Anayatullah Alami says being in Manhattan is “superb” compared to his native Afghanistan.
“When I was in trouble in Afghanistan (during the Taliban takeover) I called my friends in the United States,” Alami said, “some very important people in America, and I told them, ‘Just take me to Africa but get me out from here.’ It was a life risk, it was very dangerous.”
Alami, 47, along with his wife and five of his six children, are the newest residents of Manhattan, having relocated to the city last week after an arduous trek from the Afghan capital of Kabul. A journalist and editor by trade, Alami (pronounced Ah-luh-MEE) wrote articles and appeared on Afghan television supporting the joint interests of Afghanistan and the United States.
“So, if there were people or countries coming to damage those interests, I have written about them,” Alami said, adding that as a journalist his work is “forever online” for anyone to find and potentially use against him if he stayed in Afghanistan.
The Taliban terrorist organization overtook the country in August after 20 years of U.S. military involvement to restore peace to the region. The siege of the country occurred as the U.S. and its allies withdrew from Afghanistan over the month of August, leaving many Afghans who helped American and allied armed forces stuck at the Kabul airport as they waited for a flight out.
“The change itself, going to a country which you haven’t been to,” Alami said, “it is a worry, but not for people like us who just want to save their life.”
Alami and his family arrived at the Manhattan airport Wednesday evening after several weeks at a military base on the east coast for processing. Prior to that, they stayed at a U.S. Air Force base in Qatar. They were moved into an apartment Thursday with help from the Manhattan Afghan Resettlement Team and received new phones as well. Team co-leader Aaron Estabrook said K-State’s Mary Jo and Richard Myers helped set up the Alami family with temporary housing on campus, and in the coming days volunteers will help the family “get acclimated to our little town.”
Alami’s brother already lives in Manhattan; he introduced Alami to Estabrook to help with relocation. Alami has three sons and three daughters, ranging in age from 11 to 23.
He said he has a 22-year-old son, Sayed Niyam, who is trying to get a scholarship to attend K-State in the next few months; he is currently studying abroad.
Alami told The Mercury a story about a scene that impressed him during his journey.
“We were very much tired, and at the Air Force base in Qatar … I had a lot of bags with me, and it was very late, and I could not get my own bags to the bus,” Alami said. “As I was looking at a female soldier, she was grabbing my bags and placing them on the bus.”
Alami said in Afghan culture, women don’t usually do heavy lifting, and he was “very impressed” by the soldier’s helpfulness.
“I got an impression of the U.S. Army as saviors for us,” Alami said. “They impressed us. They told us, ‘Welcome to your own home’ when we came to the U.S. … I tell my children, this is our new home now, and I told the soldiers they were saving future citizens of the United States.”
Twelve-year-old Sayed Ehtiram (AY-ter-ahm) Alami said he would like to start eighth grade once his family adjusts to their new home. He said it doesn’t feel strange being in Kansas.
“It feels normal,” Ehtiram said. “I’m happy here.”
Ehtiram said his favorite subject in school is English, and he would like to become a mechanical engineer. His father said he can tell his wife and children are happier in the Flint Hills.
“I did not know this community before, but now when my brother moved me, and I saw the people and how organized and helpful they are, I’m proud of this community,” Alami said, “and my message to them is that I’d love to serve with whatever capacity I have.”
Estabrook said 45 Afghans will relocate to Manhattan between now and mid-January. He said the resettlement team will be busy organizing help for the incoming evacuees, from healthcare and housing needs to social services, employment, and enrolling children in local schools.
The team itself consists of more than 30 people in the community, including U.S. Army veteran Fatima Jaghoori, Riley County Health Department director Julie Gibbs, K-State chief of staff Linda Cook, Flint Hills Area Transportation Agency director Anne Smith, and USD 383 English for Speakers of Other Languages coordinator Emily Cherms.
More information about the resettlement team and volunteer opportunities is available at allieswelcome.com.