It wasn’t until a week after the terrorist attack on the United States that the staff of New Home, New Life realized that it needed to respond on the show. ”The shock of the attack paralyzed our brains here for a while,“ says Siddiqi. ”The only thing we discussed was: How many people? Who could have done this? What‘s next?“ Then came the evidence pointing to bin Laden, and people started to move. ”Only then,“ says Siddiqi, ”did I realize that we could do something.“
The task of introducing a new plot surrounding refugees and social crisis was not foreign to the show’s writers and actors. Many of them became refugees themselves when they fled the brutal warfare during the rule of the mujahideen in the early ‘90s. On September 19, Siddiqi wrote a memo to his staff in which he said the show had a ”vital role to play in [the] emergency. People are . . . anxious about their lives. They need us now more than ever.“ The memo asked everyone to use personal experiences to guide the show’s new turn. ”We [too] have left our villages and have taken refuge in ruins without thinking about land mines,“ it read. ”We have taken shelter in isolated places. We have seen pregnant women walking long distances, suffering miscarriage and often dying. We have had [the] nightmares.“
Can a radio drama really make a difference in the face of a looming humanitarian disaster? The reception of the new storyline remains to be seen. But the penetration of the show into Afghan society cannot be overstated. (When a very popular character was killed a few years ago, there were public displays of mourning.) And research in Afghanistan over the past seven years has shown that the program‘s instructive subtexts do find their way into people’s behavior. American soap operas generally do not have life-and-death consequences for their audiences. But New Home, New Life plays a crucial role in Afghans‘ lives, and Siddiqi wants his series to provide hope for a traumatized population undergoing yet another convulsion. That, after all, is what the show is all about.