Stuck in Afghanistan

When it’s time to run, sometimes you can’t run far enough


Courtesy of Pixabay

We shuffled into a little room, where others already sat. A girl maybe 15, my brother’s age. A boy my age, eyes suspicious. A weary mother cradling a baby. All of us were uneasy, and the tension was as thick and heavy. Like the mud around us.

Malia Jeffers, Special Contributor


“Wake up, wake up, we need to go now,” Baba said to us. We rolled out of bed, groggy from sleep.

“Where are we going, Baba?”* Camila, my little sister, asked.

“We’re going somewhere safe, little one. Hurry, we must go right now.”

I pulled on my shoes and got the backpack Nana told me to take when we had to go. We had been hiding for what felt like years. We hurried out the door, where Nana was waiting for us.

“Get in the truck with Nana, I’ll be there in a little bit,” he told us. He went to go talk to a strange man, a man I had seen arguing with Baba once. We followed Nana to the truck, an enormous metal box on wheels. I climbed in and then helped my sisters up. Camila was holding hands with her twin sister Haliah. She was biting her lip, something she did when she was afraid.

“It’ll be alright, Camo, we are going to be safe now,” I told her, unsure if I believed it myself.

My older brother Dalir hoisted up Haliah. We went to the very back of the box, where there was a wall swung open. It looked like the rest of the box, rusted blue metal, carved with furrows.

“This is where we hide, children. Remember when we played the quiet game? We must be quiet, very silent,” Nana said. We shuffled into a little room, where others already sat. A girl maybe 15, my brother’s age. A boy my age, eyes suspicious. A weary mother cradling a baby. All of us were uneasy, and the tension was as thick and heavy. Like the mud around us. Voices drifted into the box, and a few minutes later Baba’s footsteps rang across the metal. He came in and closed the wall. It was blacker than midnight, the only sound was breathing.

The baby began crying, a scream piercing the silence.




Hours passed but seemed to be longer. No one spoke. The last words I heard were the gentle soothings of a mother to her child. I could barely see my own hands. Our muscles ached from a long time sitting on hard metal. I wished I could talk to my brother. I knew he was scared–we all were. But this fear was normal to us now.

We were heading to Kabul, Baba told me before. He said it was rumored to be safer there. No matter how many times he applied to the U.S. government so we could live in America, he was never approved. We were bargaining on a risky chance of escaping through the Hindu-Kush Mountains.

As I sat in the darkness, I remembered something Baba told me before we left. If I die, you must take care of our family. It felt heavy, the knowledge that Baba could die in this attempt to save us. It was heavy to think that I would have to take care of everyone in his place.

The truck lurched to a stop. We all looked up, startled. We sat still, not moving, not even daring to breathe.

The doors to the truck screeched open, and footsteps vibrated across the floor.

Over and over, I recited prayers in my head, praying for protection and safety. Anna Allaha mawlakum ni’mal mawla wa ni’man naseer.**

The stomping of boots grew louder.

Bismillaahir-Rahmaanir-Raheem. Qul Huwallaahu ‘Ahad. Allaahus-Samad. Lam yalid wa lam yoolad. Wa lam yakun lahu kufuwan ‘ahad.

Someone grabbed my hand, and squeezed it, trembling.

Allaahumma qinee ‘athaabaka yawma tab’athu ‘ibaadaka.

The boots paused.

“All clear, let them pass!” a man called in Pashto.

As the doors clanged shut again, we all exhaled a sigh of relief. I muttered a prayer of thanks. Maybe we might make it after all.



Baba was pacing back and forth, back and forth in front of the door.

“They’re supposed to be here, where are they?” he muttered.

Today is when the aid group Baba was talking about was supposed to take us to the mountains. I looked down and realized my knee was bouncing up and down. Nana told me not to do that, but I was so full of energy, energy from being stuck in this tiny apartment room and never going out. Twice the Taliban men with guns knocked on our door. Twice we had to hide in a compartment under the floor while Mr. Hadid, who helped us hide, talked to the Taliban men.

I could feel their footsteps over my head, even now, when they’re gone.

