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After weeks at a Wisconsin army base, one Afghan woman says she's bored, but grateful


Our next guest is a journalist who has worked for NPR and has also had her life reshaped by one of the biggest news stories in the world. Khwaga Ghani was NPR's producer in Afghanistan. She's 31 years old. When Kabul fell to the Taliban in August, an airlift helped more than 100,000 Afghans escape. NPR was part of the effort to make sure that she was one of them, along with her sister and her parents. Now she's at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin with about 13,000 other Afghans.

KHWAGA GHANI, BYLINE: So we're staying in military barracks, which has two floors. Four families are living in the bottom floor. And top floor, we are four more families living together.

SHAPIRO: Tens of thousands of Afghans are at U.S. military facilities around the country in a sort of limbo, waiting for paperwork that will allow them to start the next chapter of their lives.

GHANI: This is like a very, very, very frustrating thing right now for everybody. Nobody knows when are we going out. Nobody knows when the process is going to end. And there is nobody to give you answers.

SHAPIRO: Ghani and her family have been at Fort McCoy for more than a month. She says a typical day starts with her dad going to the dining hall to get them breakfast.

GHANI: He brings the breakfast and we wake up and, like, brush teeth and sit down and have breakfast together and have a walk and then come back and play cards with my family.

SHAPIRO: She says they've been playing a lot of cards lately. She has a brother and other family already living in San Francisco waiting for her. She got a journalism and human rights fellowship waiting for her too at UC Berkeley. She knows how lucky that makes her, but it also makes her antsy. She wants to start the rest of her life.

GHANI: I am so bored. Like, I was telling my dad last night. I was like, I don't think I can do this anymore. I think I'm just going to get out of here.


GHANI: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: I mean, how does that feel day after day after day?

GHANI: I mean, in the beginning, it was OK. We were like, you know, we have to go through this. Oh, we have to go through this process. Oh, we have to go through this process. But now we are done. We're done with all the process thing. We did our biometric. We did our interview. We did medical. We did vaccination. Everything was done. So I don't know what else are we waiting for. I just don't understand. They tell us that, you know, we have to wait for an IOM interview so they can, like, arrange for our tickets.

SHAPIRO: IOM is International Organization of Migration.

GHANI: Yeah. They said that that's the only step that's left, that they're going to come and, like, ask you, where do you want to go? And they're going to arrange for your trip.

SHAPIRO: I could also imagine that as a journalist, you're used to being able to find answers to questions, going out and doing the research and learning what's happening. And now you can't do that.

GHANI: Yes, I am. But I still try.

SHAPIRO: What does that look like?

GHANI: Like, whomever I know, I ask them questions. Do you know about this? Do you know about this? But then you hear so many different answers, and sometimes you hear just, like, oh, well, I don't know. That's not my job. So I have no information on this.

SHAPIRO: Are you able to follow what's happening in Afghanistan? Can you get news from there? Are you hearing from friends and family who are still in the country?

GHANI: I still have. Yeah. I still have people there. But I am not in contact with them right now. But I see the news on social media, which is not very pleasant.

SHAPIRO: Can you tell us what it's like to be here watching what's happening over there?

GHANI: You know, I feel like somebody strangles me when I hear the news. Like, when I see them sitting in TOLOnews, I see them on the screen.

SHAPIRO: TOLO is the Afghan news organization.

GHANI: Yeah. And I don't see the faces that I used to see on TOLO anymore. And there are different faces, different clothing, different people sitting and talking, and they're talking about what? What are they talking about? Instead of talking about how to take care of the security and stop these target killings, they're talking about why are women wearing high heels. I am so amazed. What kind of government is that? It feels so frustrating, feels so - I feel so annoyed.

SHAPIRO: Afghanistan is your home country. Is there anything that you miss about life there?

GHANI: I miss everything. I mean, I don't know. I can't count. I miss everything, like the work I used to do there and how much I enjoyed working there, talking to people, reporting from there, and then afterwards sitting and having a chit-chat with my friends, and then go home and talk to my family, sit with them, have dinner with them, watch a TV show with them. My house - I had dogs. I left my cat. I miss everything about my home. Everything.

SHAPIRO: Well, you're in this kind of in-between uncertain part of your life. Are you allowing yourself to imagine what the next phase will look like, what the next 30 years of your life will be?

GHANI: What I see right now is that I'll go ahead, study more, get more knowledge, get more information, get to know the world, the perspectives and everything. And I see myself going back to my homeland, to my own country. Live there, work there, serve my own country.

SHAPIRO: You think you'll return to Afghanistan one day?

GHANI: Yes, I think so.

SHAPIRO: What do you think you'll remember most about this phase of your life, these weeks that you're spending in limbo in Wisconsin on a U.S. military base with your family not knowing what comes next?

GHANI: I think I would remember how they helped us get settled here seriously. I mean, these people are doing so much. Like, there are different people from different classes here. Some understand everything. And there are some who do not understand a thing that you tell them. But they're still trying to facilitate them with everything, to provide everything for them so they won't feel that, you know, they are refugees here. They call us guests. When we went to Pakistan as refugees, they made this term of calling every Afghan a Kabulee (ph) or a refugee.

SHAPIRO: Kabulee - a person from Kabul.

GHANI: Yeah. So here, they call us guests. I haven't heard anybody calling us refugees.

SHAPIRO: Well, Khwaga Ghani, thank you for sharing your story with us. And I hope we can check in with you again as your story continues.

GHANI: Thank you so much.

SHAPIRO: She was NPR's producer in Afghanistan for the last two years, and she's one of a number of Afghans who worked with NPR over the last two decades that NPR helped to escape along with their families. There are still several more people we are trying to get out from under Taliban rule.

(SOUNDBITE OF EVOLUTION OF STARS' "PRETENDING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Courtney Dorning
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.