Moska Najib is the only Afghan among the 18 finalists vying for Tourism Australia’s “best job in the world” competition. Image Credit: Supplied

Moska Najib, the 29-year-old Afghan now based in New Delhi, will soon head to Australia for a week, as she is close to landing a dream job. Moska (meaning “smile” in Pashto), is one of the final 18 contenders in Tourism Australia’s ‘best job in the world’ competition — which received 620,000 entries from across 196 countries.

Amazingly, Moska is the only Afghan to have achieved this feat. The other finalists are from the United States, England, France, Brazil, Canada, Hong Kong, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Belgium and Taiwan.

The competition has been revived following the success of Tourism Australia’s campaign to find a “caretaker” for Hamilton Island on the Great Barrier Reef in 2009.

Britain’s Ben Southall had then beaten more than 34,000 applicants from over 200 countries to win the dream job. It required him “to explore the islands of the Great Barrier Reef, swim, snorkel, make friends with the locals and generally enjoy the tropical Queensland climate and lifestyle”.

This time, instead of one, there are six dream jobs on offer — an outback adventurer in the Northern Territory; a park ranger in Queensland; a wildlife caretaker in South Australia; a lifestyle photographer in Melbourne; a taste master in Western Australia; and a chief funster in New South Wales — and the finalists will compete in a series of challenges to get the coveted opportunity.

The initiative is part of a campaign to promote Australia’s 12-month Working Holiday Maker visa programmes for 18- to 30-year-olds.

Moska, who lives with her mother and sister in New Delhi, was excited about the best job campaign in 2009, but due to commitments with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), where she worked as a producer, writer and photographer, she could not apply.

She says, “This time I was on a photography trip in West Bengal, the eastern region of the country, when I came across the campaign on the internet. The challenge was to put together a 30-second video application that would tell Tourism Australia why I would be the best candidate for a ‘lifestyle photographer’s’ job.”

Incidentally, Moska had only five days to put together the video, but she decided to take the plunge and rushed to Delhi. Within a short span, she had finished her shoot and the outcome was amazing. She not only won the first round, but was delighted when she was shortlisted in the competition and made it to the final round of top 150 applicants and was thereafter chosen as one of the finalists.

Proud of her achievement, she says, “It is an honour to represent my country, its youth and especially the women from Afghanistan.”

Now she has to win challenges that include writing a blog about her Australian travel experience, creating a tourism video and fronting an impromptu media conference. For all this, she will be required to photograph the city’s cafes, major festivals, music events and tourist activities, including surfing on the Great Ocean Road, skiing at Mount Hotham or meeting penguins at Philip Island.

Though geared up for the adventure, Moska misses her father and reminiscences, “I was very close to him, but spent only the first eight years of my life with him and I have held on to those memories very tightly.

“Unfortunately, like many Afghans affected by the war, I too was one of them; I lost my father when I was only 13 years old. Since then, my mother has been the only parent for my siblings and I. She has bravely filled in the role of a father and mother.

“It was not easy for her to bring up three children all by herself in a country far away from home. But today, as an adult, I realise and see the remarkable way in which she protected us and helped us stand on our feet to be the individuals we now are.”

Moska spoke to Weekend Review in an exclusive interview

How are you preparing for the win?

The final round is a surprise and we will only discover the series of challenges and tasks set for us once we arrive in Australia. Before I head down under, I’m trying to read up on Australia and the state of Victoria where my job will be based. On my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/moskathephotographer), many Australians, especially from Melbourne and Victoria, have messaged to wish me luck. They have been extremely hospitable and invited me into their homes, but most importantly they have given me tips and advise about their country. No doubt, this will help me in my preparation. Other than this, I am spending my time by writing blog entries and reaching out to people on social media. I am also polishing my skills in photography and editing through daily tasks I set for myself.


If you win, what do you intend to do with the prize money?

I think I will focus on the prize closer to the date of announcement, ie June 21. Right now I am thrilled to be hosted by Tourism Australia and be part of a global challenge where I will meet 17 other finalists from all over the world and different walks of life. Every experience so far has been a winning opportunity in itself but if I do succeed, I would love to use some of the prize money for photography and research projects involving Afghanistan.


When you rushed to Old Delhi to shoot a 30-second video, had you already made up your mind and were prepared what you would shoot?

I was brainstorming for images and places that would capture the world I associate with and Old Delhi represented that. There is so much of colour and flavour in Old Delhi; I knew when I got there, the spontaneity of the place would be charming enough to capture on video and I would have material to experiment with and submit my entry. Keeping in mind that Melbourne is known for its hidden laneways, I wanted to connect the world I live in with the world I could potentially work in through the charming alleyways of Old Delhi.


What impresses you the most about Old Delhi?

It is a place where time stands still and where you are able to pause and observe the hubbub around. It’s charming because there is so much life and momentum. The buildings are dilapidated and some of the lanes are mucky, but it has character and so much history.


Where all have you travelled in India and abroad? What interests you?

While I was working with BBC, I got to travel all over India to produce and report news including Manipur, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Kashmir, Rajasthan, Bihar and Jharkhand. Prior to that job, I was fortunate to travel abroad to Africa, Cuba and Morocco as part of my journalism degree. I love travelling and interacting with different people, hearing their stories and understanding their way of life. It is the best form of learning and is very therapeutic. There is a famous quote from St Augustine — “The world is a book and those who do not travel, read only one page.” So, I try to live up to this belief as much as I can!


You mentioned in an interview that Afghans have limitations while applying for a visa? Do you often face this issue?

I think the ongoing uncertainty in Afghanistan has made applying for visas and travelling with an Afghan passport quite challenging. There are very few destinations in the world where Afghans do not need a visa or are able to get one on arrival. Travelling for us can be an adventure in itself — maybe someday I will write a story or make a short film on it.


When did you come to India and what fond remembrances do you have of Afghanistan?

I was born in Kabul and spent the first eight years of life there. I have the fondest memories of the place — such as the park I played in, my friends, the school I went to, the local ice-cream shop, the fresh air and the warmth of being in your own country. Whenever I am nostalgic, I reminisce these memories and listen to an old Afghan song called “Kabul” by an Afghan band named Gorohe Baran. It is a beautiful song that captures the mood and life of Kabul, the city I remember as a child.


Nilima Pathak is a journalist based in New Delhi.