On June 19, four members of a north suburban Skokie family flew to Afghanistan for summer vacation and to attend a relative’s wedding.
“The first part was great,” said father and husband Ali, who asked WBEZ to withhold his last name until his family arrives home safely. “They had fun, they met with friends and family members they wanted to visit.”
Ali’s wife and three children, ages 3, 5 and 10, had eagerly anticipated this trip. They had originally planned to visit Afghanistan last year, but could not go because of COVID-19 shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders. Ali and his wife are Afghan immigrants to the U.S. They are both U.S. citizens, as are their children.
Everyone was supposed to return Sept. 3 in time for the school year. Then, after 20 years of U.S. defense, American troops withdrew from Afghanistan, leaving the Taliban to reclaim power and putting Ali’s family in a precarious position which they narrowly escaped.
“I desperately tried to take them out somehow. So I checked around for help and asked my in-laws over there if it was possible to look for flights and take them out before anything bad happens to them,” Ali said. “Because nobody could predict what was going to happen. Some cities were taken without any resistance by the Afghan army.”
On Aug. 15, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. After the Taliban took power, the U.S. began mass around-the-clock evacuations via plane. As flights quickly booked, Ali’s relatives were not able to buy tickets for his wife Zakia and children. The speed of the takeover and past memories distressed Ali and made him fear for his family’s well-being.
“That’s the most concerning and most fearing that such a thing is going to be happening again,” Ali said. “Even though everything happened so quickly, and then at the beginning or still up to now they’re making or trying to say reconciliation, or pardon people who work for [the] army or for [the] government.”
Ali’s family jumped from house to house until they could get their hands on paperwork needed to be evacuated as U.S. citizens.
“The first three nights they were hiding or going house-to-house — from a cousin’s house, to an in-law’s house, back and forth until they heard evacuation flights were closed for civilian flights,” Ali said.
Once the family was able to fill out the paperwork and get into the airport, they found that it was packed with people.
“[The] U.S. Embassy says they don’t guarantee for at least a U.S. citizen to get to [the] airport,” Ali said. “So it’s up to them on their own, pretty much.”
Despite the crowding, Ali’s family made it onto a plane and out of the country on their first attempt.
“So many people are going and staying overnight at the airport around the gates waiting for opening,” Ali said. “Sometimes gates are closed for hours or days. People just get tired, defeated and go back home. They might come back the next day or day after.”
Zakia and the children were able to fly to Qatar on Saturday. They still don’t know when they’ll be able to fly home to Skokie.
Adora Namigadde is a metro reporter for WBEZ. Follow her @adorakn.