A Culture of Hospitality
“The most important thing to know about Afghans is, whenever a guest comes to our house, we’re happy for it. We say that guest is not only our guest, it’s God’s guest that came to our house,” ”David said.
He had just finished assisting the World Relief North Texas (WRNT) team with a cultural orientation for Afghans who had recently resettled in the area when he sat down to hear his story with us.
As an Afghan and newly arrived immigrant himself, his knowledge of both Afghan and American culture had quickly become a vital asset to the North Texas team in welcoming the influx of Afghan refugees they were receiving.
“I did work for the Americans for 19 years straight,” he said. “I know most of the cultures and how things work because if you work with someone from their country for 19 years, you get to hear a lot of stuff and you get to share your experience with them.”
The Day Life Changed
David, along with his wife and three children, was one of the 53,000 Afghans who were evacuated out of Kabul when it fell to the Taliban in August.
Growing up in Afghanistan, David’s father worked as a soldier for the Afghan special forces in Kandahar. Two of his brothers also worked for the coalition forces, and in 2002, shortly after the U.S. launched an attack against the Taliban, David began working with the U.S.
State Department as a translator.
He was at work the day the Taliban took Kabul. Life changed dramatically for him that day.
“I had friends in town,” David said. “They called me that day and said, ‘You heard Taliban is in the city? People are running left and right and they’re just scared and don’t know what’s going to happen after this.’”
When he got off the phone with his friend, he quickly went to his supervisor and informed them of what was happening. At first, no one believed him. They thought it was impossible for the Taliban to take over so quickly, and while David agreed that it seemed unbelievable, the truth soon became clear.
The Rush to Get Out
Over the next three days, David and his colleagues — Afghan and American alike — worked tirelessly to get rid of as much ammunition and military equipment as they could so as not to leave it in the hands of the Taliban. On the fourth day of his shift, though, David was told to go home, get his family and bring them back.
“They told me, ‘bring your kids, wife, that we need to evacuate you guys as soon as possible from Kabul,’” David said. “I asked them, ‘what about my other family? Like my mother or my brother?’
“They said, right now the only thing they could do is me and my wife and kids. They said they could get the rest of my family in the future, but right now, I needed to bring my wife and kids back to the base.”
David left work and made the drive back to his house. When he arrived, he and his wife packed everything they could into two bags.
“I had only three hours to prepare and we took all the necessary stuff that we needed from the house and made two bags and brought it with us,” he said.
When David and his family returned to the military base, they boarded the plane with 14 others and left Afghanistan. Though they were now physically safe, the life they knew had been left behind.
Journeying to the U.S.
Over the next few days, David and his family made an exhausting journey across the globe. They spent one night in Qatar before flying to Germany where they lived on a U.S. military base for seven days. David said that living conditions on the base were not great, but that he didn’t blame anyone for the poor conditions. How could he, when they never expected to have to house so many people with such short notice?
From Germany, David flew to D.C. where he and his family went through customs and border security before finally landing in El Paso, Texas where they would stay on another U.S. military base for 30 days.
The two bags they had packed, however, didn’t make it.
“When we got to Qatar, they took our bags,” David said. “They said the first priority was to get us out from here, and then it’s the bags… For 20 days, we had to wear the same clothes and after 20 days, we finally got to take a shower and change clothes. They took our bags and I still haven’t received them.”
While living conditions in El Paso were better than they were in Germany, life was still difficult. David and the other Afghans had to sleep in tents and wait in hours-long lines to get their food each day.
“I don’t blame them because in the camp where we were it was more than 10,000 people,” David said. “It’s not easy to give food to 10,000 people, three times a day, breakfast, lunch, dinner.”
Each morning, David and several other Afghans would meet with leaders at the U.S. military base hoping for some update as to when they would be released from the base and resettled in a new home.
“We were not hearing good news,” David said. “All we were hearing was that we would have to stay here for longer and longer.”
His young kids were becoming restless, often wishing they had stayed in Afghanistan, believing that life was better there. While David tried to comfort them, he too was becoming impatient with living in a tent on a military base.
Eventually, he decided to take matters into his own hands.
Prior to the fall of Kabul, a few of David’s friends and family had been resettled by World Relief North Texas. It was through those friends that David heard about World Relief.”
“I called [my friend] and said, ‘Please talk to Jonathan (WRNT Program Manager). If it’s possible to get out from this camp…I don’t want to wait. It’s taking too long.’”
David began making arrangements to leave the military base. He got copies of the necessary paperwork and medical records, booked plane tickets for his family, and left El Paso for Fort Worth. They spent their first night in Fort Worth at David’s cousin’s house, but the following day, Jonathan called David to say that an apartment was ready for them.
“He got the apartment ready in two days. It was amazing,” David said. “I couldn’t believe they helped us so much. They brought food, furnitures, beds for the kids, everything. Everything was in the house like a family living already.”
David said that walking into the house was like taking a deep breath. His children were thrilled and immediately began asking about when they could go to school.
Over the next few days, World Relief caseworkers helped get David’s kids enrolled in school. David’s wife purchased fabric and began sewing herself new dresses since their bags remained lost. David began volunteering with World Relief, acting as a translator and liaison with new Afghans as they arrive in North Texas.
“I told Jonathan the other day if he needs help as a culture-wise, I know more about Afghans, how to provide good relations, and help and stuff. I’m always ready to help them.”
While David and his family are working hard to settle into life in the U.S. — applying for social security, getting a drivers license and working with World Relief to get their SIV case approved — the toll of the last few months still weighs on them and the other Afghans in their community.
“What we are requesting from you guys to just please be patient…Most of our people have done or have been through a lot of difficulties in Afghanistan and have given a lot of sacrifices when the U.S. military was in Afghanistan. Most of the people lost their brothers, their father, their families in what was going on in Afghanistan.”
You Can Help
What’s more, many Afghans, including David, still have family in Afghanistan who are trying to get out. They wait urgently for an update, and we wait and pray with them.
As World Relief works alongside the U.S. government to continue resettling Afghans like David, you can help. You can:
Pray: Pray for David, his family and others like them as they build a new to life in the U.S. Pray also for the Afghan allies and civilians who are still seeking safety.
Advocate: Advocate and call on Congress to do everything in their power to evacuate as many as possible and resettle Afghan refugees.
Give: You can respond to urgent crises and promote peace and justice across the globe by giving to World Relief today.
Creating change and building communities of welcome isn’t easy, but it’s possible when we move together.