On August 30, the Americans left Afghanistan. On August 31, Taliban operatives attacked the home of the father, his wife and their three children ages 2, 4 and 9. To hide, he rushed his family into the basement. That same day the Taliban terrorized the neighborhood starting from 1 a.m. until 4 a.m. Cars were stolen, houses demolished, screams were heard.
He was forced to leave the family dog in the house, since a barking dog would alert the ten Taliban ransacking his home where they were hiding. When he risked emerging from the basement, bullet holes were in the walls, furnishings were smashed, their car was seized. Worst of all, the beloved family dog shot and killed. They fled.
His crime was having service contracts with the Americans and other international companies.
After a short stay with his wife’s family, they escaped to Mazar-i-Sharif where they hid for three months without leaving their dwelling. There was almost no food. Health care was non-existent. Separated from friends and family, loneliness and fear for loved ones was a constant internal panic. Without a way to leave, their two daughters would never be educated, the father’s income non-existent, they could be murdered. Life, with the happiness they knew, was gone forever.
Hope came from a phone call alerting him the border with Pakistan was open. A sliver of time might be available for the family to flee.
At the border 40,000 other humans were waiting to leave. From 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. the multitudes were so tightly packed together they could not sit down. The children had no food or water. The Taliban were also there trying to scare the citizenry. A bullet landed an inch from his wife’s shoe. Other bullets shot into the crowd found their mark.
The next time the border was open they tried to flee again. This time, having sold all of his wife’s jewelry, they had some money. Their first night in Pakistan they stayed up all night in a park. After not eating for a long time they found a Burger King near the park and were able to feed the children and find shelter in a small hotel for five nights. The room had only one twin bed, so the parents slept on the floor.
In Pakistan, the police confiscated their passports, visas and registration papers to be returned only after the family paid hefty bribes. Next, the family flew to Mexico City where they received help for one month from the International Rescue Committee. When the month was over, they were out on the street with no help whatsoever.
After calling a taxi requesting transportation into the United States, they were told the only option was to hire illegal coyotes costing thousands of dollars, the remainder of all their assets.
The father said, “A very old woman with white hair, short and very strong with a mask on so we could not identify her, came to see us and helped us get to America. The day after her visit a car arrived to drive us to the border. Ten people with all their possessions were driven to the wall. One by one, using pulleys, each person was pulled to the top of the 18-foot barrier. A person stationed at the top to carry us over and another person on the USA side to help us down.”
The family walked for hours until the Border Patrol found them. They were taken to a US jail, fingerprinted, separated by gender and imprisoned for five days. In the father’s cell, 80 men languished without a bathroom or water, packed too tightly to lie down. With no window, the father did not know if it was day or night. Worst of all, without water to wash, he could not say his prayers. His wife’s hijab was confiscated, robbing her of her already-compromised identity.
By then months had passed since leaving Kabul, but it would be another several months longer before finding respite.
Many refugees are relocated to Buffalo, New York, a designated sanctuary city, but due to an influx of Ukrainians, Russians and Bangladeshis, displaced persons services were over-burdened. The family’s papers legitimizing their status were rejected and once again the father pleaded for help to no avail.
For many years I have taught my students all change for the good of humanity starts with each person’s individual consciousness. One principled person with a conscience, local artist and activist Robert Sabuda, a God sent, called the family and offered them shelter here in New Paltz. When the family arrived at the Poughkeepsie Amtrak Station, they were greeted by members of New Paltz for Refugees Committee
For two hours I interviewed the father without him showing emotion. Once the words “New Paltz” were introduced into the narrative, he put his hand on his heart and wept, “from joy and happiness.” For the remainder of his chronicle, the crying continued, tears of relief coming from gratitude. His children, his wife and he survived. The worst of his travails were over. The family’s new life was beginning and it was because New Paltz is filled with conscious people who joined forces to provide shelter, food, education, healthcare, transportation, friendship, hospitality and love.
Maybe conscious intentions to make a better world grows on the magnificent spring trees around here, but money doesn’t. So many open-hearted people making donations have saved this family. Another family arrived here last week That makes three families, 14 souls. So much more is needed to continue to make New Paltz a safe haven, a light of kindness in this overwhelming world full of need. As the Talmud says, “If you save one person, it’s as if you saved the whole world.” Won’t you please help? To make a donation, visit https://www.newpaltz4refugees.org/