Nazifa Haidari with her 13-year-old son, Mohammad Sami Haidari, and 4-year-old daughter, Zoha Haidari. Since fleeing in 2021, she has been working for approval to bring her remaining two children and husband from Afghanistan. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

EDITOR’S NOTE: Yousuf Alokozay, a case manager at Lewiston-based Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services, interpreted for Nazifa Haidari.

A Lewiston mother who escaped Afghanistan during the fall of Kabul in 2021 has been working to reunite her family in Maine after she and two children were separated from the others during a suicide bombing that killed 180 Afghans and 13 American service members.

Nazifa Haidari, whose daughter was seriously injured in the blast, tells the Sun Journal that as of this month, she has secured passage for her remaining children to come to the United States, but has not been able to get approval for her husband, who once worked for the United States.

As she works to build a life in Maine for her children and seeks to reunite her family, Haidari recounts the harrowing tale that brought her from Kabul to Lewiston:

Hamid Karzai International Airport

“My story started at the airport,” Haidari said.

On Aug. 26, 2021, Haidari and her family woke up early and went to the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul to wait in line for entry. Her husband was working with United States forces as a driver at the Bagram Airfield, and was able to procure documentation for their family to leave the country.


Earlier that month, Taliban forces had swept across the country, and by Aug. 15 had gained control of Kabul as the Afghan government collapsed.

They stood in line for hours outside of Abbey Gate, and by the late afternoon, one of her sons was thirsty. After asking their neighbors for water, her husband and two children (8 and 15 years old) went to search for a vendor.

“He just leave the area, just 10 meters away from us, when the suicide attack happened,” Haidari said. “The bomb blasted.”

The bomb was detonated by a lone attacker and Islamic state militant who had escaped a high-security prison at Bagram Air Base in early August.

“I heard the big sound of the blast, and suddenly I saw the bleeding from my daughter, Zoha, on my body,” Haidari said.

After that, there was chaos as people fled, trampling Haidari and her children Zoha and Sami.


“Zoha was screaming and crying and the people were also crying and screaming. I was screaming,” Haidari said. “By that time, we were under their feet and they were overwhelming us on the ground.”

American soldiers outside of the airport began firing into the chaos, but Haidari and her kids managed to escape from the crowd and she located water for Zoha to drink.

“I was putting it on her mouth, and she wasn’t able to drink the water,” Haidari said. “She was swallowing and throwing it up.”

Zoha had been hit by shrapnel from the blast and was bleeding from her head. As Haidari attempted to give her water, Zoha became dizzy and passed out in her mother’s arms.

Haidari tried to navigate to the nearby hospital, but a canal stood in her way. Instead, holding Zoha in one arm and Sami by the hand, Haidari turned back and ran toward the airport.

Inside the airport

They were hurried into the airport by American soldiers, and once inside, she asked for help, in her own language.


“I was screaming for the people to get me away. I want to take my daughter to the doctor,” Haidari said.

Somebody found a compression for Zoha’s head, which stopped the bleeding. Then, the soldiers took Zoha, only 2 years old at the time, to a makeshift medical bay in another area of the airport.

“(It was) that moment that they took Zoha from me, my daughter,” Haidari said, tearing up. “We were separated from her.”

Haidari and Sami were instructed to stay put, where they would be safe from the gunfire, but Haidari wanted to search for the rest of her family. She was stopped by an Afghan reporter, who offered his cellphone so she could call her husband.

“I was asking for my other kids, and my husband told me: ‘Everything is good. What about you?’ Then I told him, ‘We are good, except Zoha has gotten injured in the blast,'” Haidari said.

Unable to get past the airport gate, her husband returned home with their two other children.


Two hours passed as Haidari worried about Zoha.

“I was still crying and screaming in the airport, and there was an American lady soldier who came towards me to alleviate me and give me hope. To say, ‘Everything is OK,’” Haidari said. “Then, she took me to her car and to Zoha.”

They arrived at 10 p.m. and found a makeshift hospital full of injured and wounded people.

“I was screaming, ‘Where is my daughter?’” Haidari said.

But there were no staff members available to locate her, and it was not until midnight when she saw Zoha being cradled in the arms of a nurse.

The doctors informed Haidari that Zoha had suffered a head injury and needed treatment urgently.


“The doctors came to me and they told me, ‘Your daughter’s treatment is not possible here in the airport,'” Haidari said. “The doctor said, ‘As soon as possible, we want to arrange a flight to Germany.'”

By 4 a.m., they had boarded a plane, along with other injured Americans and Afghans. During the flight, Haidari recalls that Zoha was not able to open her eyes.


In Germany, Haidari and her children were given food and informed that Zoha would have to be transferred to a separate pediatric facility for treatment. The doctor at the airport informed Haidari her daughter might lose her eyesight and possibly had a brain injury.

“That day was very long for me and I was suffering,” Haidari said. “What will happen to my daughter?”

