Trapped in Afghanistan

Shah is still in Afghanistan, and is now in hiding with his wife and children. The house that he’d initially rented fell through after the Taliban overtook Kabul. But, through a family friend, he and his wife found an apartment that seemed secure. It has three rooms and is fully furnished. They keep the blinds drawn. Each afternoon, Shah puts on a shawl and sits on the front stoop while his children run around with their new neighbors for forty-five minutes. The key, he told me, is to cover his face without looking as if he is trying to hide. It helps that so many people have already fled the country and rented their apartments and houses to other families. The turnover afforded some protection. Since most of the residents in his apartment complex are also newcomers, Shah and his family can blend in.

Shah and his wife spend most of their waking hours worrying about their children—monitoring their movements, keeping them occupied, pleading with them to stay quiet. For the better part of each day, Shah sets them in front of videos on YouTube. His wife stays quiet in the morning so that the children can sleep in. One evening, while Shah and his wife were cooking dinner, they heard a thud, followed by sobs. The kids were jumping on a bed, and one of them fell and banged his head. Shah initially panicked that the boy might be hurt; when it was clear that he was fine, Shah became anxious that the crying would attract attention. He and his wife ordered everyone to bed. The next day, he decided to take his family outside the complex for the first time, a trip to the supermarket, with a stop on the way for ice cream. “We spent one hour outside, and everyone was happy,” Shah told me afterward. When they got back to the apartment, his children asked, “Daddy, are we going to go again tomorrow?”

Later that night, he sent me a series of tweets posted by other Afghans. “An SIV holder was beaten and tortured by the Taliban,” one journalist reported. A former government official announced that the “Taliban have started mass house to house and door to door search operations” across Kabul, “looking for ‘foreigner collaborators.’ ” We’d spoken for several hours by this point, but it was the first time he told me outright that he was scared.