia, is pricey real estate and Feda made a conscious decision to locate there. Sleek furniture, glass, fresh flowers, a vibrant red, a glossy black, airy and well-lit, Zbas office radiates the modernity and panache of an upscale magazine. The office needs to convey to advertisers that we are serious, that we are professionals, Feda said. As with most new publications, attracting and sustaining advertising is tough. Until he turns the corner, the day that Zba can pay for itself, Feda is committed to bankrolling the publication from his earnings as a mortgage banker. He is weighing the decision to take in investment capital, but to date has not. The youngest of eight, Feda said his familys support was, initially, tentative. When he asked his elder brother for advice about Zba, he told me not to do it, said Feda smiling. He said it would take too much time and that I could lose everything, but Feda added, I am a risk taker.

Like the musician Ehsan Aman, Fedas family also came to the United States in the 1980s, settling in northern Virginia outside of Washington, D.C. after stops in a few countries and a few states. Feda was 10 years old, old enough for Afghanistan to be more than a faint memory. After graduating college, he became a loan processor. He did well in the mortgage business, rising through the ranks and eventually hanging out his own shingle.

A friend suggested that Feda meet Samira, a young college student who was working nearby at Tysons Mall. Were Muslim, and we dont really date [as Americans do], Feda explained. The relationship, even with the requisite cultural protocols, moved fairly quickly. I told Samira about my idea for the magazine. She loved the idea. Feda convinced Samira to drop everything to become the Zbas primary researcher. He covered her expenses while Samira tracked down the Afghan demographics and learned everything she could about the magazine business. They were engaged two years ago and married in August, 2005.

Samira now manages a staff, including part-timers and consultants, of over 20. Feda, if he had his preference, would devote all his time and energy to Zba. Go check out MySpace.Com and youll see the buzz that Zba has generated among young people, he said. Adoration from readers extends to older circles as well. I cant tell you how many calls Ive had from people who have said that it was time for something like Zba. Aside from pride in his product, Feta cherishes the human dimension of what Zba has brought him. As publisher, I have met so many people that I would not have met otherwise.

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