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A Jacksonville Afghan-American Mourns For Her Homeland: ‘I've Never Felt This Pain’

Taliban fighters pray while raising their flag at the Ghazni provincial governor's house, in Ghazni, southeastern, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021.
Gulabuddin Amiri
/
Associated Press
Taliban fighters pray while raising their flag at the Ghazni provincial governor's house, in Ghazni, southeastern, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021.

Mariam Nasery fled Afghanistan with her family when she was 10 to escape violence stemming from the Soviet-Afghan War. This week she woke up to what she describes as her “worst nightmare” as Taliban forces took over Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul.

The takeover and removal of the U.S.-backed government was quick and came as no surprise to Afghans like Nasery and experts who have been keeping an eye on reconstruction efforts there over the past 20 years, NPR reported. But that made it no less tragic, especially for those with friends and family trapped in the country.

“I felt like somebody just pulled my heart out of my chest,” said Nasery, who has lived in Jacksonville for 24 years now. “That’s exactly how I felt when I saw the flag on the ground.”

It was as if a loved one had died. “I’ve never felt this pain,” she said. “It breaks my heart.”

Nasery comes from a military family that has bled and died for Afghanistan. Her grandfather and other family members have died at the hands of the Taliban. Now she fears for the wellbeing of relatives who were unable to get out before the Taliban took over.

After spending all of Tuesday desperately trying to get in contact with family members, she found some measure of comfort hearing that everyone was alive and well. But, Nasery said, they’re stuck for now with no clear path out of a nation in turmoil.

And while she supports them, Nasery worries about what might happen to those who refuse to abide by the strict form of Islamic rule that the Taliban has imposed in the past. A 20-year-old cousin who is studying computer science, for example, told Nasery that she’d rather die than be illiterate.

“We have a lot of women like that that will continue fighting and will continue their education, their schooling, and I’m so proud of them,” Nasery said.

So far, she’s been left disappointed by the response of public figures and people sharing their hot takes on social media.

“The whole world is going to say ‘that’s not my problem,’ and I understand that it’s not their problem, but it is humanity’s,” she said. “The discussions that are going on now, pointing fingers and stuff, are not going to do anything to help. Finding a resolution to help will be better.”

Rather than pointing fingers to score political points, Nasery is urging people to focus on the people of Afghanistan. “Put the politics aside,” she said, and support resistance efforts.

234504267_836705103649971_3864832083709268861_n.jpg
Credit Mariam Nasery

Ultimately, Nasery wants to make sure the international community doesn’t forget about the plight of the Afghan people. The Taliban isn’t representative of Afghanistan, its people and their values, Nasery said. Rather, it’s people like her 20-year-old cousin who plans to keep learning and protesting in the face of death and torture.

That’s why she’s organizing a march on Thursday to show support for the people of Afghanistan. The march, which will start at the Seawalk Pavilion in Jacksonville Beach at 75 First St. N., is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. Once all is said and done, Nasery hopes countries around the world will welcome Afghan refugees with open arms.

“A lot of Afghans are in Jacksonville. They’re a very successful community. We have many doctors, engineers... I'm a realtor myself,” she said. “It would be nice for some other countries to open the door and let some of those people in. Just give them jobs and they will work and work hard.”

And she hopes that one day she’ll be able to take her children to Afghanistan to show them where their family comes from.

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.