A Burmese photographer fled his country and left everything behind — now he needs your help
By Staff | Photographs by Hong Sar
U.S. soldiers stand guard along the perimeter at the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Hundreds of Western nationals and Afghan workers have been flown to safety since the Taliban reasserted control over the country. Yet still unprotected, and in hiding, are untold numbers of Afghans who tried to build a fledgling democracy. They include Afghans who worked with foreign forces, and who are now stranded and being hunted by the Taliban, along with aid workers. (AP Photo/Shekib Rahmani)
By Carmen Gentile
(Editor’s note: The family made it safely onto an evacuation flight out of Kabul and soon will be in the United States. Check back for more details, coming soon).
Let me tell you about a friend of mine whose name I can’t reveal at the moment because he’s currently trying to escape from Afghanistan.
He’s a relatively young man (everyone seems younger than I as I creep towards 50) with a wife and three children. He’s smart with a penchant for dark humor, even during the most troubling of times, like right now.
He’s just my kind of guy.
My friend is also a heck of a journalist, whose knowledge of his country’s troubled history and current woes runs deep and personal.
He spent much of his childhood in a refugee camp while the Soviets were battling the mujahideen, the one-time U.S.-backed fighting force that later splintered and warped into today’s Taliban. He has braved countless threats from the Taliban, whose leaders he regularly writes about and contacts for quotes.
The Islamist militants he has spent years covering have threatened my friend repeatedly for working with journalists like myself. And now with Kabul and the rest of Afghanistan subject to their tyranny, he’s attempting to flee with his family in tow.
If you’ve been watching the coverage of the chaos at the Kabul airport, you may have spotted him in the crowd without knowing it. He’s made numerous attempts to get into the airport, waving his and his family’s paperwork permitting their extraction from a country in collapse.
He almost got his family out of harm’s way the other day. However, right before he could enter the airport, an unknown assailant cracked him hard in the face. Blood poured out of my friend’s nose and lip — he was forced to retreat and seek treatment for his wounds.
Watching all this unfold from afar has been frustrating and horrifying, to say the least. I’m ashamed at how the Biden administration has so deeply bungled the drawdown and thus endangered thousands of Afghans like my friend. They put their lives and the lives of their loved ones on the line to shed light on horrible truths most will never fully comprehend and many choose to ignore.
I’ve spoken to my friend almost every day since the Taliban seized control of Kabul last week. He is exhausted, but puts on a brave and casual air when we talk. He’s even managed to crack jokes.
The reliance and courage he’s displayed during these chaotic last few days is nothing short of amazing.
My friend has lots of other friends all around the world — he’s that beloved and respected — and together we’re doing everything we can to get him and his family out of Afghanistan.
We are a group of journalists, former diplomats, and others working around the clock and in shifts to figure out how to get him a few measly feet from outside the Kabul airport and inside to relative safety and onto an evacuation flight and a new life.
My former editors at USA Today, for which I covered Afghanistan for many years, are also attempting to get them out.
I’m not ashamed to say I’ve cried a lot this week about my friend, though I do my best to hide my fear and anger while we work to solve this difficult problem from half a world away. As any of the others who have worked with me on this can attest, I’m not doing a very good job of controlling my emotions at this moment.
But we are making progress. I have hope that we will figure out a way to get our friend and his family out of Afghanistan soon.
And when we do, I’m going to properly introduce you to him because he’s too good a man for you not to know him.
Until then, you can learn more about him, his current situation, and donate to our fund to assist in his resettlement by clicking here.
I can’t wait for you meet him.
Postindustrial founder Carmen Gentile has worked for some of the world’s leading publications and news outlets including The New York Times, USA Today, CBS News and others. His book, “Blindsided by the Taliban,” documents his life as a war reporter and the aftermath of his brush with death after being shot with a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan.
By Staff | Photographs by Hong Sar
By Em Bennett | story and photograph
By Carmen Gentile // Photographs by The Oberports
By Zubair Babakarkhail
Welcome to Postindustrial, a multimedia company that’s redefining the Rust Belt on our own terms through stories, podcasts, and more. Sign up here for free updates!