May 03, 2022

Kissing the air in America

Since September, San Diego has welcomed upwards of 2,800 Afghans to our community. This is the story of one of the men who was evacuated from Kabul after the violent overthrow by the Taliban. Hope for San Diego was able to connect him with a host family and surround him with support through a Good Neighbor Team in conjunction with our affiliate, World Relief. (Name withheld for the safety of him and his family.)

Imagine sitting on the back of a bus on the way to your aunt’s funeral, dressed in traditional Afghan clothes. Two men sit down on either side of you, and halfway through the bus ride, they suddenly grab your arms. They say, “Do not move. Just sit. If you move we will kill you right away.”

That was me in Kabul less than a year ago. At that moment, my mouth was dry and I was thinking, “It is over. This is the end.” But as you see, I am here. You may wonder—why would someone threaten to kill this guy?

Well, I worked for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. DEA. In Kabul, this was such a sensitive job that I didn’t even know my sister worked there for four years until I got a job there!

Drugs are the fuel of the Taliban’s economic machine. The Taliban support their new government by smuggling drugs. It’s pretty simple: the DEA was stopping the flow of drugs. The DEA was the enemy, so I was the enemy. They wanted to kill me.

On August 15th, we heard the Taliban arrive in Kabul. We could hear the gunfire from our windows. When I heard that the president had fled the country and the US was completely pulling out, it was like a bucket of ice poured over my head. We always knew, if the US leaves, it is time for us to leave. We worked with the government, so we were now the infidel.

It is a long story of how I made it to the airport and saw the bombing there and slept one night on a concrete slab. Then I flew to Qatar and Kuwait and we were the last DEA team to fly out to the U.S….I can tell you the story sometime.

As you can imagine, when I arrived in Virginia with my DEA team, we were so happy! I asked the guys at the military base to let me go outside, I want to kiss the streets. We were safe. We wanted to go outside to kiss the air… kiss America!

I was the first in my family to arrive in San Diego. When I arrived at the airport, most Afghans were going to hotels, but my case worker took me to a host home.

That first day, my host took me to my room with my bag. I just sat on the bed. I was in shock. I was hearing my heart beat. La Mesa was so quiet…. It must be place for old people to live. Then I heard a tiny knock on the door and my host said it was time to eat.

When I sat at the table I was so nervous. For the first time I faced an American woman at their dining table in their own home. I couldn’t even talk! My lips were not working!

I told myself: “You have to say something!” So, all I can say is thank you. I still get goosebumps, because for the first time in months I saw Afghan food on the table that they bought from Kabul House restaurant. They were so kind and supported me in so many ways. I can’t even tell you how many people have helped me since I arrived in September. Those are some more stories I can tell you sometime.

I will leave you with this, so you can imagine how I feel. Think about all the preparations you would make for a long time away from home. You would save your money, you would pack all of your valuable possessions. You would plan every step of your journey.

Instead, someone suddenly puts you on the other side of the planet. Someone takes you… in the shock of a few days. For a short time, you are happy because you are safe. But you feel there is something wrong. It’s hard. Everything is not clear. Yes, I am safe here, but I feel like I am floating in space. I want to get my legal status. I accept that I will die here and never go back.

So, I will explore and see all there is to see in San Diego, find friends, start a new life without tension and fear. I have lots of ideas for businesses if anyone wants to invest. This is the land of opportunity. My new home.


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