Afghan family celebrates Thanksgiving with a soldier getting them out

Shirrahman Siddiqi started over. The Afghan military interpreter had lived in Houston for five years and became a US citizen, then relocated to Dubai. When he visited his parents in Kabul for the first time in seven years, he decided to get married and resettle at home. In early August, Shir met her fiancé Safa in person for the first time and was happy to find “I like her – I’m in love with her,” he said. They traded on the dowry list – it was expensive, $ 35,000, but that’s the tradition. That night, they held the wedding ceremony as the Taliban began sweeping over the nation.

They left it all behind. Before the couple could even pick up the wedding photos, Kabul fell.

Shir knew he and his family would be targeted. So he picked up his phone and contacted his American brother, the soldier he worked with in Afghanistan, John Rester.

People line up for food during a meeting between recent Afghan refugees, veterans and others at Afghan Kabob on Sunday, November 14, 2021.

In September, John and his family picked up the Siddiqi at the Philadelphia airport and took them home — not just Shir and his wife, but his parents, five of his siblings, his sister-in-law, and three of his nieces and nephews, with only their clothes on. the back. They are among the nearly 21,000 Afghan refugees currently finding new homes in the United States, 660 of them in North Carolina, with 44,000 in camps and bases waiting, a State Department spokesman said.

This week, Resters and Siddiqis will celebrate Thanksgiving together – the most American holiday, with its unity and traditions and cornucopia of redundancy – as a new family divided by language but connected by love.

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Najeebullah Habibi, right, and another child playing "rock scissors Paper" during a meeting between recent Afghan refugees, veterans and others at Afghan Kabob on Sunday, November 14, 2021.

A hurry to get out

“It’s been crazy,” Amy Rester said on Nov. 14 as children in T-shirts and sequins ran around with cupcakes. Task Force Pineapple hosted a meal at Afghan Kabob in Fayetteville to gather new refugees, longtime Afghan immigrants, resettlement groups and veterans.

Task Force Pineapple is one of the groups formed this summer when U.S. veterans of the Afghanistan conflict worked around the clock to get their colleagues out. Mike Adams, a Fort Bragg veteran who is now Chief of Staff for the Task Force Pineapple, described phone calls, text messages, security codes, coordinated with other organizations, and made sure every seat in every plane was filled. They called it “Digital Dunkirk.”

For John Rester, the mission felt doubly personal. His Vietnamese grandparents died after Saigon fell, and were taken to camps when they were unable to escape. It never stopped persecuting his mother, he said – “her guilt over who you left behind.”

Kim Hasty, left, takes a picture of some of the Habibi family with their sponsor family, the barefoot family, during a meeting between recent Afghan refugees, veterans and others at Afghan Kabob on Sunday, November 14, 2021.

He decided: “It would be great if the government would help, but we will do it anyway.”

Resters tried the State Department’s repatriation hotline, but the family was turned down at the airport gate, Amy said. They made effort after effort until a Texas representative finally succeeded, she said.

Amy took a month off from work. She bought sleeping pads and 14 sleeping bags. She moved her daughter into her own bedroom and put her two boys in bunk beds. Her mother, who lives with Resters, temporarily moved in with her second daughter and bought a sewing machine so the women could make the Afghan clothes that felt comfortable and appropriate for them. During the month, 22 people lived together. It was “immediate contemplation,” she said.

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Helal Dur, right, hands a bowl of fruit to Najeebullah Habibi during a meeting between recent Afghan refugees, veterans and others at Afghan Kabob on Sunday, November 14, 2021.

‘We should have had a plan’

This kind of transition is not easy. At Afghan Kabob, standing in front of tables filled with rice, stewed spinach, cardamom pudding and the restaurant’s signature dish, owners Helal Dur and Homa Mohammad encouraged everyone to eat. Of course, as the most prominent Afghan Americans in the city, they were drawn into the resettlement initiatives. “We’re trying to help them. But right now it’s so chaotic. And this is nothing! This is Fayetteville! Go to Virginia!” said Dur. “We should have had a plan.”

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