By Sayed Erfan Nabizada
August 15, 2021
“Erfan, Hurry up!” My uncle woke me up early. “Come on, we have to rush to the bank as soon as possible to withdraw my deposits.”
We left the house at 7:00 am and tried to get to the nearest bank in the Kot-e-Sangi district of Kabul. When we arrived, the streets and bazaar, known for their bustling commerce, were blanketed by uneasiness. The bank was closed. We tried several other banks; but they had already terminated operations. At 11:00 AM, we reached a bank near the Presidential Palace. No success there either. We heard shots outside the Sedarat Palace where the Second Vice President lives. We saw a number of VIP cars fleeing the area. We sensed fear, anxiety, hopelessness, and disappointment in the faces of every person we saw on the street. We were in a state of war.
“I will never forget this cursed day,” my uncle said.
City traffic had come to a stand still. We had to go home on foot. We walked by government ministries, markets, shops, and schools - all closed. This was not the same Kabul from a week before. It was now a city of fear and trauma.
“My English books,” I said. ”We have to get home.”If the Taliban searched our house, they would find my books. A friend of my uncle, an American journalist in Brussels, was always sending us books. We knew we had to hide them.
“They have arrived,” my uncle told my grandmother as we rushed through the front door. Without wasting a moment, I hid all of my books. My uncle also had to delete the pictures from his phone. He thought they were dangerous. My uncle has always been known in our family for his courage and patience, but today was breaking him.
My grandma was worried about my father because he worked with foreigners. He was still in Mazar-e-Sharif. I made several phone calls to my dad and siblings; luckily they were all safe. When I reached my dad, he had to hang up abruptly. It was the last time that I would speak to him until we arrived in the US. I have not seen him since. My dad, like so many Afghans, had shared two decades of partnership with the West and the United States. Now, he was in hiding.
A week before August 15th, my family was preparing to celebrate my 15th birthday. I was studying for my midterm exams. The events of early August however had stolen our morale and hope. I never got that birthday party.
I was born in Ghazni province. We moved to Mazar-e-Sharif, the second biggest city in the country, where my father worked with NATO forces. In 2014, my brother and I moved to Kabul and stayed in our grandfather’s house. My uncle was taking care of us; he supported and funded us each step of the way. People from all over the country came to Kabul for work and education. At the age of 12, I started working for non-profit organizations, and helped organize youth engagement on behalf of the United. I wanted to encourage other people of my age to join me to work for youth empowerment, to bring peace and to find solutions. I was determined to fight for our basic rights, and to address the problems that our society was facing. Now, I was on the run.
August 15, 2021 (evening)
We watched on TV and heard through local and international media that President Ghani had fled. It was a heartbreaking moment.
“Democracy’s dead,” my uncle declared.
By Sayed Erfan Nabizada
The Fall of My DreamsThe Dreams
A Journey From Kabul to MarylandA Maryland
August 16- 22, 2021
I went outside and watched the Taliban forces, armed and menacing, celebrating their victory on the streets.
My uncle and I struggled to find a way out of the country. The evacuation mission had just started. We kept sending emails, making phone calls to different embassies, and reaching out to friends in the US and Europe. Finally, my uncle received a message on Instagram from his American friend in New York. He offered to help.
August 23, 2021 (morning)
My uncle received a charter-flight boarding pass from his friend. The next day he said his goodbyes and left for the airport. The airport was surrounded by thousands of Afghans including men, women, and children desperate to leave Afghanistan. My Uncle’s first attempt to reach the airport had failed.
August 23rd, 2021 (afternoon)
My brother and I accompanied my uncle to the airport. We stayed at the gate for many hours. A specific unit of the Afghan security forces, the 01 Unit, was guarding the gate. They were shooting in the air to disperse the crowds, but their efforts were to no avail. Everyone was determined to escape at any cost. Once again, my uncle could not reach the airport. My uncle’s American friends expanded their contacts and efforts, reaching out to people involved in the evacuation process. My uncle asked his American friends to help me and my brother too.
August 24, 2021
We ended up receiving two more boarding passes, one for my brother and one for me. In the middle of the night, someone called us and instructed,“Go to Kabul Serena Hotel immediately and join the others on the list for evacuation.” Again, we would have to pass through Taliban checkpoints. We joined a family at the Serena hotel. My uncle’s friends made call after call. They encouraged us not to lose hope. We somehow managed to get through the checkpoints, get to the airport. We joined twenty other families and coordinators from the US at the security perimeter surrounding the airport. We were told to wait, and camp there until morning. Every time an airplane took off, I thought to myself, “Am I going to be in one of those airplanes?” We spent long hours in the cold outside the airport gate knowing that every moment could seal our destiny.
August 26th, 2021 (evening)
We were thirsty, hungry, sweaty, and exhausted. We were still in front of the main gate when a suicide bomb struck. The bombing reportedly killed 300 civilians and 14 US marines; we were only 500 meters away. Frightened, we decided to go home. We would let fate decide what would happen to us. Back home, I saw on TV dead bodies lying in front of the Abbey gate. The location was familiar. The tragedy was unthinkable. Later that night, coordinators assured us that the next day we would be able to get into the airport.
August 27, 2021
As promised, we got past the gate, I prayed that it was all over. We watched as American soldiers paid respect to those who perished in the bombing. We spent one more night in Kabul airport for documentation purposes. American troops in the airport told us that only documents and medicines were allowed on the plane. We were forced to throw away our luggage, clothes, and all of our other possessions. We made our way to the terminal for take off. The soldiers asked us to line up. Hundreds of us complied. Finally, we got on the military airplane and departed Kabul for Doha. As soon as the plane took off, tears streamed down my face. “I hope to see you again, Kabul,” I thought to myself. After five hours, we landed at a US military airbase in Doha, Qatar. There I helped to interpret for people needing medications, clothes, and other essentials. Although I felt safe in Doha, I missed my country. I found it extremely difficult to leave my home, especially under the conditions that we had left it in. I spent a night there waiting for the flight to our next destination, Germany.
August 27, 2021
We were off to Germany; specifically Ramstein Airbase. The memories from Ramstein still haunt me. The conditions there were much tougher than Doha. They served food twice a day, sometimes just once. There were about 20,000 refugees, all without jackets and coats to keep warm. We were packed into small tents outside in the cold, with 20 or 30 people in each tent.
“You have to help people register their complaints,” my uncle told me. I volunteered to help pregnant women, patients, and children.
September 9, 2021
After 2 weeks, we left for our final destination: the United States. When we arrived at Washington Dulles Airport in Virginia, I felt on top of the world. I have always admired the United States for having great universities and a strong reputation in world politics. After spending one night at Dulles, we were transferred to New Mexico. We stayed there for 45 days for legal and administrative processes. The conditions in New Mexico were the same as Germany, but this time, buoyed by hope, we were strong enough to cope.
October 25th, 2021
Our legal documentation was completed, and we were transferred to Washington D.C. Our American friend had already talked to a wonderful lady, Dr. Jo Ann Cruz, who teaches history at Georgetown University.
November 5, 2021- Present
Our living situation feels like a home and school in one. In addition to all her hospitality, Dr. Jo Ann teaches us American manners, helps us with our English, and shows us how to navigate society. She has trained generations of college students. We feel proud to learn from her.
I am overjoyed to be in America. Yet, this joy is mixed with pain. My country is in turmoil. My father is still in Afghanistan, hiding. My four sisters are scattered around Mazar-e-Sharif, living with different families for their own protection. Although I am excited for new opportunities in America, my heart and prayers remain with my home.