‘We are safe. We are here ‘: Thanksgiving from a newly arrived Afghan family

Shahnaz Khetabi would keep a worrying watch for her husband to return home every night from work.

Abdul Tamim Zeiaye, a member of the Afghan army, worked with US troops in Kabul to secure the fragile Western-backed government.

The Zeiay lived in terror for the Taliban.

In September, when they learned that the Biden administration was withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan, the Zeiayes hurried to join tens of thousands of other Afghans in what turned out to be a chaotic exodus from the war-torn country.

Last week, after several weeks at a military base in Virginia where U.S. officials treated and examined them, Zeiayes arrived in Harrisburg to begin the next chapter of their lives.

Fear still grips them.

Abdul and Shahnaz Zeiayes agreed to share some of the stories of their experience with PennLive, but they were adamant that they did not want to be photographed or videotaped for fear that their relatives at home would become the Taliban’s vengeful targets.

  • More: Navy who lost both legs in Afghanistan finds new life through God, triathlon and hunting
  • More: US troops may have left Afghanistan, but many Pa. families fear for people left behind | Social views

As they took care of the planning of health appointments and other important business, Zeiaye was joined by their four children: sons Ahmad Nawen, Nadem, Tawhid, and daughter Yusra, who all sat quietly with their parents and timidly accepted juice boxes that were offered them.

“We are doing very well. We are safe. We are here,” said Abdul Tamim Zeiaye, who so far remains reserved when others ask questions.

His wife repeats to him: “It is good to be here. We are happy.”

In their concerns, they are not approachable or exuberant, but that is no doubt understandable. They still each have their mother and siblings at home in Afghanistan; they are afraid of them.

They are also overwhelmed and find themselves in a new country where they do not speak the language and have no way to get around.

“We need a car,” said Abdul Tamim Zeiaye, perhaps unaware of all the requirements to not only own a car, but to drive one.

Zeiayes says they’ve never heard of Thanksgiving Day. They said they do not have such a vacation at home. But they are grateful to have fled their country with their lives.

In the wake of the Taliban seizing power in August, the US withdrawal and the overwhelming end to most vital international assistance, the Afghan economy has collapsed.

The UN estimates that nearly 23 million Afghans are facing hunger. Almost every family faces food insecurity or scarcity.

“We are grateful for our safety and the health of our children,” said Abdul Tamim Zeiaye. “Security is number one.”

Since U.S. forces withdrew in October, more than 70,000 Afghans have sought refuge in the United States. Thousands continue to languish at U.S. military bases as resettlement agencies struggle to keep up.

The Zeiayes family is being helped by the International Service Center, a Harrisburg-based agency working to resettle the hundreds of Afghan refugees expected to arrive in the Harrisburg area in the coming months.

Already this week, several families have arrived at Harrisburg International Airport, where they are being greeted by volunteers from the International Service Center. Some of the volunteers are themselves Afghan citizens and offer their help in providing vital translation to the newcomers. Several families were even waiting for Thanksgiving Day.

Afghan family arrives in Harrisburg

Zabihallah Razayee, right, and his family arrive at Harrisburg International Airport from Afghanistan via Charlotte, NC, and are greeted by members of the International Service Center in Middletown, Pa., November 24, 2021. They are among several families from Afghanistan. being resettled in central Pennsylvania. Mark Pynes | [email protected]

Truong Phuong, CEO of the International Service Center, still accepts donations for families, including children’s clothing, coats and gloves for the winter, toilet paper, toothpaste and toothbrushes, duvets, bedding and just about anything else a family would need to settle in. a home. The Refugee Settlement Agency also welcomes financial donations and housing to families.

Abdul Tamim Zeiaye said he needs a laptop and would love to have a large TV so his kids can watch cartoons. But he knows it will come with time. So far, he cares most about a job.

“I do not know what to do,” he says with the help of interpreter Ahadi Behrooz, who fled Afghanistan after the Russian invasion in the mid-1980s.

Behrooz emphasizes to the newcomers to get an education: “Educate, educate, educate yourselves,” said Behrooz, who now lives in Carlisle and has put his three sons to school. “Many Afghans do not like school. They do not like books. But that’s the first thing they need to do. Educate yourself. Learn all you can. “

Already, 10-year-old Tawhid, the eldest son of Zeiaye, has learned a few words in English: “How are you?” he said fearfully.

Almost everyone in the room is an immigrant from another place; and everyone laughs at the knowledge that in just a few months the kids will be almost fluent in their new language.

“Give them two months,” Behrooz said. “You will see.”


The International Service Center needs donations that will help Afghan refugee families resettle in central Pennsylvania. Due to the pandemic, only new items are accepted – from clothing to household items at present. Truong Phuong, CEO of the International Service Center, is leading the resettlement effort.

To donate and coordinate submission, contact Anthony Ossamang via email: [email protected]

For more information on volunteer work and donations, contact the International Service Center at 717-236-9401; [email protected]

Leave a Comment