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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim, Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

Afghan student trapped in Kabul dreams of escape, peaceful future

ILLUSTRATION: CASEY WOOD ’23/ THE HAWK SOURCES: Council on Foreign Relations Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)

This past August, shortly after taking my last exam at the college I attend in Sacramento, California, where I am studying for my computer science degree, I took a flight to Kabul, Afghanistan to visit my family. 

On a summer, sunny day, our plane landed at Hamid Karzai International Airport, where a few years back I had worked as a media monitor with the U.S.-led forces. I was so exhilarated to be visiting my family after a long and harsh period of time. We all were happy to have survived the covid-19 crisis, which took many lives around the world, but we were unaware of another life-threatening crisis, which was about to happen in Afghanistan.   

Although reports were indicating Taliban advancement in rural parts of the country, normal life was still ongoing in Kabul where my family lived. Girls’ schools were open, and young men wearing western-style clothing could freely walk the streets. But the situation rapidly changed as big cities began collapsing back to back to Taliban militants.

The group’s fighters expanded their presence to the doors of the capital in a matter of a few days. Despair and fear grew. My mother, unlike previous visits when she would always try to make me stay for a longer time, was repeatedly asking me to go back to the U.S. before it was too late. But it was already too late. Despite many efforts, I couldn’t find a seat on a flight out of the country.

Kabul had become a crowded city before the collapse as thousands of families, mostly from northern provinces, were fleeing the Taliban’s harsh rule and sheltering in the capital. A day before the fall of Kabul on Aug.15, I, along with a few friends, decided to make some donations for the displaced people who were living under tents in the northern part of Kabul. 

The next day, we were set to buy and distribute food and blankets for those needy families. Around 11 a.m., I was in the downtown, a busy and crowded place close to the Presidential Palace, when rumors spread that Taliban fighters had poured into Kabul. 

This sent the city into chaos. All shops were quickly shuttered. Men, women and children ran. Kabul’s streets were jammed with vehicles as panic set off in a race to leave the city. On the way home, I saw a policeman stripping off his uniform and melting into the civilian population.

The sudden fall of Kabul to the Taliban left many in a panicked situation as thousands of people swarmed the airport to flee the country. I was so scared, staying at home for a few days while seldomly sleeping at night. 

On Aug. 18, I, along with family members, went to the airport in hopes of finding a way to leave the country and save our lives. We reached the airport at around 5 a.m. with thousands of people queued behind the gate, creating a chaotic and dangerous situation as everyone was pressing to get into the airport. 

We spent two nights there but couldn’t enter the airport due to the massive crowd and brutal behavior of the Taliban guards, who kept firing into the air, creating more chaos. While waiting in the queue, I saw several Taliban fighters escort people close to the gate while whipping others to open the way for them. 

The weather was hot, and my mother fainted two times. A child was trampled right in front of our eyes at the Abbey Gate, the main entrance to the airport that the Taliban was guarding. So many kids were underfoot, and there were so many injuries. We tried the East and North Gate also but couldn’t make our way into the airport. 

When the evacuation process ended in Kabul, we were left behind.

Life under terrorist rule is painful, and a kind of gradual death. I wish this tragic life on no one. I feel so helpless and disappointed that I cannot do anything to save my family who are in danger because of my prior work with the U.S.-led forces. We cannot go out due to the security threats. 

To be in hiding may save us for a while, but it will not work for much longer. Threats are everywhere as the Taliban’s house-to-house search operations, which mostly end up as bloody incidents, take place almost every night. 

Last night, there was a search operation right behind our alley, and we learned that a man whose son was a former army officer was detained while another younger son was injured. 

These incidents are not being covered by the media because the Taliban does not allow these barbaric incidents to be reported. Freedom of speech and expression have once again turned to a dream with the Taliban’s takeover of the country. Mouths are shut, and no one can dare to raise voice against the Taliban’s harsh rules. 

The future looks terribly dark, and I am deeply concerned for our safety.

Yet, I am still hopeful, seeking ways to go back home to the U.S. to live in peace. I have lots of dreams in my life, and I am committed to working hard to make them come true. I want to take the remaining few classes to get my degree. 

As a U.S. resident, I only wish that U.S. officials would help evacuate thousands of stranded residents and allies like me who are facing imminent risk of reprisal attacks in Afghanistan. 

The writer is currently in hiding with his family in Kabul. We are using only his initials for his protection.

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