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The Intersection Of Motherhood, Journalism, and Expat Life: Fariba Nawa's Inspiring Journey!

Fariba Nawa is a hardworking mother, journalist, host of On Spec podcast @onspecstories, author of Opium Nation, and co-author of The American Way: Stories of Invasion. Despite the many roles she plays, she has managed to find balance in her life as an expat mother. In this blog post, we’ll have an exclusive conversation with Fariba about her experience balancing motherhood and expat life.

1: Fariba - tell us about your journey so far.. You are a mom living in Turkey! Do you live there as an expat or are you a native? Where did you grow up?

I moved to Istanbul nearly eight years ago to continue my career as a foreign journalist covering the Middle East and South/Central Asia. I also wanted to raise my kids in this gorgeous family-friendly city. I’m originally from Afghanistan but my family fled the Soviet invasion when I was nine years old in 1982, and we settled in the San Francisco Bay Area. But I moved abroad shortly after my education to work. As an adult, I have lived in Kabul, Cairo, Islamabad, but Turkey’s been my home for the longest period outside the U.S., and I hope to stay here.

2: You are a working mom as a journalist! How do you work and juggle being a mom?

I work from home and my 15-year-old daughter homeschools through an online program. My 12-year-old goes to an international school and is gone most of the day. I’m a single mom and there’s no such thing as balance because right when I have deadlines, the kids will also need me. So it’s figuring it out day by day and it’s gotten easier now that they are older. I relied on babysitters, friends and still rely on other moms to help. We have a good community of mothers and even my single women friends who help out. In the past, I would take the girls on my work trips and bring a friend who would take them to museums and shopping. I’m also grateful that their father stuck around and helps take care of them. He became a better father after our divorce, and I schedule a lot of my writing on the days he’s with them.

3: What advice do you have for fellow moms looking to travel, live and work abroad?

I’d say find an online community in the country you want to travel to and live, then find actual friends through that community. I did that when I came to Istanbul through the Foreign Women of Istanbul group, then through my foreign journalist colleagues, and of course, the school moms. Once you have a community, the rest falls into place. As for work, it depends on the profession but many digital nomads find Turkey attractive — Turks aren’t crazy about them these days. The anti foreign sentiment has increased because of inflation and a housing crisis, so I would also advise fellow moms to understand the politics and economy of the place they want to live in, and how they will impact local populations.

4: When you travel with your family how do you stay organised? What are your top tips for planning ahead?

We usually go where we have friends and family. I have 64 first cousins all over the world. When we go places, I book hotels and airfare beforehand. My daughters plan the days and where they want to eat, shop and sightsee. Together as a team, we travel in harmony. But we miss flights sometimes when we’re late and the weather doesn’t always cooperate with our plans, so my attitude is to be flexible. We are not like military generals on vacation. We take it easy. As for moving to Turkey, I found the school for my kids before we came here, and then found an apartment nearby.

5: As a journalist, what has been your most impactful work?

I was the lead investigator for a multi-media story about a Syrian-American journalist and her mom who were killed in Istanbul. It took two years but it aired on ABC’s Nightline and was an hourlong podcast for Reveal. The story propelled United Nations extra-judicial investigators to probe the killing further, and our team got an Overseas Press Club award. Other stories I have written about refugee women and families have helped them get asylum. I care about the impact I make with my stories and I focus on migration, human rights, and of course, elections in Turkey.

6: Could you tell me about the challenges you've faced as a working mom and how you overcame them?

It’s a daily challenge. I remember when I was breastfeeding my younger daughter, I was on book tour and giving talks. At one event, I started leaking milk through my blazer. I quickly excused myself to get a shawl, then when I was done with my talk, I ran to the bathroom to pump. At another event, my cousin was with my daughter and she started screaming in the room. I told my cousin to take her out. In their later years, I lost my patience when they would interrupt my work time at home, and that still happens. I set boundaries now because they understand better. I’m really busy lately doing election coverage and haven’t had much time with them, but they know that and are proud of their working mom. We talk a lot about the struggles with each other, and I rely on friends here who have become like a chosen family.

7: What do you like to do for fun with your kids? Do you have family hobbies or favourite past times?

Every night, we watch a show together on TV. It’s our downtime. We have dinner together normally. We love to explore new restaurants, bookstores, museums and shops together. We have a lot of get-togethers in our home because I like to host events, and we celebrate our Afghan and American holidays in Turkey.

8: What advice do you have for new moms who may be feeling lonely/isolated or drowning in their new mom routine?

Reach out to other moms. In Istanbul, there are so many online and in-person events and get-togethers. It’s easy to make friends but it’s a revolving door of people going and coming. It’s hard to have continuity of friendships with foreigners. So I’m trying to make new friends with people who will stick around regardless of their nationality.

9: What is life like in Turkey? Would you recommend it to other women looking to relocate?

Life is complicated here because of the politics, stunted economy and anti foreign sentiment. For now, I don’t recommend women to move here, but let’s see how things change.

10: Where would you love to live/work/travel to in the future?

That depends on what the country offers. Maybe Portugal but I know that the locals there are resentful of too many foreigners coming. I will go where my children need me, but I hope they are independent and I can globe trot if my health allows. At 50 years old, health becomes the most important factor and having health insurance and access to public transportation and safety matter a lot.

Connect with Fariba:

Mother of two inquisitive and rambunctious girls, Fariba has been covering global news for 20 years from places like Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey. She is also a speaker and author of the book Opium Nation: Child Brides, Drug Lords and One Woman’s Journey through Afghanistan. A native Afghan, Fariba’s fluent in Farsi/Dari and can get by in Arabic and Turkish. Some recent work can be found in the New Yorker, PRI, and the Financial Times.

Documentary Podcast:

Twitter: @faribanawa

Instagram: @faribanawa

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