Looking at Zoha lying down with a bandage on her head, Haidari recalled she looked like “she had passed away.”

The doctors told Haidari, “You can kiss your daughter and hug your daughter.”


“They mean this is the last time I will see her,” Haidari said.

The doctor said there was no guarantee they would be able to save Zoha’s life.

“I told the doctor, ‘I just want to give my daughter to God and God will give her health,'” Haidari recalled.

A helicopter came from the hospital and, for the second time, Haidari and Sami were separated from Zoha.

“They took her from me. And for one week, there was no contact with her. (I thought) she just passed away or something happened to her,” Haidari said.

During the week of waiting, Haidari barely ate or drank. She and Sami stayed in a camp with other Afghan people where she recalls getting harassed and feeling unsafe. They were not given new clothes. Haidari wore the same clothes that were bloodied in the airport the entire week.


Finally, at the end of the week, she found a nurse and said, “Kill me or tell me where is my daughter.”

Two days later, Haidari visited Zoha in the hospital. Haidari said Zoha was in a coma and getting oxygen through a mask.

“There were two doctors and they told me: ‘Unfortunately, your daughter will not see. We are not able to save her eyes,'” Haidari said. “For the second time, I was thinking I will kill myself because she lost her eyes.”

Upon hearing this, Haidari passed out and was taken back to the camp.

The second time they took her to the hospital, the doctors told Haidari they had removed shrapnel from Zoha’s head that had been resting on the optic nerve in her brain.

Zoha was transferred to another hospital, where she stayed for 17 days.


“When Zoha came to awareness after one week from her coma, I turned to the doctor and said, ‘I want to give my eyes to Zoha so she can see,”’ Haidari said.

The doctor suggested instead they fly to the United States for more treatment.


They landed Sept. 6 in Washington, D.C., and were taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland.

“I was so sad,” Haidari said. “At that time, I wasn’t wanting any more life because (Zoha) was in a difficult situation.”

The doctors took Zoha for a CT scan.

“I came to the (waiting) room and I just laid down the prayer rug, and I cried for Allah and for God, and I cry and cry. God help me, God help me,” Haidari said.


The next morning, they were in the pediatric ward and there were pictures of animals on the walls. When Zoha awoke, she pointed at one of the animals and said, “Mom, that is cow,” Haidari said.

She was elated.

“I called the doctors. Repeatedly, we were asking her: ‘What is that, Zoha? What is that, Zoha?’ and she told us, ‘That is cow. That is cow.’”

A doctor came to their room that afternoon and informed them the shrapnel had narrowly missed Zoha’s brain. They expected her eyesight to fully return and there was no damage to her brain.

“It was a miracle for sure,” she said.

They stayed in Maryland for four months, commuting back and forth from a hotel to the hospital for physical and mental therapy. When Zoha’s treatment was complete, Haidari was asked where they would like to live.


“I requested to stay in Virginia because there were a lot of Afghan communities,” Haidari said. “But they sent us to Maine.”


The Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services, or MEIRS, picked them up from the airport and set them up in a hotel and later an apartment of their own. With a laugh, Director of Community Engagement Lisa Day recalls slipping down the front stairs of the building as they set up the apartment.

“Once she got here, our job was to try to help them build a life,” Day said. “She’s done just an amazing job of taking advantage of all the opportunities available to her.”

Haidari applied for asylum for Sami, Zoha and herself with assistance from MEIRS. After receiving the application, they were approved after only 25 days.

As life began to slow down, Haidari again began to worry about her husband and two children still in Afghanistan. She was able to talk to her husband over the phone, but the internet connection was spotty so they couldn’t FaceTime.

“Once (Haidari) got asylum, she was able to file the paperwork to bring them over,” Day said. But, as of July 10, she has only received approval for her children, not her husband.


As she waits, Haidari is working and sending money back home to her family. She also learned to drive for the first time in her life.

Yousuf Alokozay, who interpreted for Haidari during the interview, was in the car the first time Haidari was behind the wheel.

“She was screaming. She was thinking the car would flip over. (The driving instructor) was grabbing the wheel and repeatedly telling her ‘keep your eyes on the road!’” Alokozay said, teasing Haidari.

In March, Alokozay drove her to Boston and helped her buy a car for a good price. “Prius 2017,” he said smiling. “She was so glad.”

Haidari recently signed the lease on a new apartment which is larger than their first one and has a green backyard with flowering bushes.

“We said today, ‘We’re going to look at the apartment. Do you want us to pick you up?’ and she said, ‘No, I have my own car.’ And that’s big,” said Bonnie Lewis, director of development and housing at MEIRS.

Zoha will be a preschooler next fall and Sami is entering eighth grade. Last year Sami received a letter from the district senator to recognize his hard work in school.

Haidari is still waiting for the government to approve her husband’s asylum application.

“The day her family comes we’re going to have a celebration,” Lewis said.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: