A long journey from Kabul brings one family to New Bedford, Mass.

Farkhanda Ehssan gathers her three children around the dinner table at their new home in New Bedford, Mass.

Farkhanda Ehssan gathers her three children around the dinner table at their new home in New Bedford, Mass. (Daniel Ackerman / CAI)

Last summer, the U.S. ended its 20-year war in Afghanistan. As the Taliban captured the capital Kabul, tens of thousands of Afghans fled the country, fearing repression and economic collapse. One family’s journey out of Kabul led them to New Bedford, Massachusetts.

The hiss of a pressure cooker cuts through the kitchen chatter. Farkhanda Ehssan is checking on the beans in her small second-story apartment. Across the room, her three kids wait eagerly for dinner. The older kids peck at a video game on their mom’s phone, while the youngest, 4, clambers onto the table and gives an impromptu dance performance.

It’s a light-hearted scene. And that makes Ehssan grateful, since such moments have been hard to come by. In recent months, her family has spent most nights sleeping in tents on military bases—in Qatar, Germany, and El Paso, Texas. They finally arrived at this apartment a couple weeks ago.

The family’s long journey from Kabul to New Bedford began on the morning of August 15—but Ehssan said she didn’t realize it at first. “When we woke up, everything was normal,” she said, recalling that day. “My husband left for his job, and the kids left for school.”

Ehssan worked for the U.S. government’s Agency for International Development, helping train Afghan women to be journalists. Around 10 AM that day, Ehssan got a call from her sister-in-law.

“She told me, ‘The Taliban has come.’ I said, ‘What are you saying? Joking?’ She said, ‘No, no, no, just go and check.’”

Ehssan flipped on the television to learn that the Taliban had captured Kabul.

Panicked, she tried to call her husband, but she couldn’t unlock her phone—she was too flustered in that moment to remember her passcode. She said her neighbors all across Kabul were feeling the same anxiety.

“The people were very much afraid of the Taliban,” said Ehssan. “Everyone was hopeless that they have conquered the whole country. Now what? What will happen with our schools, with our education, with our economy, with our culture? We don’t know the answers.”

Ten days later, the U.S. military offered her family a flight out of Kabul, thanks to her work with the U.S. government. The family waited in the airport for three days, with no food, until their flight finally departed. During the wait, a suicide bombing killed dozens of people trying to enter the airport.

Kabul’s banks closed when the Taliban arrived. So despite her well-paying job, Ehssan took off with no money—just six gold bracelets around her wrist.

Last month, her family was at a camp in El Paso. Ehssan was teaching an English class to other refugees one day when she got a text informing her of where her family would be resettled long-term. The place name was unfamiliar: Massachusetts.

For the rest of this story, including the audio version, please visit CAI CapeAndIslands.org.