Shazada Shinwari was at the Kabul International Airport on Aug. 18, 2021, negotiating for his life. In his hand were copies of his visa that had been granted just four days earlier. Hours later, his life would change forever, as he called his family to join him at the airport. Aug. 18 became the last day the Shinwaris spent in Afghanistan.
By 6 p.m., he was on a C-31 transporter plane to Qatar, huddled on the floor with his wife and four boys. The six had been shuttled around Southern California for a few weeks before finding their new home in the United States, a tucked-away two-bedroom apartment in suburban Santa Ana.
“Better than me,” Shinwari said through an interpreter when asked how his children have adjusted to life in the U.S.
Since arriving six months ago, the Shinwari’s have adjusted to their new life, dealing with the complexities of the massive language barrier, transportation and American culture at every turn.
Shinwari started from scratch when he landed in California in early September. He and his family had no house, no furniture, no clothes, no schools, no doctors and no welfare assistance.
Shinwari was a truck driver for the American embassy in Kabul, but no longer has a car to drive. Now, Shinwari bikes around their neighborhood for their smaller errands. Abasin Shinwari, Shinwari’s eldest son, bikes to his community college six miles away from the apartment. His father does the same trek at night when he attends English classes there.
Another hurdle: they can only buy their halal meats in Anaheim, and have to get rides from local Afghanistan community members.
Before the Taliban invaded, Shinwari led a successful life working for the embassy.
“[I] was happy for work because his children were happier,” Shinwari said. “They were going to school, I was making good money, the whole experience was a great one.”
Recently, things have been turning around for the Shinwaris. Both the father and the oldest son are in the process of getting their driver’s licenses. They both passed their provincial exams, and Shinwari, after 10 years as a driver for the embassy in Afghanistan, seemed giddy to get back on the road.
“I still have a vision of being a truck driver,” Shinwari said. He spoke of it being easy work that he not only is good at doing but enjoys. He predicted driving in Southern California will be a lot easier than in Afghanistan because there are more traffic laws.
A driver’s license is just a single piece of the larger jigsaw puzzle that the family’s flight to the U.S. broke apart. They have dedicated the past eight months to putting these pieces together.
“There was nothing, not even a stove,” Shinwari remembers about his home when he first moved to California. The two-bedroom apartment is now full, the youngest playing with toys in the living room while Shinwari’s wife cooks a meal in the kitchen. The local Afghan community came together to support them. Slowly, some brought carpets, a sofa, a refrigerator and clothes for his whole family.
“Now I have a full house,” Shinwari said.