For weeks, we’ve seen images of Americans and Afghans clamoring at a Kabul airport to evacuate a country now being governed by the Taliban.
Among those evacuees was 10-year-old Noman Mujtaba.
“He says the trip obviously was good because he made it home, however, he did fly out in a military plane, which means everybody was packed like sardines close together," said Bahaudin Mujtaba, who translated for the boy.
But to get on the plane— Noman had to get past Taliban security. It took two attempts. On the first, he was denied entry.
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“They had to basically abandon that attempt of getting inside the airport, and after 14 hours, they went home. Stayed overnight, and the next day they tried again," Bahaudin said.
In the second attempt, Noman was allowed past the Taliban, but not before witnessing something no child should have to see.
“My son mentioned the Taliban were firing bullets into the air to disperse the crowd and he was just meters away from that, so there was a lot of pushing, shoving, people getting away, and unfortunately during the stampede, many people did get injured and did die," Bahaudin said.
Bahaudin, Noman’s adoptive father, is also Afghan and a U.S. citizen. He lives in Broward County and is a professor at Nova Southeastern University.
Bahaudin was on pins and needles waiting to hear that his son was safely out of Afghanistan.
“The waiting during 25-30 hours was anxiety-producing, stressful and challenging because you don't know when how or where they will fly out," Bahaudin said.
Twelve days and two stops in two countries later, Bahaudin finally reunited with Noman, who also met his adoptive mother — Bahaudin's wife — for the first time.
"When he came to Florida, he said, this is America. So I think maybe the fact he was so close to his home finally he feels he was home," Bahaudin said.
When Bahaudin and his wife realized they couldn't have biological children, they looked into adoption. The process to adopt Noman from a foreign country started in 2016, when he was 5.
“He was bright in discussing why he would want to come to us and what he loves and seen in movies and cartoon shows," Bahaudin said.
Adoptions shouldn't take longer than a year, but corruption delayed it for five. At his new home in the U.S., Noman has his own room and bed for the first time. The room has been ready for him since 2018 – nearly two years after his parents started the adoption process.
"He was pleased, happy and a pleasant experience to hear noise in that room and it's not quiet the way it always has been over the last three years. So the fact he's there, making noise and in his room, that's a feeling I don't know how to describe," Bahaudin said.
The first thing Noman tried in the U.S. was American food. Chicken is his favorite so far. He also used a swimming pool for the first time.
But while Noman explores his new life in the U.S., he still can’t help but think about his friends and other family still in Afghanistan.
“He's also worried about friends and family because they have to deal with violence, chaos and uncertainty, and that part worries him and stresses him and he's here and they cannot experience the same thing," Bahaudin said.
Noman was able to travel to the U.S. with another American family already in Afghanistan that was also adopting and trying to get out of Kabul.