“As soon as the Taliban took over, we quickly abandoned our house,” his parents told BuzzFeed News in an email. Their neighbor had told them that militants had broken into their house while they were out and searched the place, asking about them. On the day the Taliban swept through Kabul, Wajdi saw TV news reports of people streaming to the airport, and there were rumors of Afghans getting on planes simply by being at the right place at the right time. It was dangerous, but considering the threats, staying behind could be worse.
Wajdi’s parents decided to risk it. With their young kids, they left everything but a few bags of food and drinks behind, asking a neighbor to keep an eye on the house. For days, they stayed in the areas near the airport, sleeping on the street to avoid missing any opportunities and moving from gate to gate based on rumors they heard about where people were being allowed inside. Waving paperwork, they shouted for help at foreign military officials and interpreters. Nobody would intervene.
They kept running out of water while at the airport, Wajdi said. “Only people can pass through — it’s just you with your documents and your kids. No bags, no luggage.”
The family spent days camped out near the airport, praying to be evacuated. (BuzzFeed News is withholding their names to protect their safety.) Wajdi spent his nights on the phone with his mother, who was charging a cell with a power bank. Both his parents kept saying the same thing: “Son, there is no progress happening.” He spent the days making calls to anyone who could possibly help— the foundations that had supported him, journalists and friends in the US and Europe.
When terrorists bombed Hamid Karzai International Airport on Thursday, killing at least 170 Afghans as well as 13 American service members, Wajdi’s family were outside the airport — but at a different gate, where they could hear the blast but did not feel the impact. They’re now in hiding again. Wajdi heard about the bombing on the news — he immediately tried to phone but could not reach his parents. “I was so worried,” he said. Eventually, when cell signal returned, he was able to get in touch.
Now that the US has pulled out of Afghanistan, Wajdi is trying to keep hope. The Taliban has promised to allow Afghans who hold visas to other countries or foreign passports to depart, but Wajdi does not believe them.
“It’s very hard,” he said. “When you’re seeing the situation on TV, when you see the future of your country, it looks really gloomy. You think, what if one day your parents are executed before your eyes?”
These days, his mind is filled with what-ifs. Wajdi rues the overly rosy projections made by the Afghan and American governments about Kabul’s stability. “That’s why my mom and dad didn’t have passports already,” he said. “We weren’t mentally prepared for leaving the country.” If Wajdi had not trusted a friend in the Afghan government who had sought to allay his fears that the Taliban would quickly defeat the military, he might have seen this coming.
“It feels like we’re still in a dream,” he said. “How is it possible for things to change so quickly? I never thought everything would collapse so easily.”