LHS Welcomes Afghan Students

Seven LHS students’ incredible journey from Afghanistan to America.



Afghans and travelers pass through checkpoints at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan ahead of the Taliban’s arrival, Aug. 15, 2021. (Jim Huylebroek/The New York Times)

Students at Ludlow High School may have recently noticed a few new Afghan students, seven to be exact, within their classes. Many students are curious about their story and the journey they went on to get to where they are now. With the language barrier, it is hard to hear what they have to say, but we’re going to make it so that their story is known.


After having been in Mr. Cangemi’s DLT for the whole year, Maiwand noticed a change to the classroom when one of the students, 19-year-old Ikram Nakhtery, entered the class in early December. Having known Pushto, one of the native languages of Afghanistan, Maiwand sprung upon the opportunity to get to know him and began to have a conversation with him. Maiwand learned about his life back in Afghanistan, his journey to America, and what he thinks about America thus far.

All throughout August and September, the news was filled with stories from Afghanistan after Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, was retaken by the Taliban. This was just the height of the conflict. The Taliban offensive began on May 1st of 2021 and, after over 20 years of conflict, the Taliban achieved their goal of reigning over Afghanistan again on August 15th. As a result of the conflict, the U.S. allowed Afghans a chance to come to America, but with so many people crowded together in this dangerous area, there were bound to be casualties. 


To begin the story of our classmates, it first must be established why they decided to come to America. The decision to come to America was a collective decision between Ikram’s father and his uncle, who resides in America already. His uncle called over to his brother, Ikram’s father, telling him they would only be able to transport the kids. They travelled in a party of 14, consisting of Ikram, his brother, his uncle, and other members of his extended family. Ikram stated that the only elder there was his uncle.


After arriving at the airport to fly, they saw two groups. One crowding the main entrance, and another being escorted to the side of the airport. They went with the group being escorted to the side. The platform of land they were on dipped down into a trench with water covering the ground at the bottom, which rose up to a final land platform before the airport. Once they were in the trench, Ikram says they were waiting “knee deep in water for between three and six hours” before being able to ascend to the other side. 

TOPSHOT – Afghans crowd at the tarmac of the Kabul airport on August 16, 2021, to flee the country as the Taliban were in control of Afghanistan after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and conceded the insurgents had won the 20-year war. (Photo by – / AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images) (AFP via Getty Images)

Upon reaching the other side, but before entering the airport, they had to wait outside for days. After four days and three nights, enduring the extreme heat at day and the cold at night, with nothing to sleep on and no warm clothes besides those on their back, they were finally able to enter the airport and ultimately get out of Afghanistan. 


They flew from Afghanistan to Qatar. The flight was rather unpleasant, as one would assume. It was overcrowded, leading to extreme discomfort and heat, and also there was an immense lack of oxygen. Ikram told Maiwand about his experience on the plane, saying that “all of the oxygen masks were out, but not many people actually wore them,” leading to a lot of people passing out on the flight. On top of this, there was an extreme amount of turbulence. 

In Qatar, they were given hotel rooms with accomodations for basic living. Ikram noted that once they got to the hotel, they had all taken cold showers to cool themselves down after being in the heat from how hot Qatar was and the preceding heat from the overcrowded plane. After arriving at the hotel and getting settled in, they got the news that the airport they had been at was attacked by bombers, killing 13 U.S. soldiers and over 170 Afghan civilians. 


After ten days, they flew to Germany where they were again given another hotel room. Both days they were there, they had to walk around with a guide all day, leading to their soreness and tiredness at the end of the day. They stayed for two days and one night, leaving for the States on their second day.


They arrived in Washington D.C. in early September, where they didn’t even stay one day as they were convinced to go to New Mexico by someone who was helping with the Afghan refugees in D.C. This was originally appealing to the group, that is until they arrived at the refugee camp. 


Upon arriving in New Mexico, Ikram fell ill with an “intense abdominal pain.” He had to receive four shots and he was given medication, the type of medication was unknown to him, all he knew is they were trying to help. Once he got better, they were able to recuperate and realize how large the area reserved for the refugee camp was, as the living quarters were a very small region of the overall camp. 


On the first night, it was virtually impossible to sleep because of the intense jetlag. When they first arrived, they were one of the first families there; however, over time the camp continuously got more crowded. As a result of this, once they finally overcame their jetlag, they were still unable to sleep because of “all the noise from the new families,” who were suffering from the same jetlag they had experienced in the beginning, resulting in them getting an immense lack of sleep for two whole weeks. 


Over time, the number of families at the camp grew to over 5,000. Day after day, they had grown closer to a lot of those around the same age as them, as they were able to connect with them emotionally about their experiences. When they began to eat in the cafeteria, they were all surprised to see that the men and women were eating together, something unusual to them. To make things worse, the food they were served were “predominantly greens,” leading to them consuming little protein and carbs, a drastic change considering Afghans are used to eating large amounts of foods that are high in protein and carbs.


However, as time went on, the conditions, and even food, began to improve. When it was learned that men and women typically eat apart in Afghan culture, they began to be separated for eating. Also, as more people arrived, the people administering food began to realize how many people they would need to be serving and how long they would be staying for, so the food began to improve. Slowly, protein and carbs began being incorporated into their diets. They were served shola, a dish native to Afghanistan consisting of rice, meat, and vegetables, and pepsi. 


This went on for two months, thankfully the U.S. soldiers treated them with kindness and befriended them because the soldiers had known the struggles they had gone through. The soldiers tried to make the refugees feel at home by performing cultural dances such as Attan, a cultural dance for men originating from Afghanistan, bringing the refugees great joy. 


Nearing the end of their stay, many of the other refugees had already begun to leave, leaving the group to be one of the last families there out of the families they befriended. Although they were extremely sad their friends had left, they were “happy to have made the memories they did with them.” Two months after they arrived, it was their turn to leave, so Ikram and his family left for Texas to fly to Massachusetts, but the group was split up and some of his cousins ended up in New Jersey. 


Once they arrived at the airport in Texas, they were surprised to see Ikram’s name was not on the flight list, so they had to wait for the problem to resolve. They waited in the airport for two nights, and they were finally able to leave on the third day. They landed in Chicago for a short layover, from which they finally were able to fly to Massachusetts, where Ikram lives with his brother and four cousins.