By J.M. GARCIA
On a recent Sunday afternoon inside a flower shop near Balboa Park, Samira inhaled the fragrance of red roses and thought of her home in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Vendors would put roses in pails of water outside their stalls. Sunflowers, too. Orange trees bloomed in the summer. The waters of the Kabul River passed her parent’s house. The frigid winter weather made her shake with cold, eager for the comforts of spring. The sun blistered the sky in summer making the days impossibly hot but the roses would remain deep red and cool.
“Just take your time,” she told a woman who entered the shop.
The woman fingered a sunflower and picked three. Samira wrapped them in brown paper and tied it with string. She rang up the purchase. The woman left, the bell on the door chimed and Samira sat and stared out the door surrounded by flowers and her memories.
Samira, who spoke on the condition that her real name would be withheld for the safety of her family in Afghanistan, arrived in San Diego last year. She is one of nearly 2,700 Afghans who have been resettled here since October. Now, a little over a year since the U.S. began withdrawing forc-es from Afghanistan and the Taliban resumed control, she continues to adjust to a new country without her family and where few people seem to remember what happened to Afghanistan or feel concern for those Afghans left behind.
Just four years old when a U.S. led military coalition toppled the Taliban after 9/11, Samira has little recall of their rule in the late 1990s. But she remembers when they left. She stood on the sec-ond floor of her family’s house and watched them drive out of Jalalabad, their faces grim, angry—her mother and father so happy.
Samira experienced the possibilities of an education denied to women when the Taliban ruled. She woke up early and attended school from seven to one. After school, she took a computer course and studied English. She later attended college and became a nurse. One of her favorite memories: accessing the internet for the first time and establishing an email account. At night, Samira, her parents and her four siblings, two brothers and two sisters, would sit together after dinner in one room and tell stories.
She noticed a change in Afghanistan after NATO formally ended its combat operations in Afghan-istan in 2014, leaving the Afghan army and police in charge of security. Insurgent bomb attacks increased. Her own father was injured on May 15, 2013, a day Samira remembers as if it was yes-terday.
A physician, he went out with the Afghan National Army that day to treat sick soldiers when a bomb exploded and shrapnel tore into his left arm. A neighbor heard the news but did not want to alarm the family. He asked for some clothes to bring to the hospital treating Samira’s father. Why do you need his clothes? Samira’s mother asked him, but instead of answering her he hurried away without explanation. Then a cousin called from Kabul and told them about the bombing. Samira’s mother tried to reach her husband but he did not answer his phone. Finally, an uncle called and told her he had been injured.
Incendiary devices exploded near Samira’s house, too many to count. It became normal to hear an explosion and the panicked screams the followed. A neighbor lost a son. Insurgents attached sticky bombs to cars. Her mother told Samira not to leave the house.
After the Taliban took control of Kabul on August 15, Samira applied for a U.S. visa. The previ-ous year, she had married an Afghan man who had been a translator for the American military. His job made him eligible for a Special Immigrant Visa, available to Afghans who worked with the U.S. Armed Forces. They had an unhappy marriage, however, and Samira’s husband left for the states without her, but because of his work for the Americans, Samira as his wife was also eligible for the Visa. Her mother and a brother took her to Kabul International Airport on Aug. 21, 2021. She held her mother for a long time, their faces wet with tears.
Two days later, Samira arrived in Washington, D.C. She suffered a panic attack and a nurse gave her medication. That evening she flew to Fort Bliss, Texas near El Paso and stayed in an army camp that had been expanded into a campus of dormitories and dining halls, community centers, and other services to support almost 10,000 refugees, about a third of them children. The summer heat, Samira thought, was worse than Jalalabad. She remained there for two months before she ar-rived in San Diego.
She shares an apartment with another Afghan woman she met in Texas. The San Diego based Alli-ance for African Assistance has helped them with housing and other needs. Samira’s husband lives in Washington. She wants to divorce him but he refuses to sign the papers.
Suffering from anxiety, Samira takes medication to help her sleep. She dreams of bomb blasts. In one dream, she told her father, ‘Let’s go away from here.’ ‘You’re in America,’ he said, ‘don’t wor-ry.’ Another time, she dreamt her parents were upset. When she called them, her mother said, ‘Your father was not feeling well. That’s why you had the dream.’ She misses her family. They live together without her. She talks to them every morning at 8 o’clock.
San Diego has brought on culture shock. San Diego women, she noticed, like to wear revealing clothes. She puts on long dresses and a headscarf. Men hug women. In Afghanistan, a woman would never hug a man outside of her family. The differences make her laugh and sometimes blush. She will continue working in the flower shop. She also has a part-time job at a supermarket. She wants to become a dental assistant, a position she held at her father’s clinic and plans to enroll in medical school. One day, she hopes the Taliban will leave Afghanistan so she can see her family again. For now she has her memories. The aromas of the flower shop fill her with images of Jala-labad. At these moments she feels at home.