Since arriving at his sponsor Toby Harnden’s home in McLean, Rohullah Sadat has had a quality of living he could only dream about when he was trapped in Afghanistan as a regime was collapsing. But he is kept up at night knowing that even if his dreams come true here, some of them are left unfinished as long as his family remains in Afghanistan.
“My dream was to serve my family and to help my family … My mom, she is old, and she intended for me to help take care of her when she adopted me,” says the 29-year-old medical student.
The person Sadat refers to as his mother is actually his widowed aunt, who raised him per Afghan tradition. Sadat also has birth parents, a sister, niece, and nephew who have all been left behind.
Were it not for a chance encounter at his medical school in Kabul, Sadat might not have had the right contacts to get refugee status in the current ad hoc network that has arisen in the vacuum of an expedient government process. In November 2020, Sadat was approached by Harnden, an author, for a book he was writing about a fallen CIA officer. With his knowledge of five local languages, Sadat proved instrumental in getting access for Harnden, and the two kept in touch.
As Kabul was becoming an increasingly dangerous place, Harnden was one of several people Sadat contacted, and the author got to work through both formal and informal channels trying to get his friend out. After several attempts to get out through the Kabul airport—including one that severely mangled his foot in a deadly human stampede—Sadat was evacuated through the city of Mazar-i-Sharif some 250 miles away.
After he was processed in Fort Dix, New Jersey, Harnden greeted him there with a hug on the day after Thanksgiving, and the two set back for McLean, where Sadat is living in his spare room.
Although refugees are being resettled all over the country, Northern Virginia is a particularly hot spot, says Geeta Bahski, founder of FAMIL, a DMV-based organization devoted to helping Afghan allies and their families. “The job market [here] is a huge plus,” she says.
In recent weeks, Harnden has taken Sadat to various neighborhoods like the Mosaic District, Ballston, and Georgetown, and the pair took a day trip to Leesburg. Sadat describes the local community as extremely friendly–and he should know, says Harnden, because he often strikes up conversations with people. Sadat says this is to practice his English for an eventual job; he was even able to book a speaking opportunity at HB-Woodlawn School in Arlington.
Sadat currently lives with Harnden, who has plans to eventually convert him into a rent-paying tenant. He is dedicating his time to trying to get his papers and permits in order to get a job here. One of his primary motivations to earn money in a hurry is to be able to send it to his family back home, where rampant inflation has caused people to go hungry.
“[For Sadat], setting himself up is a full-time job,” said Harnden. “But I believe once he gets over those initial hurdles, he’ll be on his way.”