Occasionally on New American Voices we bring you profiles of the men and women from many countries and backgrounds who work at the Voice of America as International Radio - and TV - Broadcasters. In this edition, meet Navbahor Imamova, a journalist trained in India and the United States, who is a popular program host in VOA's Uzbek service.
Today Navbahor Imamova is a professional radio and TV journalist living and working in the busy, cosmopolitan capital of the United States. But her journey to Washington started some twenty years ago in a very different environment. She grew up as one of nine siblings on a farm in the Tashkent region of what was then the Soviet Union. Yet even in that distant time and place, Navbahor, as a girl, was already connecting with the outside world.
“I've always been interested in politics, and I think that's what got me here. We had a world map in our dining room, and we also had a Soviet map, and of course things were a little different in both of them,” she recalls. “There were times when my brothers, or my dad, would challenge me, 'Okay, Navbahor, find me that city on the map.' So you would go, and look for them, and feel very proud when you found them… and the names of Presidents, and the states in America, all sorts of things that were, you know, very fascinating for me.”
By the time Navbahor Imamova finished middle school, the Soviet Union had fallen apart. Uzbekistan became an independent country, and gradually, new options were opening up for young Uzbeks.“I had to make a big choice,” she says, “because I wanted to be a journalist, and there were no journalism programs. And I was just realizing, okay, I have the choice of going to this old Soviet journalism program, where they teach you to be basically a publicist of the government, or I could learn English, and get out of the country. I basically wanted a Western education.”
Ms. Imamova enrolled to study English at the University of World Languages in Tashkent, and at the same time took a part-time reporting job in Uzbek State Radio. When an opportunity to see something of the outside world presented itself, she took it: she applied for and won a scholarship to the University of Mysore in India. There she studied journalism and mass communications, while continuing her association with Uzbek State Radio by regularly reporting on human interest stories from India. “I enjoyed it tremendously,” she says. “I used to travel all throughout India, talk to people, meet different people, tell them about Uzbekistan…”
Armed with a degree in journalism, Ms. Imamova returned to Tashkent to continue working for Uzbek Radio and to teach in the newly-established School of Journalism in her alma mater, the University of World Languages. And again, an opportunity arose to expand her international horizons, as well as her professional skills. She received a State Department fellowship for graduate study in journalism in the United States, and in 2001 entered Ball State University in Muncie, in the Midwestern state of Indiana.
Navbahor Imamova says, “Before going to Muncie I was in summer school in Philadelphia, at the University of Pennsylvania, for about three months. That was great. But going to Muncie from Philadelphia was quite an experience, going from a very crowded, diverse and busy city to a town of about 50 thousand people, very quiet, very rural, and of course very white. But I loved the university, I loved the campus, I loved the program!” She recalls, “They had just opened a new journalism building there. It was so well equipped!”
While at the university, Navbahor Imamova received a phone call from Voice of America's Uzbek Service, which was looking for prospective recruits with a strong journalism background and a good knowledge of both Uzbek and English. She began working for VOA as a stringer, sending in stories on Uzbek immigrants in the U.S. and on various aspects of life in the Midwest. Upon graduation in 2003, she received an offer of a full-time job. Ms. Imamova says she was particularly enticed by the fact that the Uzbek Service was planning to initiate a television program.
“Eventually I was assigned to the pilot project. I did the pilot package. We sent it to Uzbekistan,” she says. “It was about America. It was about the business world, travel stories, the education system, American politics, American history. They were all features, but they all carried something that people don't get to see much there: real stories of real people. I wanted to show, well, there are poor people in America, there are homeless people in America, there is crime in America, but there is also rule of law in America and there are opportunities in America.”
Ten stations in Uzbekistan signed contracts to carry the program, Ms. Imamova says. And although daily television feeds to Uzbekistan have recently been curtailed, Ms. Imamova continues to produce a weekly half-hour magazine show, called Exploring America. Also, as of this month, VOA reinstated daily radio programs to Uzbekistan. “We do international news,” says the Uzbek journalist. “We're interviewing people, we're interviewing U.S. officials, we're talking to different international organizations, we're covering the events in Uzbekistan, politics in Central Asia, in the former Soviet Union, in Afghanistan, and also the recent violence in Andijan -- that's a big story, even now. So there's a lot to cover, and I'm enjoying it. It's great!”
In her free time, Navbahor Imamova enjoys yoga and meditation, which, she jokes, keeps her sane and gives her the energy to maintain her busy schedule. After four years in America, she says there is much about life here that appeals to her. “I guess I'm the product of both cultures, really,” she says. “I think there's something inside me that will always keep me as an Uzbek. I love America, I embrace this lifestyle, I am very much an individualist, I like that you get to enjoy your individual freedom but at the same time stay tolerant and open-minded. But I also have my own personal beliefs about family and community. I guess it's all of those things that make a human being.”