Saturday, September 30, 2023

From Afghanistan to Albuquerque: The Chaos of War

The Paper. Speaks With an Afghani Refugee About Taliban Takeover in the Wake of U.S. Exit


Sahar Zeyaee has been waking up at 4am lately to check the news out of Afghanistan. She's looking for any bit of information to help ease her anxiety about the total chaotic meltdown she's seeing in her home city of Kabul. After 20 years of war, President Joe Biden has promised that all U.S. troops will be out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021. More than 5,000 additional troops have been sent to get as many Americans and Afghanis out of the country as possible in the next few weeks. Last week the Taliban declared victory after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled and his government collapsed.

Zeyaee is a registered nurse here in Albuquerque and came to the U.S. with her husband as a refugee in 2004. The destruction of Afghanistan is not new to her, but that doesn't make it any easier. The Paper. spoke with Zeyaee about her recent trip to Afghanistan and how she feels about the catastrophic situation happening back home.

The Paper.: You recently returned from your summer vacation in Kabul. Did you feel like things were different this trip?

Sahar Zeyaee: I just got back two weeks ago, and I usually go home to see my parents and my youngest sister every two years. It felt a little different this time. Nobody was out shopping in the markets unless it was for essentials. There were rumors swirling that the international community was leaving, but nobody believed it. The U.S. had been there for so long, and there was some stability. We didn't think they would leave and let the Taliban just take over and take us back 20 years.

Have you had a chance to speak with your family, and are they safe right now?

Well, right now everyone is just scared. We don't know what's going on. We are used to the Taliban making promises and doing something else. They say they won't kill anybody, but I don't know what to believe. My younger sister doesn't want to leave the house, she's afraid of everyone. We are trying to find ways to get them out, but my parents are elderly and can't cross through the mountains into Pakistan like they did when we were kids trying to escape the Russians. There is no other way out but the mountains.

Do you think the U.S. should have left Afghanistan?

I thought they would have stayed. Not for the sake of my country, but for the sake of the U.S. I think of all the time and money that has been spent trying to build schools and colleges and create some kind of normalcy in Afghanistan. It's all gone now. I think of the parents here who have lost their sons and daughters in the war, and it feels like it was for nothing. I feel so sorry for them.

The news we are hearing is that the Taliban is going door to door asking for daughters who are over 12. They take them to be married to Taliban. Boys are taken to fight. These are children.

We feel abandoned by the world right now. My father is worried because he helped the U.S. and the UN identify innocent people who were accused of being Taliban, and he built an orphanage for children that he can't leave. This is an impossible situation, and I feel helpless here watching and not being able to do anything. I just want people to know this is not about just Afghanistan, this is about the international community as well. This is about all of us.


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