Ferzan enjoys ‘great life’ in U.S.

Delaware County continues to grow in diversity as new residents from other cultures move into the community.

“I have grown up in Pakistan, Iran, Bangladesh, Algeria, and then a few months in England,” said Ferzan Ahmed, a longtime resident of Delaware County.

He enjoyed a 25-year career with the Ohio Department of Transportation, including five years as deputy director of District 6. Currently, he is the county administrator of Delaware County. Prior to coming to Ohio, he lived in New York and Kansas.

In Ahmed’s long career, he’s worked as a district manager for Dunk’n Donuts, an insurance agent with New York Life, as a construction laborer building sidewalks in Brooklyn and in a grocery at night.

“I’ve had a great life in this country,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed, 52, said his father was from East Pakistan — now Bangladesh — and his mother was from West Pakistan.

“My father was an employee of the federal government in West Pakistan,” he said. “That’s how my father met my mother and that is where I was born and where we grew up.”

Ahmed said his father decided to go to Bangladesh while his mother stayed in Pakistan. After a couple of years, his father transferred jobs to Iran where the family joined him.

Ferzan said they lived “wonderfully and happily” in Iran, “because it was a beautiful country.”

“Before 1979, all the cool kids drove Monte Carlos and Mustangs and wore Levi jeans,” he said. “It was the coolest thing in the world to have an association with this country called America.”

Ahmed said he made great friendships and still maintains some of them.

However, in 1979, it changed.

“The Shah was ousted and the Ayatollah Khomeini came in,” he said. “You dared not utter the word America.”

Ahmed said he loves the Iranian language, the way they greet people, the way they thank people and the way they talk to people.

“It’s the sweetest language ever,” he said. “It’s just an amazing culture. I would love to see some changes between the relationships someday.”

Until that happens, he visits an Iranian restaurant in Columbus to get his traditional food fix.

“The best part is, I have friends in all these different countries that I still maintain contact with that I have not seen in 35 years,” he said. “We were 10 and 12 years old, some things have changed in all those years, but we still have those contacts.”

Ahmed said he is a Muslim, not a good Muslim or a bad Muslim, just Muslim. He has never felt any discrimination as a result of his religious beliefs. In fact, it’s been the opposite.

“I’ve had friends cancel happy hours during Ramadan because I could not attend out of respect for me,” he said. “Now that is class, that’s giving someone a lot of respect. I think people are great. … The only negative is you feel a little alone on certain days that are supposed to be special.”

Algeria was the last Muslim country he lived in and since then he said he hasn’t experienced the festivals the way he did as a child.

However, he said the Muslim community has become significant in Central Ohio. He said there are several mosques in the area, the biggest in Hilliard.

“We even have our own cemeteries,” he said. “In Delaware, the Fairview Cemetery has a portion called the Islamic Gardens. It’s where a lot of Muslims are buried, including my mother.”

After high school, Ahmed wanted to study engineering in England, but he said his father saw more opportunities for him in America.

“‘I want you to make that country your home,’” his father said to him.

He still remembers the moment he landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

“The moment I landed and came through customs, I said, ‘This is my home,’” he said. “I decided some way, some how this was where I was going to live the rest of my life.”

He then said he was disappointed.

“You watch these TV shows from the ’70s and you have an image of what America is like,” he said. “I started looking around at JFK for someone dressed like Starsky and someone dressed like Huggy Bear. All I saw around me were normal people.

“Where’s Huggy Bear?” he added.

He said his father taught him it was important to make a good impression. On a Sunday morning, his taxi dropped him in front of his dormitory at Kansas State University.

“Out comes Mr. Ahmed wearing a suit, a tie, a cowboy hat and carrying a briefcase,” he said.

Ahmed said he’d bought the cowboy hat to fit in, but when he saw everyone wearing sweats and pajamas the hat come off.

“The second thing to come off was the tie,” he said. “I realized I was going to have to be a little more casual there.”

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When Ferzan Ahmed got off the plane at JFK International Airport in New York, he had already made up his mind he would spent the rest of his life in America. A large portion of it has been in Delaware County.
https://www.delgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/40/2017/08/web1_DSC_1974bFerzan.jpgWhen Ferzan Ahmed got off the plane at JFK International Airport in New York, he had already made up his mind he would spent the rest of his life in America. A large portion of it has been in Delaware County. File Photo | The Gazette

By D. Anthony Botkin

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D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.