My father grew up in a household of 15 brothers and sisters – each child helping to raise the other. If you couldn’t find your left shoe in the chaos, you went to school without one anyway because getting an education offered a hopeful future.
My Dad’s struggling youth pushed him to seize every opportunity to educate himself. He graduated from Kabul University and law school majoring in polictical science and was given a full scholarship to obtain 2 master degrees in Berlin and Vienna. Upon returning, he served more than 17 years in government, with his final position as Governor to a province outside of Kabul. At the age of 39, he was given my mother’s hand, the daughter of Afghanistan’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, for marriage, after just one week of courtship. The birth of their first child, Wagma, was one of the most joyous times for my Dad… my mother recalls. Her dresses were all hand sewn and her shoes from Dad's trips throughout Europe. On his way home from work each day, he’d bring Wagma sticks of gum and colorful wrapped candies, placing them daily into her extended grateful palms.
Then one day, my father found himself hiding Wagma and I under the bed and instructing her to keep still while he went to get our mother at the local school where she taught. I was less than 2 yrs old at the time and can’t remember this particular day, but for Wagma, who was 4, it is all too clear and she can replay the banging of fists on her bedroom door and tanks rolling outside her window. Unsure of when my father was returning – she sat still – holding me. Dad kicked the door in and our entire family rushed to the Kabul airport. My father knew he had no time to spare - Communism was leaking into the country with armed Russian soldiers overtaking the country's borders. And those holding titles and influence were black-listed.
As they approached the gate, my Mom recounts how panic stricken she was when she saw Russian soldiers regulating the airports and spot checking all ticket holders. I can only imagine from Hollywood cinema, the dramatic intensity that clotted their veins. Mom and Dad holding onto their entire lives: their two daughters and two suitcases. They told the officer they were going on a trip for one week [thus the reason for only 2 suitcases] and then waited for him to decide our fate. My mom could sense from the man's eyes as he scrolled through the list of forbidden travelers, that our names were indeed included. By the miracle of God, we boarded that plane - and didn't look back.
As they say, the rest is history. We gathered at Mom and Dad's this past Sunday for brunch and enjoyed the beautiful weather on the back patio. I snapped some photos of our family together and we spent the morning reflecting and talking about our family.
While going through old photos, Roshana found a letter hidden in the pocket of one of Dad's albums. Dad shared with us how it was because of this letter from his sister, Estor, God bless her, that we were able to seek permanent asylum here in the US. My Aunt wrote a detailed account of how they searched their home, and terrorized her and his younger sister who was mistaken as my mother.
After his story, Masaud led our family into a special prayer. We put our heads and hearts together, around the living room and prayed for Dad's safe passage and return back home to us.
Ava helped tow his suitcase to the front door. She felt so important and helpful - she wouldn't stop smiling. She looked up at Dad and he looked back at her - and like a hole in time, I drifted back and wondered how it was 30 years ago - leaving home with our suitcases. For me not comprehending what was happening to our family and for Dad, who imagined the worst if he didn't get us out in time. And here I was, 30 years later, watching my daughter with my father, pulling his suitcase for his trip back to Afghanistan.
We crumbled when we hugged him good-bye. It was a very surreal moment - for all of us. And it still is as I write this and my heart aches with worry because we haven't heard from him.
At age 73, he left home on his own will – to go back to Kabul where his roots were once planted. We hope that this journey will fulfill a cornerstone in his heart of wonder so that when he returns this summer, we can sit down and write our entire family's story together, including this most recent chapter of finding the courage and right time to return - home.