I looked up, and Baba was still pacing. I guess he was full of energy too. Then, he looked at his phone and relief lit up his face. “Camila, go tell your siblings we are going now. Get your shoes on.”

So I did.

My brothers were napping, but my sister was drawing. “Up, up! Get up! We are going now!” I said. Ghazi looked about ready to dance. Finally, we were going to escape this tiny room in this horrible city, where the boom of guns never ended. We were going to get out! Across the room, Baba talked to Nana. I heard them even though they were speaking softly. I’ve always had sharp ears.

“We have to meet them at the easternmost edge of the city, by the abandoned silver warehouse. They say it will be spray painted with red,” Baba said.

“Father of my son, you know how risky this is. Please, are you sure it is worth the risk? You could die.”

“My love, any of us could die. Any of us could get hurt. Would you lay down your life for our children to have a future? I would. This is risky, but it’s the only chance we have.”

Nana looked him in the eye, and touched his cheek, “Be careful, beat of my heart. We need to be careful.”

I looked away, realizing the heaviness of our journey. We haven’t escaped yet. I got my shoes and my things, and once everyone was ready, we slipped away.




“Nana, are we almost there?” a child said to his mother.

I wondered the same thing, every step felt like my feet were tied with lead.

“Baby boy, we have only a day to go.”

That startled me. I went over to ask my Nana if it was true.

“Do we really only have a day left of walking, Nana?”

“Yes, we do. But we are almost there!”

Relief and excitement rolled off of her in waves. Our group of escaping people was buzzing.

I practically skipped on my way back to Camila. “Camo, guess what?”


“We only have a day left of walking!”

“Finally!” she burst.

We walked along the roads without fear. The Taliban didn’t have patrols in the mountains. It was too far from most people. Nobody even farmed here because the soil was too rocky and the mountains too steep. I could hear the birds singing.

I heard the cheerful chatter and chirping when there was a pop.

Then, popopop.


Screams mixed with the chirps and people raced every which way.

“Baba! Nana! Baba, where are you?!” I wailed.

I grabbed Camila’s hand and ran. I tried to get away from the chaos, but everywhere I looked someone was shooting someone else.

“Baba! Nana! Dalir! Ghazi!” Camila called.

I looked down and there was red sprayed on my dress. I shrieked, grabbed Camo’s hand, and rushed anywhere but here.

Then I saw Baba.


“Run!” Baba bellowed.

Then he fell. Time slowed as we rushed to him.

“No, no no no.” I sobbed into his shirt. Red was already blossoming on his chest.

“No Baba! You can’t leave us!” cried Camila, holding on to his arm, shaking him, trying to jolt him awake.

We didn’t even realize when strong hands led us away. It was Dalir, who had Ghazi with him.

We sprinted until we almost fell over. When we finally outran the ambushers, we hid in the brush.

“Where’s Nana, Dalir?”

“I don’t know, Haliah. I don’t know.”

I looked up at him with tear-filled eyes. “Is she dead, Dalo? Please tell me she’s not dead.”

He stared back at me and said, “I don’t know.”

We sat silent for a very long time, too terrified to move.

It had been about an hour, but it felt like days when someone found us. “In the bushes!” yelled a masculine voice.

Please don’t hurt us. I could hear Dalir muttering prayers. The branches were pulled away, and Camila yelped. I was frozen in fear, thinking it was another bad man, another ambusher with a gun.

It was Gabe, the foreign aid worker leading us to safety.

“Hey, it’ll be alright,” he said with a smile and an outstretched hand. He hauled us up out of the foliage. A little town rose just ahead of us. We walked until we got to a safe house, with wooden slats painted peeling baby blue. When we entered, we saw our Nana leaning on another woman, sobbing.

“Nana? Nana, it’s okay,” I said.

She looked up with widened eyes. “My babies!” She raced over to us and hugged us tightly. “I love you so much, I’m so glad you’re all okay.”

“I love you too, Nana,” we all cried.

I hugged her close and never wanted to let go.

*Baba means Dad and Nana means Mom

**in Ali Dalir Hussaini’s narrative, the foreign language is Muslim prayer