LEWISTON — Two weeks ago, Bates College senior Nahida Moradi watched in horror from halfway around the globe as Taliban fighters swept into Afghanistan’s capital where her parents and two younger siblings lived.

Nahida Moradi with her mother in 2018 in Afghanistan. Provided photo

She said Friday that she couldn’t believe the United States, after two decades of battling the Taliban, had just walked away and “handed a whole country to terrorists.”

Moradi quickly decided that her family, members of the targeted Hazara community, would never be safe in Kabul under the new regime, particularly since she, her older sister Sabira and a younger brother were living in the U.S.

“We all started mobilizing,” Moradi said, working the phones and pleading for help.

With nudges from the congressional offices of U.S. Rep. Jared Golden and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, both from Maine, the U.S. State Department issued visas to the family, but their scheduled flights to Pakistan never took off.

Moradi said they lost hope briefly.

Eventually, they made a connection with “people on the ground” in Kabul – Americans who had served in Afghanistan who were scrambling to save as many of their old allies as possible before evacuation flights ceased.

Wary of providing details, which might endanger others trying to escape, Moradi said these “true humans who cared” managed to fly her parents, brother and sister from their apartment directly into the airport that so many panicked Afghans were clamoring to reach.

Loadmasters and pilots assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron load people being evacuated Tuesday from Afghanistan onto a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. U.S. Air Force via AP

On Tuesday, her family boarded an evacuation flight for Bahrain, one small part of an exodus that has delivered more than 100,000 people from danger since the fall of Kabul.

By Thursday, her family reached a processing center in El Paso, Texas, carrying little more than their passports from an Afghan government that no longer exists.

“The only thing that matters right now is they’re alive and they’re safe,” she said.

Moradi, 23, said she can finally sleep again.

What happens next is unclear. Her parents and siblings are likely to be released soon pending final disposition of their refugee status, perhaps able to settle in Maine or near their oldest daughter who works for the Aspen Institute in the nation’s capital.

A FAMILY IN KABUL

Moradi’s family belongs to an ethnic minority in Afghanistan called the Hazaras, who make up about 6 million of the country’s 30 million citizens.

Centered in the highlands in the central part of the country, they have long been said to be descendants of Genghis Khan’s 13th century horde that swept through Eurasia conquering nearly every land it touched.

Moradi said that even today, her people are called “the leftovers of the Mongols” by many Afghans.

“We were never treated well,” she said, often massacred, enslaved, deprived of education, unable to own property, possessing no voice in public affairs.

Her father grew up in Ghazni, a city between Kabul and Kandahar, the oldest son of a poor farmer. Her mother grew up in Kabul, her life constrained by a culture that offered few opportunities for women.

Moradi said her father managed to go to Kabul as a young man to attend a university, taking with him the responsibility of caring for his parents, siblings and extended family.

But war came to Afghanistan, a raging fight during the 1980s between the Russians and Afghan guerillas armed by the United States and operating out of mountain retreats and Pakistani safe havens, a model the Taliban followed in years to come.

At one point, the Russians arrested Moradi’s father and kept him in prison for two years. At another time, he had a chance to go study in Russia. He didn’t jump at it.

Her parents stayed in Kabul after the Russians left in 1989. Civil war would rage across Afghanistan in the 1990s, leaving ruins throughout Kabul until the Taliban eventually triumphed, bringing its cruel rule to the country.

Moradi said her father trained as an engineer and eventually helped set up a small business selling heating oil in Kabul. Her mother stayed home, as the Taliban dictated. They got by.

REMARKABLE WOMEN

Moradi’s mother, like nearly every Hazara woman, kept a low profile.

“They lived a life that never gave them any hope,” Moradi said.

But her mother decided it didn’t have to stay that way for another generation.

She “gave freedom to her daughters that she never had,” Moradi said. “She was brave for that.”

During the years when the Taliban ruled — before the Americans chased them away after Sept. 11, 2001 — Moradi’s mother tucked her eldest daughter under her burqa to sneak her to an underground school for girls.

Her parents, Moradi said, “wanted us to learn” and to be exposed to the world rather than hidden away from it.

Moradi said her parents embraced the idea that “the way out of poverty and violence and war was education.”

Sabira Moradi leaped at the chance for more schooling after the Taliban lost control, studying first at a girls’ school in Kabul and then, at age 15, heading to the United States to learn at a boarding school in Connecticut, where she ultimately graduated from Trinity College.

Sitting on a chair on the Quad at Bates, Moradi said her sister blazed a trail that she followed, going to high school in Oregon before coming to Lewiston after what turned out to be her last summer at home in 2018.

“The trend kept going,” she said, and she hopes her younger siblings will keep it up.

IN AMERICA

After seven years in the United States, Moradi said she’s seen enough to realize “this is what I want for my country.”

She envies the nation’s peace, prosperity and even its power. She embraces free speech, an open media and the idea that ordinary people matter.

But she can see America’s flaws, too.

Three years ago, as a first-year student at Bates, Moradi worked for a time going door-to-door for Golden’s U.S. House campaign. She met all sorts of people, she said.

“I got to know America on the campaign,” she said, and she liked it.

What “broke her heart,” Moradi said, is that Americans were “so hung up on their differences” that they couldn’t see all the strands that tie them together. That partisanship worries her, she said, because she’s seen how it can end.

From her education at Bates, where she’s focused on economics and European studies, Moradi said she hoped to plunge into development economics so she could someday help rebuild Afghanistan’s economy.

Her goal, she said, was “to go back and build a nation.”

DASHED DREAMS

Moradi said the Taliban consists largely of uneducated, rural fighters from Afghan’s mountains who are motivated by a misguided jihadi notion that they can drag the country back to the early days of Islam.

“It’s just heartbreaking,” she said, to think of how they’ll try to stifle the lives of women.

Taliban fighters stand guard in front of the Hamid Karzai International Airport earlier this month in Kabul, Afghanistan. Associated Press

After all, what’s happened over the past two decades with the American presence in her homeland “is not just my story. It’s millions of other girls’ stories” as well, Moradi said, and most of them are still in Afghanistan.

Like many people, Moradi said she never imagined the Taliban could sweep to control so quickly as U.S. troops departed.

She said she understands why the Afghan military avoided a fight, though. It would have caused so much destruction and bloodshed, Moradi said, and its outcome was likely to be the same whether they surrendered or not.

But Moradi is less forgiving of Americans who abandoned her country.

She said she watched President Joe Biden talk repeatedly of “American lives, American lives, American lives” in a nationalist appeal she found disheartening.

And though she has seen plenty of “real compassion” from some Americans, including those who risked their lives to help her family escape, she has also witnessed carelessness from too many who seem to think “they’re not us. Why should we help them?”

Moradi said the U.S. could have used its enormous power to leverage a better deal with the Taliban rather than simply quitting Afghanistan and leaving it to its fate.

Thinking about all the women photographers, journalists and even children playing that flitter through her mind as she thinks of Afghanistan, Moradi said she doesn’t know what will happen to them all.

“I don’t know who we’re going to be,” she said.

As a much-abused Hazara who recalls people slurring her as “a Russian spy” or “a Russian whore” because of her European appearance, Moradi said she never felt entirely comfortable thinking of herself as an Afghan.

“It broke my heart when the Taliban took our flag down,” she said, adding, “I am an Afghan.”

Yet she wonders if she can ever return to her native land.

“It feels like I have no home,” Moradi said.

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