It was a text message from a bloodbath.
And although the words had been said many times, Zorah Aziz knew immediately that something was wrong when she found the message from her husband Nazir Ahmad Qasimi, who was trapped in Afghanistan and was desperately trying to escape.
“He said ‘I love you,” “Aziz said. “I just want you to know that I love you and that was it. And I was so irritated by it. “
As she had done countless times since Kabul fell to the Taliban, she sent him back loving and comforting words.
“Okay, I love you too,” she wrote. “It’ll be fine.”
It would be several days before Aziz found out how close she was to losing the love of her life and the father of the baby she was carrying.
Qasimi, she said, was just outside the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 26 when 13 Marines and more than 100 Afghans were killed in an ISIS-K suicide attack.
“I didn’t know he was actually in the thick of it,” she said.
30-year-old Aziz said her husband is now safe in Germany and is waiting for the green light at a US military base to accompany her to California, where she lives in the midst of the large Afghan emigrant community. She said his papers are all in order but he must be quarantined before he can enter the United States.
Four months pregnant with a child conceived on her last visit to Kabul, Aziz said it is likely that they will be reunited before giving birth.
“God, it means the world to me,” she said. “I was so concerned that he wouldn’t be here for that.”
Just a few days ago, it seemed unlikely that Qasimi, 24, would ever escape. He and Aziz married in June 2019 after four years of internet advertising, and he had already been approved for a visa by the U.S. Immigration Service. But his departure was initially delayed by the pandemic.
Then came the Taliban.
Three times, Aziz said, Qasimi joined the desperate Afghans trying to get into the airport. And his offer failed three times despite waiting for hours.
On his third attempt, after waiting 40 hours, Qasimi managed to get close enough to the Marines guarding the gates and show them his passport and visa, she said.
“You checked it out,” said Aziz. “You refused him completely. And that was pretty much the last straw for us all. I begged my husband. I said please don’t go back to the airport. “
Meanwhile, Aziz said the stress took its toll on her.
“Every single pregnancy symptom you can think of started around the time all of this happened,” she said. “And the doctor looked at me and said, ‘Well, you just have to stop. For example, you stress yourself. ‘”
“My husband was a mess over there and I’m a mess here,” she said.
But without knowing Aziz, Qasimi, who worked as a purchasing manager for a US company in Kabul, found another way into the airport with a little help from work.
“His boss had a contract job in the military,” said Aziz. “I think they gave them porta-potties and things like that at the airport.”
So one day Qasimi drove shotgun with the driver who made the delivery and just stayed.
“I’m not sure what he was doing,” said Aziz. “But yeah, he went through hell at the airport for another three or four days.”
Aziz said she had no idea that Qasimi was at the airport at the time of the suicide bombings, and although he texted her, she knew he had tried to get in through the same gate where the massacre happened.
“My husband told me beforehand, don’t ask questions,” she said. “We may not talk for a few days.”
But not long after the news of the bloody ISIS-K attack broke, Aziz said she had received a text message from Qasimi’s boss that her husband was fine. And then, a few days later, Qasimi sent her a selfie from a crowded plane.
“I couldn’t breathe,” said Aziz. “I almost collapsed on the floor.”
Aziz said she knew how happy she was that Qasimi escaped. She said her in-laws are still trapped and thousands of other Afghans with ties to the United States who fear what the Taliban might do to them are in the same boat.
Born and raised in California, Aziz said she understood and supported the decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan after 20 years of war. But she says the evacuation was mishandled and too many people were left behind.
“The (US) embassy could have closed the cases and forwarded all new cases to neighboring countries,” said Aziz. “It didn’t have to happen that way.”
When asked what she’s up to when she’s finally back with her husband, Aziz said she’ll take him out shopping. She said he escaped with only his papers and clothes on his back.
“I just want to hold him, I just want to hug him,” she said. “And just to know he’s safe and with me.”