Voice out of Violence

“Bombs, rockets tear through Syrian regime strongholds”

“Islamic State attack in Saudi Arabia targeted U.S. military”

“Obama Says He Will Keep More Troops in Afghanistan Than Planned”

“Taliban Attack on Afghan Police Cadets Kills at Least 33”

These are all articles that can be found in the New York Times.

These are the stories that Americans have been faced with since 2001, however, no one can truly understand the horrors facing the Middle East through a TV screen or newspaper. To Soraya Woorzad, these headlines bring back nightmares of her life before coming to the United States. Soraya escaped from Afghanistan in 1989 when she was only 22 years old with her husband and daughter to escape the destruction, oppression and violence they experienced.

“At the time in Afghanistan they could not broadcast on TV . . . Thousands, thousands of people died in one day all buildings got destroyed, even our house. . . At the time they shoot bombs from far far away you’d never know from where and they’d just shoot at people,” Soraya said.

While at the time, censorship of media preve
nted Soraya and her family from knowing exactly who was the target for such violence.

“They came to the city, their goal was maybe some political people, but innocent people died,” she said.

She knew this would not be a safe place to raise her family.

Her parents escaped before her with her 4 brothers in fear that they would be forced to join the military.

At the time they didn’t see your age or something, just the body, how big you are, how tall, they send you off to military. My brother was 9 or 10 years old but he was big and that’s why my parents left and took all my brothers with [them], to save them,” she said as she glanced lovingly over at her brother working in the food truck he owns. At the time, Soraya and her family knew the fate of many Afghan soldiers. “When they go to military to the war and stuff, they’re gone! They never come back. They’re killed or died. Wedon’t know.”

Overjoyed that her parents and brothers were safe in the Land of the Free, Soraya knew that it could be many years until she saw them again.

Many obstacles faced Soraya and her family when trying to escape Afghanistan. She knew that if they stayed, her children would be in danger.

“In Afghanistan the chance to go study and be in school is zero,” she said, “Taliban not allow the ladies to work outside the home.”

While in Afghanistan, Soraya lost many family members and friends. She explains, “That’s why we left because kids. . . I’m happy they had opportunity to study and finish with school.”

Leaving Afghanistan proved very difficult as, “it was so expensive to move. Each person $20,000 to get out of the country.”

They were not allowed a passport due to the Taliban’s restrictions. They did not allow soldiers, engineers, doctors, or teachers to leave because they were seen as valuable to the government.

“We leave the country not with a passport, from a different way,” Soraya said. “We paid smuggler people and they brought us first to India, then to Russia and Germany.”

Despite the tragic realities her family faced in Afghanistan, the decision to leave was not an easy one to make. She said, “I miss my country, honestly I do miss my country, but it’s okay my kids are safe here.”

She left to give her kids a better life.

“A chance to make something happen to us,” she said.

Soraya finally arrived in the U.S. and was reunited with her parents and brothers after five years of being apart. When remembering the moment when she reunited with her family, her face lit up and a smile spread across her face. She couldn’t find the words to express the joy of seeing her family again.

After 26 years, she visited Afghanistan.

“I couldn’t figure out my city,” she said, “I saw all on the news the bad situation and after I went back I saw Kabul was being rebuilt. . . Still the Taliban and horrible people are doing the suicide bombs. They put the stuff on their body and they go in the crowd and explode and kill a lot of people.”

Sorrow filled her eyes with the memories of the place she once called home.

Soraya now lives in Bloomington with her husband. Her oldest daughter is a prosecutor in Marion County. Her son just graduated from medical school and completed his residency in New York City. Her youngest daughter is a nurse. Through the tragedy and sacrifice her family has faced, they endured, and now have opportunities they wouldn’t have had in Afghanistan.

“Now that much of my family is here in Bloomington, we feel like how it was in Kabul, together.”