Safety and sadness: Afghan refugees observe their first Ramadan in the US

Brittny Mejia, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

"Unless a family is settled into their permanent housing, they are still in that limbo period," Bejko said. "In that period where they are still waiting for the next step to truly rebuild their lives here."


Nearly a dozen people gathered in the hotel's breakfast room last Saturday evening to celebrate Ramadan.

There were placards left over from the morning that read "French Toast," "Cheese Omelette" and "Seasoned Potatoes." But the trays arrayed before the group now held qabili palau, a brown rice with chicken; challow, white rice; Afghan-style chicken korma; and bonjan, an eggplant side dish.

On smaller tables, Rahim and her sister-in-law, Wajma Rahim, had laid out water bottles; dates; bolani, a stuffed flatbread; and aush, an Afghan noodle soup, for everyone to grab as soon as the sun set, signaling the end of the day's fast.

They have gotten to know the families through the Afghan Refugees Aid Group and have helped deliver groceries and other necessities. Zulaikha's and Wajma's parents fled Afghanistan 40 years ago.

"There was really no difference between them and myself, and any of us, but luck and timing," Wajma said.

Among those gathered was Omid Sediqi, 26, whose father was killed by a suicide bomber last year. He and his family have bounced around hotels for a few months, waiting for permanent housing.

Sediqi arrived in San Diego with his mother and two brothers but left behind other siblings in Afghanistan. This year, he said, Ramadan felt different.


"It's so difficult because of your family you left in Afghanistan to come here," he said.

Soon after 7 p.m., as the sky darkened, everyone reached for sustenance after hours without food or drink. Maqsoud snacked on dates and then filled a cup with dogh, a traditional Afghan yogurt, to give to his guest, Hannigan.

The Marine recalled trying the drink during his deployment when he and Maqsoud were visiting a village elder.

Maqsoud joined a few other men as they kicked off their shoes and knelt on bedsheets they had snagged from housekeeping, a far cry from traditional prayer rugs. They pressed their foreheads to the ground as Sam Smith's "Like I Can" filtered down from the speakers overhead and then segued into electronic dance music.

Afterward, Maqsoud guided Hannigan to a seat at his table, often referring to his friend as "bro." With Maqsoud's brothers back in Afghanistan, he said of Hannigan, "he's my brother."

Since Maqsoud's arrival, Hannigan has taken the family to the beach and around San Diego.

As the group filled plates with traditional Afghan food that refugees had cooked in their hotel rooms, they conversed in Dari and English. They played with Maqsoud's 15-month-old, who had recently been released from a hospital with a feeding tube to help bring up her weight. The girl had started walking just two weeks before.

Although nearly 8,000 miles away from Afghanistan, that night they didn't feel so far from home.

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