But just a few weeks ago, Noman was far away from this life of love and security. He was in Afghanistan, waiting to be welcomed home by his new family in Florida, when Kabul fell to the Taliban and the US evacuated more than 122,000 people from Hamid Karzai International Airport in its withdrawal.
Bahaudin Mujtaba says the journey to bring Noman home started five years ago. He and his wife, Lisa Marie, looked into adoption once they realized they could not have children biologically. The path to adopt from Afghanistan was filled with bureaucracy and paperwork, but the Mujtabas did not give up. They worked with two adoption agencies, and Bahaudin made several trips to Afghanistan to visit Noman. Just when it looked like everything was ready for Noman to come to the US the Taliban took over Kabul.
“We were just waiting for the US Embassy to call us for the final interview to issue a visa for my son to be able to travel to the US. So while we’re waiting, as you can see that the Taliban obviously took over the government so the chaos started happening,” Bahaudin said.
But another US citizen was trying to get back to the US with a little boy he had adopted and agreed to bring Noman back with them.
So, with two sets of clothes and a snack in a small backpack, Noman started his long journey to Florida.
A long journey ahead
Bahaudin says on the first day when Noman and the other family tried to get to Kabul’s airport they kept getting turned back by Taliban fighters. But on the second day after trying for about six hours they had better luck.
“The Taliban were allowing those with American passport to go through along with a family member, and that’s how my son was able to get through the Taliban security gates and make it to the American side. So then they looked at my son’s documents and they allowed him to enter the airport,” Bahaudin said.
Noman and the other family then waited three days before they were able to get a flight as there were thousands of people there, according to Bahaudin. The flight too was packed, and since everyone was sitting on the floor, when the plane took off Noman said he fell backwards on to the person behind him.
Then after two stops — one in Qatar, then in Germany, where he had to wait a few days at each place — he finally arrived in Washington, DC, where his father was waiting to meet him.
Noman said the experience was extremely stressful. He described, with his father translating, the chaos outside the airport. He said Taliban fighters were firing shots into the air and people were getting injured during the stampede as the crowd tried to disperse.
“There were thousands of people shoving and pushing and then Taliban forces were firing bullets into the air and sometimes, unfortunately, people were being hit. And there was one gentleman who got shot,” Bahaudin translated.
“So that was tough for a 10-year-old boy to be among obviously thousands of others, sort of like a wave coming in pushing everybody back and forth. That was terrifying,” Bahaudin added.
On his flight from Washington to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Noman was excited that he was finally going to meet his mother and asked Bahaudin how long the first hug would last.
“When we did arrive at the airport, she was waiting there with a gift for him, and the hug was a pretty good hug, but less than a minute, because they were other relatives and friends there as well,” Bahaudin said.
‘Every day has been better’
Now, Noman is enjoying going to school, and he’s also part of an English as a Second Language program.
“The first day when he went it was kind of difficult for him to let go of my hands, to sit in the class, but we encouraged him to go and told him all will be okay. So, then he did go sit down with his classmates in the class, kind of being anxious,” Bahaudin said,
But when Bahaudin went to pick him up from school Noman had already got over his initial shyness.
“He said it was very good… That the anxiety was removed and he was looking forward to the next day. So, every day has been better than the previous day,” Bahaudin added.
Bahaudin said he has been trying to keep Noman active by taking him to the park and keeping him busy with chess, cards, puzzles and books.
Noman is happy at home now, but he’s also worried about the people he left behind in Afghanistan.
“He was very upset that his friends and siblings and relatives were still there, because he knows that it was very challenging, very chaotic as the government was being transitioned and the Taliban were taking over. It was rough days in Kabul, so he remembers that and he feels bad for the fact that he’s here but his friends are in Afghanistan and perhaps in very dire circumstances,” Bahaudin said.
Bahaudin said he knows of many other trying to adopt, and the process should be made faster so they don’t have to wait five years like he did.
But, he said, he is thankful to the State Department, to the US troops and everybody else who helped to bring Noman home.