Meena’s GoFundMe campaign can be accessed here.
In a dangerous and heart-stopping three day race to the airport, “Aisha,” whose real name is Meena, flew out of Afghanistan less than 24 hours before an Islamist ISIS-K suicide bomber blew up thirteen American soldiers and 170 Afghan civilians at the Kabul airport. Scores more were wounded.
I was beside myself, fearing the worst, because I knew that Meena had left for the airport two or three days earlier—but I’d not heard from her. I did not know, until the very last moment, that Meena, together with some members of her family, had rather miraculously fought their way through Taliban beatings, checkpoints, and desperate, surging crowds, found the right gate, and were in the air on their way to Europe.
Meena has turned out to be an unexpectedly precious gift to me—she is a soft-spoken, gentle Afghan woman who has never asked for anything more than her “life and her freedom.” She wrote: “This is enough of a gift. If I never get anything more, I have everything that I might want.”
Her attitude stands in sharp contrast to the attitudes my colleague, activist and philanthropist, Mandy Sanghera, has encountered as she worked on resettling Afghans in the UK. In Mandy’s words:
“They have unrealistic expectations and sometimes, when they’ve been offered accommodations, they’ll say that it’s not big enough, or it’s not in London. They have a lack of gratitude. Many Afghans do not realize that their qualifications are not transferable and that they may have to take menial jobs, go back to school, help their children, and work their way up.”
Why have I spent seven months and counting on this particular rescue mission?
As a woman who was once a girl, held against her will by her Afghan husband in Kabul; as a feminist who believes in rescuing women from barbarian misogynists; as a Jew, who understands what it might be like to need to escape certain death—when all the countries in the world have closed their doors; and as an American, who knows that we are responsible both for the rise of educated, feminist Afghan women and for the dangers that they now face—I had to act.
Whether or not we should ever have been there and not in Pakistan in our hunt for Bin Laden is a question best focused on elsewhere. But American boots were on the ground, doing some good, but also enabling a very corrupt government, and when we left against all military advice, President Biden chose to do so in the worst possible way.
As I’ve written before, I joined a team of “digital Dunkirkers” and, for the last seven months I’ve been involved in helping rescue Afghan women and their families—and helping to feed and clothe those who are still trapped, in hiding, and who remain endangered.
My team consisted of people, most of whom I did not know and, to this day, with one exception, have never met. We were a well-connected Ukrainian, anti-trafficking expert; an American counter-terrorism expert, an American who leads a not-for-profit organization that focuses on just such emergencies around the world; some American Orthodox rabbis; an American technological wizard whose family is stranded in Afghanistan; an American lawyer who left us early on; an American “cowboy” who helped organize and fund Afghan doctors and midwives and who delivered food to those stranded and in hiding; two German anti-trafficking activists; a tried-and-true British activist; a Christian Zionist organization which was rescuing Christians from Afghanistan and who advised me; some former American military veterans, who did likewise—and myself.
We were thirteen—fourteen with my assistant on board—and we worked round the clock and on weekends, too.
This particular team has, more or less, disbanded. Most of us were volunteers. Three of us got Covid. Many are exhausted, depleted. One of the humanitarian organizations, the rabbis with whom they work—and myself—are still trying to get Afghans either into Iran or Pakistan and from there into Europe. However, countries are overwhelmed by the Afghan refugees whom they’ve already accepted. The camps in the Middle East and in the United States are overflowing and their Afghan occupants have to be resettled first. Currently, there are two possible exceptions: Spain—I am working with a wonderful Spanish humanitarian. And Brazil, perhaps, for those that have a lot of money.
After five or six months of almost daily correspondence, Meena asked to read my book An American Bride in Kabul and, with some trepidation, I sent a copy her way. She may be the most important reader I’ve ever had. First, she wrote that “the way you explained the Afghanistan situation and culture in those years, unfortunately, remains a true picture even in 2021. Nothing really changed.” Meena told me that I “really got” Afghanistan, its “beauty, its misery,” that I’ve given her “a picture of (her) country’s history.” She also wrote that she “can’t stop reading.”
Sweet balm to any author. She continued:
“Your book is a hidden story of each Afghan’s life. Afghans are nice and well behaved with their guests and with people outside of their household,” but that (you) understood how they behave behind closed gates. She now saw “Afghanistan through my eyes,” and I’d confirmed “how abused Afghan women are, by both men and other women.” She wrote:
“Afghan men also live desperately without love and care by their parents. They try to seek attention all their lives. When they love someone, they treat that woman as their loved ones treated them. Cruelly and abusively. They think that hitting, ignoring, and using bad words are a part of love and care….we never learn how to love, to be in a healthy relationship…thank you for being here for us.”
And then, amazingly, and based on my single chapter on this subject, Meena apologized for how Afghan Jews had been treated. “I know that as a Muslim, we should respect all religions. I am sorry for what happened on 9/11. I read about it here for the first time. Thank you for still caring about us.”
Meena has been living safely in rural Spain. (God bless the Spaniards!) And, with the help of Professor Jean-Francois Trani, (God bless him too!), with whom she worked in Afghanistan, Meena has obtained a full scholarship to study social work in graduate school in the United States at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.
But there are many more steps Meena has to take. She cannot leave Spain until Spain grants her asylum. Otherwise, she will not be allowed to return to visit her family. Then, she has a second interview at the American Embassy in Madrid (which will cost another $600.00). Meena also requires a sponsor (which she has)—and that sponsor has to prove how much money is in his bank and send pay checks as well.
Finally, Meena has to prove that she, too, has a lordly sum in the bank so that she will be able to afford transportation, books, software, hardware, toiletries, clothing, etc. This is so that she will not become dependent upon America’s social and economic services. Meena plans to live with her professor and his family at least for her first year.
However, in order to preserve her scholarship, Meena must manage to arrive here for the fall semester of 2022—but no later.
We are again in another kind of race against time and bureaucracy. Will you please donate to Meena’s GoFundMe campaign? Here is the link.
I hope that Meena can book a plane that touches down in New York before she makes her way to Missouri. I want to shake her hand. No, I want to hug her. She could be my Afghan granddaughter or even great-granddaughter. Who knows? Maybe we’ll discover that we are somehow related through my Afghan marriage. More likely, we are already related in terms of our passion for freedom and justice for women.
At the end of her unexpected book review, Meena wrote: “I am a small person but I really appreciate your precious book. Kissing your beautiful hands that you used to write this book.”
Oh, the Afghans are so very charming… and she is a jewel among them. She will be a credit to her profession and to the Americans who embrace her cause. Please help her. Fund her. She is worthy of our generosity.
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