Every Afghan is My Family: Watching From Afar as My Home is Under Siege

The past few weeks have seen devastating developments for many Afghans. As U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan, the Taliban surged across the country. It wasn’t long before the Afghan government collapsed and the president fled. On Sunday, Aug. 15, the Taliban seized the capital city of Kabul. To many Afghans, both in the country and abroad, these recent events are a terrifying return to exactly where the country was before the war started 20 years ago: with Taliban control of Afghanistan. For College first-year Fawad Mohammadi, an international student from Afghanistan, following the news so far from home has been a rollercoaster of emotions. Here, he speaks to his experience as an Afghan student at Oberlin during this time. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You posted on Instagram that people should stop asking you if only your family is okay, because every Afghan is your family. Can you elaborate on the sentiment behind that post?

I have lots of friends who reached out about the posts that I have on Instagram, people asking, “Fawad, how is your family?” I know they want to know how I’m doing — how my family is. What I told them is that I cannot be that selfish to just think about myself. 

Every blood that’s shed there — it’s my blood. It’s my soul. It’s my heart. And I really wish I was there. I really wish I was in Afghanistan. And I don’t mind that I am here, but this guilt I carry now, it’s so hard for me. I think being in a safe place and especially at Oberlin, I have tried to be a supporter; tried to be a listener. I have always tried to ask people how they’re doing. And then these past few weeks, day-by-day, they’re taking one province and another province. And I was trying not to share with people, because I don’t want to be a burden to them.

But when people are only asking about my family, it really hurts me. It’s like, doesn’t another Afghan’s life matter? Isn’t another Afghan my family? Aren’t they human? If my family is safe —  if I am safe — does it mean that everyone is safe? So I was devastated by that. I first replied to all my friends, and then I posted that post, because I don’t want anyone to take it personally. I really appreciate their reaching out, but they need to know that every human’s worth or value is the same. If it’s mine, if it’s my family, if it’s any Afghan, if it’s any American, for me it’s all the same.

Have you been able to talk to people at Oberlin about what is happening in Afghanistan?

There are many, many people that have texted me saying, “Fawad, I am here for you. If you need me anytime, you can call, and you can text me.” That really, it gives me this joy. Although my family — all the Afghans — they are in trouble, but here I feel like it’s a home. Another home that I have. So people usually ask me how I’m doing. I tell them, “I’m good.” But sometimes I just tell them that I am divided between here — having a great time with people, having a great experience at Oberlin — and then hearing the news that’s there. I’m broken. They’re my heart. My soul is there. My body is only here. But then I see all this support, and I’m thinking that I have a community here, too. 

Do you believe the situation in Afghanistan should have been handled differently?

I actually have no idea. I don’t know how, but I think it’s that U.S. troops moved out in a way that no one was expecting. I don’t think that it’s only the war. It wasn’t actually a war. We had a lot of troops. We had special forces and other military that wouldn’t lose the war. It was a political thing that happened. So I don’t know. I cannot say that even if the U.S. had stayed, such a thing wouldn’t have happened, because maybe it would have. But who loses is all Afghans, all people who lost their loved ones, all Americans who lost their loved ones since 9/11 or the ones who sent their loved ones to Afghanistan and who lost their lives. I think those are normal people and common people. People who lost. 

Do you have hope for the future of Afghanistan?

I was devastated when I heard about Kabul, I really was. But I think it was the same day that people were painting on the walls, and they had the message of hope. And we Afghans have fought a lot of fights. We have been through a lot, but after some time we just came back. As an Afghan, I cannot say that I don’t have hope. I may be devastated now, but I’m sure all Afghans still have hope. They still try to move to other places to study. I was chatting with a person in Afghanistan, and I told her how hard it is for me to be here and see all these things that are happening. And she told me that it hurts her that everyone is leaving and studying elsewhere, and then she can’t study because of those ignorant people who are in Afghanistan. So I thought to myself, you’re not worried about your life. You’re not worried about what has happened. You still want to study. You still want to build this country. So those things still give me hope. 

I think we are like seeds. No matter how much they bury us, we will one day flourish. Despite all these problems that we have, all those bombings they were doing, a friend of mine just went to Harvard. And he’s now studying there. Another friend went to Cornell. He’s studying there. He got a scholarship. And another Afghan who has been through all these things, he has his visa. He’s trying to move out of Afghanistan to come here. He has been accepted to Oberlin. So, with all these things we have, we are trying, and we are reaching high positions. And I think that if we had peace, if they don’t take this right of ours to live, how much more will we flourish, how much more would we grow? 

Is there anything you want to tell the broader Oberlin community?

Just be there for each other; that’s what I have told my friends. That’s always my thing. If you reach out to me, if you need me, I’ll be there. It’s what friendship means to me. But I sometimes think that it’s not only about Afghans. If you’re a human, you will think these things; it will hurt you. And unfortunately, it’s not the case that it will only be for Afghanistan. If Afghanistan will be in trouble, I really hope nothing will happen to other countries, but it may affect them a lot. It may bring another 9/11, which I hope and pray won’t happen.

Any final thoughts?

I have to say that these past three or four days, I’m just broken. I can’t think of anything. Sometimes my thoughts are so divided thinking about one thing, other things. But, as I have said, I am so appreciative to have all these people here that are supporting me. And I just ask people to do whatever they can to just be a support, be a voice. That’s the only thing you do.