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Afghans Living Outside Of Afghanistan Reflect On Chaos In Their Home Country

FARHAD YOUSAFZAI: All Afghan diaspora and American Afghans, believe me - they all are in shock. They are very, very upset what is going on in Afghanistan.


That's Farhad Yousafzai speaking from Sacramento, Calif., about the country that he once called home.

YOUSAFZAI: I take out my brothers and my mom and their children. But my four sisters are still in Afghanistan. Believe me, I swear I talked a few minutes ago with my sisters. And they were crying. They were crying for help.

SIMON: He worked for the U.S. in Afghanistan as a contractor who bought goods and services and came to America on a special immigrant visa in 2014. He's one of the many Afghans now living elsewhere who has to watch their country descend again into chaos.

WAZHMAH OSMAN: I was born in Kabul. My family came here to the U.S. as refugees of war during the first wave of the many years of ongoing war. So that was during the Soviet-Afghan war.

SIMON: Wazhmah Osman is an assistant professor at Temple University.

OSMAN: Nobody really wants to leave their country. And nobody wants to become a refugee and go to another country and uproot yourself and leave everything that's familiar for someplace new. And so things have to get very bad. And the situation has to be very dire in order for people to get to that point.

SIMON: Professor Osman is also in contact with friends and family in Afghanistan.

OSMAN: And it's just heartbreaking. And it's particularly heartbreaking for all the women who remember what it was like during the Taliban regime and ethnic minorities and, actually, many people who believe in a peaceful, democratic Afghanistan who have been working so hard for the last two decades to build that. And now they find not only what they've been building towards - all the infrastructure and hard work and creativity is in danger, but their actual lives are in danger.

AVEISTA HELMANDI: What I'm feeling is utmost hopelessness. I'm feeling a bunch of anger but, ultimately, a lot of sadness just because I'm watching the country. My parents tell stories about every single day of my life since they came in America as refugees fallen to ashes.

SIMON: Aveista Helmandi is a student at the University of California in Davis. Her parents also arrived to the U.S. as refugees of the Soviet-Afghan War. Kandahar, their hometown, fell to the Taliban on Thursday.

HELMANDI: They would tell me how the pomegranate is way better in Afghanistan than in America. My mom talks about their ice cream, the (speaking non-English language) being better than America. They tell me about their childhood and the greatness of their homeland and the city of Kandahar. A lot of people want to go and do something and go to their country and be on the ground and help the kids that are sleeping on the grounds there in the refugee camps that have nothing. It's something that we can't do anything about. And that is just another feeling like you're worthless. And this is where a lot of these kids from these refugees are having survivor's guilt. Like, why is my life any better than these kids' lives?

SIMON: Helena Zeweri says that she has those kinds of conflicting feelings, too.

HELENA ZEWERI: There's a sense of real despair that Afghans are in yet another nightmare that's not of their own making. And in the diaspora, we're really trying to make sense of our own privilege. I know that's something that I am grappling with at the moment.

SIMON: Helena Zeweri is also a child of Afghan immigrants and is an assistant professor at the University of Virginia.

ZEWERI: You know, despite all the helplessness and despair that I've been feeling, I also am just really impressed with how much the diaspora has been mobilizing in this moment. And I hope that we can continue to do that. I mean, people are trying to get information to Afghans on the ground about, you know, the different visa processes, how to lodge asylum claims. They're circulating scripts about how to lobby our congressmen and women about increasing refugee intakes. And this has been happening just in the past few days.

SIMON: We've just heard from Afghans who now watch their country from afar - Helena Zeweri, Aveista Helmandi, Wazhmah Osman and Farhad Yousafzai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.