Analysis: The distressing journey of an Afghan family to Canada

TORONTO – As Canadians, we think we understand words like “relief” and “joy” – but we really can’t understand those words on the same level as people who have experienced the opposite.

Sometimes, as journalists, we can witness something that stays with us forever. Thursday night was one of those moments.

The Hussaini family recently arrived in Edmonton, Alta., After a quarantine period in Toronto. They avoided terrible suffering in Afghanistan. Like many, they despair of leaving the retaliated Taliban regime.

They were probably exhausted, physically and mentally, but they certainly didn’t show that.

When they met us, they had smiles and pandemic-appropriate punches. And Beazhan Hussaini, the only family member fluent in English, had the chic mood of a person who had just woken up, showered and met a friend for coffee.

They allowed us to, in fact, invite ourselves, to come with them to surprise their sister Nafesa, whom they had not seen in person for 11 years. She has lived in Edmonton for the past two decades.

When they knocked on that door, and she opened it, I think it’s safe to say that me and videographer Chad Tweten both had to force a few blinks to keep our eyes dry.

The cry we heard from Nafesa was one of the happiest sounds I have ever heard. I will never forget that sound.

The next three minutes of video show raw emotion. I’ve watched it several times, and will probably watch it a few more. It’s a beautiful moment that we can all relate to, but most of us won’t be able to fully understand.

Here in Canada, Nafesa watched the news last August when the Taliban quickly and cruelly retook Kabul and the rest of Afghanistan after the United States and other countries withdrew their troops. She worried about Beazhan and the rest of her family.

Thursday night, we witnessed the moment that anxiety could rise. And it was palpable.

And then, there is the happiness on the other side. Beazhan, his wife and mother, his two brothers and brothers-in-law, and his nieces and nephews have experienced suffering for the past three months.

They watched their city and their country fall into the hands of a repressive regime. They felt their lives were in danger, and the women and girls saw their freedoms taken away.

Their tears, and their words on Thursday night — even the words in farce that I could not understand — did not need any translation. They were happy to be here. And it was impossible to see that, and not to feel it either.


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