Schifrin: They've built lives here. Katrin Fakiri, Emal
Newman, and Rahima Haya -- refugees from the Russian invasion
of Afghanistan. They've built vibrant lives. Twenty-nine-year-old
Katrin has a high tech job and close friends. Emal, a few years
her junior, works with his great love -- airplanes. And Rahima,
of an older generation, helps foreign students adjust to America.
But they all have been waiting for this moment as long as they
can remember. Now, Katrin says, it's time to go home.
Katrin: I'm nervous, I'm excited, I'm also really afraid.
Not so much for my safety, but afraid of what I'm going to see.
All those memories I've held all those years are of good things,
playing with my brothers and sisters and cousins -- fun, happy,
laughing-type of memories.
Emal: What I remember was, uh, Russians, tanks, a lot
Schifrin: Emal Newman's childhood memories couldn't be
more different from Katrin's.
Newman: Some of the heavy Russian airplanes that would
bring tanks to Jalalabad, the airport, and, uh, every time they
would go over the houses they would shake the entire house complex.
And I've seen some of my closest friends being, uh, run over by
tanks, you know. They bring them home, and the family starts crying
and you see the blood all over the coffin and stuff. So, that
is what I remember.
Schifrin: Rahima Haya had kids of her own by the time
she fled Afghanistan. But she reminisces about the foods of her
childhood...sweet black carrots and sour cherries they ate with
salt. Poverty and joy mixed together.
Rahima: People, I remember, they were very happy. They
loved to go picnics on Fridays, also I remember children -- they
enjoyed. As a child I laughed a lot, and the other children --
they were happy"
Schifrin: But for all of them, the moment arrived when
the situation became intolerable and they had to leave. They fled
to the United States -- temporarily, they thought. But as they
slowly adjusted to a confusing new culture, they watched the situation
in Afghanistan worsen, and their hopes of return diminish.
Now, for the first time in two decades, a window of opportunity
has opened. They are taking advantage of the U.S. involvement
and the relative stability of the region to visit Afghanistan.
Katrin and Emal join UN-sanctioned delegations. They'll be distributing
food and blankets, and helping ask what aid should come next.
They flew to Pakistan last week and navigated the difficult roads
into Afghanistan. There are no direct flights. For Emal, this
trip is a duty because he feels he has abandoned his homeland.
Emal: Living the life here is very comfortable, I gotta
admit. It's a comfortable life, very relaxing, no worries, nothing.
But when you see your countrymen back home suffering, and then
all over a sudden you just kind of wake up and say, 'Hey. You
need to help."
Schifrin: Rahima Haya also is going to help. She is determined
to leave in coming weeks -- whether she is able to join a delegation
or has to go on her own. She says that now the Taliban regime
has fallen, there is finally a chance to help the women of Afghanistan
improve their lives.
But for all three of these travelers, there is also a very personal
side to this trip. They want to look up old classmates and relatives,
and see their old schools. Emal says the first thing he will do
is to visit his old home.
For Rahima, that will be impossible. A few years ago her nephew
sent her a picture of her house. It was completely destroyed by
two rockets. Katrin believes that her house still stands -- and
her parents want to move back in.
Katrin: Now, we don't know who's there, so I'm definitely
going to go and try to reclaim our house.
Schifrin: How will you do that?
Katrin: We have the paperwork, we have the deed. I think
it is going to be as simple as walking up, ringing the doorbell
and seeing who lives there. If there is a needy family living
there, we're not going to kick them out, or we're not going to
ask them to leave. But, if I can reclaim it, we will reclaim it."
Schifrin: This may seem like a dangerous endeavor for
a petite woman in a volatile region, but neither Katrin, Emal,
nor Rahima fear for their safety. They are adamant on that point.
But they are afraid of confronting the horrifying change that
has afflicted Afghanistan since they left.
Rahima: The people that I left, they loved each other,
they didn't kill each other -- they didn't hate each other. Twenty-three
years of war made my people so that they are killing and they
are starving. Family have seen their, um, children, their husbands
their mother, fathers killed in front of them. They are suffering
a lot. Not just starvation, but emotionally.
Katrin: I am prepared for the absolute worst. I'm prepared
to see a lot of maimed people, poverty, children begging. But
what I've heard from my friends who have gone back previously,
I mean, you truly feel at home when they go, it's like, you're
no longer a foreigner. I don't even remember that feeling, I've
been here so long I feel like this is my home, but there's always
that part of you that senses that you really don't belong. So
I want to go back to see if I'll feel like this is home, or if
I'll feel like I'm an outsider there as well.
Schifrin: Katrin, Emal and Rahima are not alone in their
desire to return. Although travel to Afghanistan came to a halt
for a few months following Sept. 11th, there are now more than
twice as many Fremont residents going as there were before the
terrorist attacks. And hundreds of others are preparing passports
and visas, and putting their names on a waiting list for when
direct flights to Kabul become available. Many want to start businesses,
hoping to create a fuller, if simpler, life then they have now.
Some older people want to return so they can die and be buried
in their homeland. As one Afghan-American leader told me, 'We
are a homesick people.'
Still, not everybody is ready to go back just yet. They want
to go in 6 months or a year, when they hope peace will have a
chance to really take hold, and there will be more stability.
Emal Newman has no patience for that attitude.
Emal: Who wants to wait until there is more stability,
there is more security, I have one thing to say to them: 'Stop
that.' Because the more you wait, the more people are going to
die. If you think you are going to go help, this is the time.
Schifrin: In Fremont, Calif., I'm Debra Schifrin for The