Sultana’s Arrival A reprieve, but what's next?

Sultana arrived last Wednesday

Early that morning, after waiting and carefully watching Door B of international arrivals for more than an hour, suddenly–during a moment of distraction–Emily Roberts was surprised to see Sultana walking toward her. Emily cried out and ran to her once-distant friend. The two hugged and laughed. And hugged and laughed again, holding on to each other, occasionally pulling back to stare at each other’s faces, making sure this was all real.

A Chilling Reminder

Just a few days before, plane ticket already booked, Sultana waited in Kabul. She had one more form to acquire from the US Embassy before she could depart. Then word came that ISIS suicide bombers had successfully attacked a Hazara demonstration in Kabul, instantly killing eighty and injuring more than two hundred. It was a chilling reminder to both young women of the very real danger Sultana and other Afghans face every day. Even after all their efforts and the help of so many people, Sultana could be taken at any moment.

Sultana sent word to Emily as quickly as she could that she was safe but the city was shut down, so she might not be able to make it to the embassy to finalize her visa. Luckily, the delay was not too long, and Sultana was able to depart on time Tuesday afternoon. After more than twenty-four hours of travel, she was hugging her friend on American soil.

As Emily drove us to her father’s home, Sultana sat quietly and took everything in, saying little. She was tired and hungry from her long journey, but more than anything, she wanted a shower. Then Emily would take her shopping for necessities.

Summer Camp?

Sultana’s life in the U.S. will begin with, of all things, summer camp. Emily is currently hosting a group of young Chinese students who are participating in a summer camp followed with a week of educational sight-seeing and home visits in the Chicago area. Sultana will join Emily at the camp before the two head back to Iowa. Then comes the work of establishing what kind of life Sultana might have here.

For now, everything is temporary and tentative. Sultana was granted six months of humanitarian parole. While she’s here, she will have the free help of an attorney from Washington, D.C. who specializes in immigration. If she can attain asylum or a student visa that will allow her to stay longer, she has a free college education waiting for her at Arizona State University, where she will be able to study under her friend and advocate, Professor Lawrence M. Krauss.

The future is full of possibility, and Sultana has countless people in her corner. In the last year, she went from being an unknown Pashtun girl hidden away in her family’s compound to having her story shared around the world. She even told us that the customs agent questioning her upon her arrival recognized Sultana because he had read about her in Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times column.

A reprieve, but what’s next?

For now at least, Sultana has a reprieve, and her chances for a full and flourishing life seem much better than they were just a short while ago. If only that were the case for all Afghan girls.

Between her arrival and my writing of this post, I heard the story of “Ameera”, a six-year-old Afghan girl who was caught in the crossfire between U.S./Afghan forces and Taliban fighters. The rest of her immediate family was killed, and Ameera’s leg was nearly destroyed. After heroic efforts by U.S. medical personnel, she will soon be leaving the hospital with two functioning legs to return to her extended family. Like most Afghan children, especially girls, her future is entirely uncertain.

Such was life for Sultana not long ago, and it could easily be that way again if things don’t work out. Still, as dangerous as her homeland is and as much as she desires to stay here where she is permitted to safely learn and work as she pleases, Sultana feels a pull to return to Afghanistan when her formal education is complete. She wants to help other girls have every opportunity to grow into their fullest potential. Perhaps she can even lead more of us to stand with all those girls who, right now, do not have countless people in their corner as Sultana does.

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Story by Courtney Ball, Video by Faraz Shah