Amir worked as a janitor in the U.S. embassy in Kabul. His English was never that good (a few words, at most), but he had a good smile. His wife, Bibi, made extra money with her sewing and knitting in the bazaar. Their son was Abdul. He’d enlisted with the Afghan Army as soon as he’d been able. A roadside bomb ended his life just two months in.
Amir and Bibi were heartbroken, and grew apart. Both threw themselves into their work, what little they had. Then Kabul fell. Little did he know, but Amir was well-liked by the embassy staff. They remembered that smile. They got him out on one of the first flights, him and Bibi.
They came to Missoula. Amir was given a job at the university, similar to what he had back home. Bibi maintained the home. They went on that way for years. Amir put 27 years into UM before his heart gave out mopping the Liberal Arts building one night. Bibi lived for two years after him, quietly at home, much as the couple had lived their whole lives in America. Missoula barely knew them.
Akmad was an interpreter. He’d always been good with English. His grandfather had taught at Kabul University back in the 60’s. Fera stayed at home raising their young son, Haji.
They got out on one of the last flights out of Kabul. They waited four days outside the airport, three of them without food, one of them without water.
But they made it. They made it to Qatar and then Atlanta. They stayed in a hotel for a few days. They’d never seen such luxury.
Then it was off to Missoula, in some place called Montana. Another hotel stay came, this one lasting for months. But then they were placed in a two bedroom apartment. Akmad was given a job driving a city bus, while Fera stayed home to raise Haji, sometimes cooking her native dishes for food festivals once or twice a year.
In time, Haji was enrolled in one of the local elementary schools. Akmad and Fera couldn’t have been happier, especially since there were other Afghan boys in his class. But as the school years went by, Haji didn’t become as proficient in English as his parents would have liked. He fell behind, grew frustrated, began to lash out.
Many of his schoolmates felt the same. They closed themselves off in their small groups, separate from the other school kids. By the time they got to high school, they were outcasts, resented and put down. The world was against them, or so it seemed to Haji. He longed to go back to Afghanistan, a country he never really knew. He hated America.
Then one day Haji and some of his few friends brought some guns to school. They weren’t resented and put down that day. They were feared.
Ali swept mines for U.S. soldiers for 11 years. The first few years were tough. Three good friends were blown to bits. But somehow, Ali survived. His last few years were mostly spent on the base in Herat, occasionally going out for a sweep. Months went by where he did nothing, besides watch his American counterparts dwindle in number.
His only solace was Zahra, and their daughter, Amina. Oh, how he loved them! And oh, how he feared for them. That fear grew as the American presence wound down. And then, the end finally came.
The base in Herat closed. Ali had enough in savings to lie low. The Taliban swept in fast. A few months later, Kabul fell. There was no air route out for Ali, so he used the last of the money he had to smuggle himself out via the land routes into Pakistan. There he applied for aid and refugee status, just one of the tens of thousands in the camps.
Somehow, Ali got lucky. A soldier he’d worked with years before wound up in the State Department, ran his name, found it on a list, and that was that. Within days, Ali and his wife and daughter were on a plane, first to Dallas then to Missoula.
It took time, and it was frustrating. Ali’s English had never been that good; Zahra’s was nonexistent. The city gave Ali a job with the Parks Department, and he was soon cutting grass and shoveling snow. He loved it...the peace, the security, the opportunity.
Ali and Zahra knew they’d been blessed by Allah, and they used every spare moment to make Amina into the best young woman she could be. She got into Yale, a full scholarship for medicine. Years later, she won the Nobel Prize. Missoula couldn’t have been prouder.