Stories of Change
Top: Ali at a U.S. military base in Kabul, Bottom: the day of the fall of Kabul
A Year of Reconstruction
Afghanistan was in the news this time last year. We can all remember the chaos inside Kabul airport as crowds gathered desperate for departure to save their lives. Ali was one of those lucky ones to escape. When I asked Ali to describe his feelings on the first anniversary of the fall of his city, Kabul, he looked calm and relaxed with his hands folded. This gesture tells it all. “I am safe here. It was a year of reconstruction.” Ali’s journey to the United States came with some luck and effort. In Kabul, Ali worked with the United States Special Forces. Like many other Afghans who worked with the United States Army, Ali never expected the day would come where he had to destroy all important documents and leave his office with documents burned or destroyed (including his government ID’s and other paperwork that could have exposed who he was and who he worked with). The day to depart Afghanistan arrived when Ali’s former friend–someone he thought he trusted–called him on the phone to tell him that he would come to kill him. This was a final warning for Ali and his family of a wife and seven children. A reminder that his country had changed dramatically. The only option left for him was to leave immediately.
At 10pm on August 22nd, 2021, he offered a driver $200 to take his family to the crowded Kabul airport, which was a few miles from his house. They were turned around that day, so they went back the second day to try to enter the airport gate. With only $400 of cash in his pocket, he spent all of it on a ride to the airport with his family, this time only with his wife and five of their kids. His mom kept the other two of his kids. He remembers there were over 20,000twenty thousand people at the airport desperately trying to leave for a safe place. With connections within the U.S. Army, and after spending two days inside the Kabul airport, Ali and his family were able to board a flight for Qatar.
With a bag of clothes and no money left, Ali, his wife and five children Ali’s wife, five kids and him left Afghanistan and thus were separated from the rest of their family. They left with a broken heart. The week in Qatar left him a memory of humidity, exhaustion and uncertainty. “You could fry an egg in the Qatar heat,.” Ali said. His family then boarded a flight to a U.S. military base in Germany. The 49 days in Germany brought some glimpse of hope for the future. Ali immediately started English classes to improve his proficiency in writing and speaking. The only way is the way forward, not the way backwards, he thought. Afghanistan is forever his home, but it may not be the place to build his new life and support his family.
Nearly a year has passed since Ali moved to the United States. The difference now is that Ali has built a life in the United States; he and his family have a community and friends of all kinds. The team at Community Refugee and Immigration Services–CWS’s Resettlement and Welcome Services affiliate in Ohio–is one part of Ali’s newly-found family. He is thankful for the support in their resettlement into Ohio. “What I have now is freedom–it is what I had not had this time last year.”
“A friend you trust wants to kill you, but a stranger becomes your new friend.” Ali says. He now enjoys traveling around his new country with his family. “From New York to Chicago, I am exploring this beautiful country,” he says. In Ohio, Ali works as a case manager with CRIS and he helps members of his community navigate their new life. During the weekends, he takes his family to the parks, community events or swimming. On holidays, he drives his own car long distances to see friends and celebrate Afghan holidays. “For weeks I struggled to find a place to call home. Now I have one,” he told me.
Ali has a message for the Americans on this first anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan:. “I worked with the U.S. Army and USAID. Treat me as one of you. Not as a foreigner.” For Ali and others like him, this anniversary of the fall of Kabul brings back memories of turmoil, it also becomes the motivation to do more for his community and family. The chaos at the Kabul airport may be over for now, but the efforts to reunite and reconstruct lives continues for Ali and millions of Afghans, including our clients.
This story was written by Abdi Iftin, CWS Communications Specialist, Welcoming Communities.