These days, her family comes together at her aunt's home in Manhattan to celebrate, cooking traditional Afghan meals such as the popular qabuli pilau, a rice dish mixed with caramelized raisins and carrots, and haft-mewa, the sweet Nowruz dessert made with seven symbolic dried fruits.
In Northern Virginia, a large Nowruz celebration took place this weekend in Manassas, with nearly 80 families in attendance. Just as it would be back home, the hall was split — with one side for men and another for women — with a catered buffet of traditional Afghan foods and a band playing Afghan music. In the weeks to come, neighbors and new friends will pay each other visits at home, in lieu of the extended family visits that they would make back in Afghanistan.
According to Mohammad Shafiq, a former senior media adviser to NATO who arrived in the U.S. three years ago under the Special Immigrant Visa program (a special program for Afghans and Iraqis who worked closely with the American government or military), Nowruz is ultimately about community.
"For Nowruz, we cook more food than usual ... so that if someone comes, we should always be prepared," Shafiq says. And considering that his apartment building alone is home to 24 Afghan families, there will be many such visits.
Chicago also hosted the first part of its Nowruz celebrations this weekend in a local hotel; the second will take place, as per Nowruz tradition, approximately 13 days later at an outdoor picnic. In the warmer months in Afghanistan, picnics are the social events of the season, with the Nowruz picnic serving as the unofficial kickoff.
Samiye Rajabi, a 23-year-old Afghan refugee, was one of the attendees in Chicago. She arrived in the Windy City by herself in January 2016, as the rest of her family members awaited the finalization of their refugee processing in Turkey, where they had already spent eight years in limbo. While she appreciated Chicago's Afghan community coming together, she had looked forward to a reunion, and a homier celebration, with her family this year.
She was especially homesick for samanak, a special Nowruz sweet paste made of wheat flour; she remembered her mother and aunts spending all night preparing it in the lead-up to Nowruz. Since it was a difficult task requiring a lot of strength, she had never taken part. This year, she thought she might.
But that was before President Trump put a 120-day moratorium on the processing of all refugees. Rajabi believes that her family was at the very end of its processing, but now, she has four more months to go before a possible reunion.
Preserving the food traditions of the Persian New Year takes on an even deeper significance for those who do not have extended Afghan communities to celebrate with. Sabira Ebaady, who refers to herself as "one of two Afghans in the state of Louisiana" (the other is her younger sister), spent many of her 10 Nowruzes in the United States alone before her sister joined her in New Orleans last year.
Their planning for Nowruz began weeks ago, when they let lentils take sprout, a tradition that serves as a physical representation of the process of rebirth. Her lentil sprouts will be the centerpiece of her Nowruz table, or haftseen, one of seven items meant to symbolize renewal. The day before the big feast, she will cook many dishes, including sebzah, a rice dish with green vegetables, which symbolize wealth and health, and the haft mewa (seven fruits) dessert.
And then, she will head outdoors to enjoy an Afghan-style picnic. It'll be less elaborate than the ones that she remembers from her childhood in Ghazni and among the refugee community in Pakistan. And rather than celebrating atop a scenic hillside, she'll instead head to a plantation outside New Orleans for the requisite picnic.
Eileen Guo is a journalist based in New York City who writes about food, culture and identity. She enjoyed two Nowruzes and numerous picnics as a digital media entrepreneur in Afghanistan.
Copyright 2017 NPR.