Hili Chakhansuri is one of thousands of Afghans awaiting resettlement in the U.S. at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey. In Afghanistan, Chakhansuri was an officer in the office of Chief of Staff in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Her job and her gender made her a target for insurgents who took over the country. Chakhansuri fled for her safety, and arrived in the U.S. on Aug. 26.

The Inquirer asked Chakhansuri to keep a journal of her time on the base to get a sense of what life is like for an Afghan evacuee in America. Her words have been edited for length and clarity.

It is about two months into my stay on the military base. Like most of the other Afghans, I still haven’t gotten used to life here.

I remember my first days on base. I was mentally exhausted due to the shock of losing everything and fleeing the country with only one piece of clothing. It was difficult for me to sleep, because every day I saw on the news and on social media that the situation over there was getting worse.

Some people who came to the base with me have been resettled already. Others, like me, are still waiting. Nowadays, everyone is talking about thousands more refugees coming to this base. I recently saw new tents being constructed.

» READ MORE: On a military base in South Jersey, an Afghan woman plans a new life. ‘I’m starting from zero, like a newborn.’

Once we’re resettled, we’re all aiming to find jobs, start working, pursue education, be self-sufficient, and finally stand on our own feet. So far, we’ve been welcomed warmly to the United States. I believe this is one of the greatest places on earth to become a success.

Recently, I was invited to a job fair at the base. It was organized by one of the nonprofits that aims to help eligible Afghans who are searching for jobs. I have done some online English assessment tests and am taking online training classes. I am also searching for ways to get my master’s degree in the U.S., and working on updating my resume to get myself ready to apply to jobs and build my career again once I am resettled.

For now, my life exists entirely on the base. This is what it’s like.

Mornings

Every day, I wake up in the morning and get ready while listening to “Ay meri zameen,” a song which means “oh my land.” Listening to it makes me feel emotional and sad, but I listen so that I won’t forget who I am, where I came from. I will not lose my love for my country and people. The song motivates me to start my day with the intention of helping people.

Afternoons

In the afternoon, I do volunteer work. I take a bus from my village on the base to other villages each day. On the bus, I meet new people. The kids are especially smart and curious. Some ask me to tell them the English words for things that we see along the ride.

I spend most of my time doing translation from our local languages to English and vice versa. I am especially trying to help the women find answers to their questions.

Afghan women are stronger than I could ever imagine. Some women left their families and children back in Afghanistan and some others lost their family members. A few ran away because of domestic and family abuse and the fear of forced marriages under the new regime. They are dealing with incredible trauma, and I try to listen to all their sad stories. This is my way of giving back. Listening to them is the least I can do for my people.

Sometimes I receive calls from some different agencies who are helping Afghan refugees in their resettlements to assist them with translating. One day, I was asked to be on a call as a Pashtu language interpreter for a big family coming to the airport soon. I am still working with them and I am happy to help.

Another day, I got a call from the medical team. As a translator, I helped a family reunite with their daughter who had been hospitalized with a kidney issue for 14 days. We got her back to the base.

Most days, the translation work is heartbreakingly sad for most of the interpreters here. Recently, I witnessed one of my colleagues talking to a man who had previously been a high-ranking official in Afghanistan. Like most refugees on the base, he wanted to know how he could be reunited with his family, because they are in danger back in Afghanistan. The man said, “Look at me and who I was and what I became after the collapse of the government. I was a high-ranking official back home and in the blink of an eye, I am now a homeless refugee on a base without my family.” The man started crying, and my colleague cried with him too.

The military staff and officials are doing their best, especially Lt. Col. Adam Howland, the cultural adviser lead. He’s one of the favorites of the Afghans here because he can speak Dari and is familiar with our culture. I’ll never forget the 24/7 hard work, hospitality, and assistance. Many Afghans here are really impressed by the construction of tents as mosques on the base, near the soldiers’ chapel. We think it shows acceptance, humanity, and brotherhood.

Even so, some days I interact with frustrated and stressed people. The resettlement process has been started, and the relevant authorities at our base have done their best to communicate — including hiring expert Afghan American staff to help them understand Afghan cultures, customs, and sensitivities — but it is taking a long time. The usual response is “be patient.”

Evenings

Once I get back to my village, it usually takes me an hour to reach my room, even although the distance from the bus station to the building should take me just a few minutes to cover. On the way, everyone I see wants to talk to me to try to get answers to their questions about when we’re going to be resettled. I try my best to give them convincing answers and to smile. I think it brings them a little bit of comfort to hear from me and that helps me sleep better at night.

Even though I am exhausted at the end of the day, I like to have conversations with my military friends here and to join the Afghan gatherings where we have tea and snacks and share our stories.

Everyone here has a sad story of the time they left home. People here see me as an understanding, strong, and smiling girl, a girl who fights with her pain. That’s why some of them share their pain and sadness with me.

A young Afghan pilot told me how he had to do his wedding ceremony by phone while he was stuck in the airport on his wedding night. “I was crying like a kid, leaving the country and love of my life at that moment,” he told me.

Another man on the base has his newborn baby with him. He worries for his wife, who is stuck in Afghanistan. When they got to the airport to flee, she couldn’t make it inside and was pulled back by the crowd, just as he and the baby entered. He couldn’t go back to get her.

One night recently, I came back to my village after my volunteer work and the girls in the building told me that a woman here was considering harming herself. She arrived at the base recently after losing her husband in a bombing in Kabul. When she left, she had to leave behind her two children. When I got to her, she was crying and shivering and seemed unstable. I hugged her and tried to convince her to talk to a doctor. Then we sent her to the medical section of the base to see the doctor. I hope one day I get to see her hugging her two children.

Bedtime

When I get back to my room most nights, I wait for my mom’s call. Sometimes the internet connection is not strong enough so I don’t get to talk to her or my friends daily. When I talk to my parents, I try not to share my sadness or worries with them, because they can’t do anything for me and they are struggling to overcome their own trauma, hopelessness, and depression about being stuck in Afghanistan, living in darkness and unsure about their safety and future. I know my mom is worried about me being alone in another part of the world without any idea what will happen next.

“I know my mom is worried about me being alone in another part of the world without any idea what will happen next.”

Hili Chakhansuri

At night, I think about the uncertainty of the future.

My female friends and colleagues are kept inside their homes and can’t go to their jobs. Some of them have started protesting on streets in different cities in Afghanistan, raising their voices for their basic education and working rights, but they are shouted down by the Taliban. Recently a girl, a former member of the Afghan women’s volleyball team, has reportedly been beheaded by the Taliban. Why is the world silent about this?

I always tell myself: No, I am not giving up. I am trying to be patient as I wait to be resettled, but the days are getting longer here. I am trying to find a light in my thoughts and transfer that to others. I am doing my best to help others here become stronger, more patient, and more positive. I want to be an inspiration to other Afghan women, to give them hope and motivate them to plan for a brighter future.

I believe that the rock bottom will teach us lessons the mountaintop never will, and the darkest nights produce the brightest stars. I hope to see the stars soon.

As of press time, Hili Chakhansuri still awaits resettlement in America.