MUNCIE, Ind. — The process to relocate thousands of Afghan evacuees continues as U.S. officials say more than 6,000 people have already begun the process of finding a new home in America.
One of those individuals, a man named Edris, recently found his new home in Muncie after fleeing Kabul. He arrived in the Hoosier state less than two weeks ago and said he has never experienced “this kind of freedom” he feels even walking around town.
“Everything is new for me,” said Edris. “It’s an adjustment, for example, I like never lived alone in my whole life. I was always with the family.”
Edris’ journey to the city, about 50 miles north of Indianapolis, wasn’t an easy one but he was able to do it with the help of several people and organizations, including Kenneth Holland, professor of law at OP Jindal Global University and Exodus Refugee Immigration.
Holland, who said he lived in Kabul for 13 years, became the president of the American University of Afghanistan in 2017, where he met Edris, who was an employee.
In the days leading up to the fall of Kabul, including the suicide bombing that claimed the lives of dozens of Afghans, 13 U.S. service members and injured hundreds of other civilians, Holland said he knew the Taliban would come to the university and those who were still there needed to leave fast.
“We got on the phone, called Edris and said, ‘Leave as soon as possible,'” said Holland. “He only barely escaped the Taliban because they came to the university.”
“He and the security guards and the other staff just ran away,” said Holland.
Edris said he was among a crowd of thousands in the streets who were pushing their way through, trying to flee Kabul by way of the airport.
Holland said, “he called us and said, it’s horrible here. I can’t make it. There’s no food, there’s no water, the Taliban are shooting at us, it’s impossible. There are thousands of people between me and the U.S. soldiers.”
“The Taliban firing, some people were killed, some people were really injured, so there was no ambulance, no medical aid,” said Edris. “Some people were injured, some people died, but still they were trying to move forward.”
For Afghans, Edris said the worst days of their life were likely those they spent trying to leave the country at the airport.
“At that time you think, I have to try, I have to try to escape,” he said. “For example when you have your home if burning happens and you were in your home during the fire, so at that time you try to escape out of any door window that you have within your house you don’t care if it’s nearby me or far away, there’s only one concept, it’s I should escape from this place.”
“Their life was in the risk in Afghanistan. So, all of them trying to escape from that place, trying to find that safe place in order to have a better life, in order to live because now they don’t,” said Edris.
With the help of Holland and others, Edris was able to flee Kabul and begin his journey to America.
Holland explained, “He just barely, barely made it and when he finally got to the front of the crowd he held up his — we actually wrote a letter for him — so he held up the letter and the US soldier saw it and grabbed him and brought him inside the gate.”
From there, Edris and other Afghan evacuees traveled to Qatar, landed in the U.S., and spent nearly two months at a camp in Texas, where Edris was among thousands of Afghans who underwent medical and security screening.
Although Edris didn’t come to America with more than he could carry, there were several possessions important to him that he held on to tightly even despite some obstacles along the way.
“The first night somebody stole his shoes. He became so afraid of people stealing his things that he couldn’t really sleep well at night and he put his laptop under his pillow,” said Holland.
Edris holds a master’s degree in computer science and knew as he arrived to his new home, he wanted to begin looking for jobs, but without a laptop, that would have made everything much more difficult.
“He’s an excellent worker, he has excellent work habits, he always wants to learn something. He always wants to learn something new, so he’s one of these young people who really always wants to be on top of his profession,” said Holland.
Holland and his wife Julie welcomed Edris into their home as he arrived in the community and his new place was ready to be moved into. He said the two shared several milestones in Edris’ first few days as a Hoosier.
“The first thing he said to me after I had taken him to a couple of restaurants in Muncie, he said, you know Dr. Holland, I think I really wanna open an Afghan restaurant because Muncie doesn’t have one,” said Holland.
“Everything is new for him, like I took him to play golf, he’d never played golf.”
It was actually Edris who requested Muncie as the community he would call his new home.
“Exodus Refugees told us that he’s the first Afghan refugee ever to request resettlement in Muncie Indiana,” said Holland, who also mentioned two more of Edris’ friends from his time in Texas have also requested they be able to relocate to Muncie as well.
The Muncie Afghan Refugee Resettlement Committee, or MARRC, is working locally to help facilitate the transition of Afghan evacuees to the city.
MARRC is a coalition of churches, health networks, the mayor’s office, small businesses, nonprofit organizations and individuals who are working to help make the transition an easy one for many people who are still adjusting to their life in a new country.
Bibi Bahrami, founder of nonprofit AWAKEN, who helped launch MARRC, said she was asked what the community can do to help evacuees who may soon call Muncie their new home.
“Everybody was reaching out to me, what are we gonna do for the refugees who came to this country who are helping in Afghanistan?”
“I said we are a small enough community we are blessed that we can work under one umbrella together,” said Bahrami.
Bahrami, who lives in Muncie, has dedicated her life to serving others and for the last 20 years, that focus has been on the Behsood district of eastern Afghanistan, where she was born in the village of Qala-e-Malakh.
Bahrami and her family were forced to flee a war-ravaged Afghanistan after the Soviet Union invaded and the war devastated the country and led to the death of millions, including several members of her own family.
She lived in a refugee camp for six years in Pakistan, where she spent her time helping others by cooking, cleaning, administering vaccinations and IVs for anyone in need of care since there was no safe way for girls to receive an education.
Bahrami knows what it’s like for people navigating life in a new country for the first time and wants to help make that process easier for them.
“They have the same desire. Everybody wants to get out of there. Everybody wants to have a better life,” said Bahrami.
Bahrami said she reached out to leaders in the community, all who welcomed the idea of helping refugees resettle in the Muncie area and become new neighbors in the community.
“There was three reasons for this, one for our economic situation. It will get better. These people are hard working, they will do double and triple of jobs,” said Bahrami. “Instead of one-person jobs, one person will do three people’s jobs.”
“Our unity for our community will make us stronger and the third one, of course, we can help more families instead of just one family, we can bring 20 families here and it will help more people and show my beautiful community and put it on the map and put it as a light — an example to other cities,” she added.
As Bahrami continues working through her nonprofit to provide aid to people in Afghanistan through education, medical services and vocational training, she is helping to oversee the efforts of MARRC in the community.
The committee is helping to find housing for refugees, offer support in paying rent and other personal needs. Under the committee, Bahrami said there are more than 12 subcommittees.
“Each committee has their responsibilities, obviously job, financial committee, education committee, housing committee, furnishing committee and necessities committees and even ongoing support committee,” said Bahrami. “We have so many committees that we’re blessed.”
As Bahrami works to help get families out of the war-ravaged country of Afghanistan, she is also working to help her own family who is still not out yet either.
Bahrami said she is excited to see more community members engaged in welcoming their new neighbors and as time goes on, she hopes she will be able to oversee these but focus her efforts on continuing to work towards helping more people out of Afghanistan and protecting those who haven’t been able to yet.
Edris said he’s also looking forward to what’s next for him in his new home. He said he feels like he’s been given a great welcome to Muncie and is overwhelmed by how kind and friendly people have been to him.
He’s even taken advantage of visiting several rotary club meetings, gone to golf clubs and soccer clubs with Holland and his family. He looks forward to what the future holds and said for now, he is applying for jobs and hoping to show people that they will be proud to call them his new neighbor.
“I’m very happy,” he said.