Midway through the word, Husneia Qurbani took a moment to think. Then she finished triumphantly: “B-A-N-I.” She smiled, pleased, and said a few words in her native Pashtu.
“She says she just learned how to spell her name last week,” said Yalda Atif, a fellow Afghan expatriate who stepped in to translate at the Queens-based non-profit Women for Afghan Women, where Qurbani takes English lessons.
Qurbani, 58, the wife of an Afghan political refugee, left Afghanistan during the civil war that led to the Taliban’s rise to power. She has been living in New York for over two decades, but she never learned English. As a stay-at-home mother of five, she said, she did not see the need.
“I had never taken any classes of anything before,” she said through her translator. “I had never been to school, so it did not even cross my mind for a long time.”