Farida & Sohil
When Farida and Sohil hugged in the Missoula Airport baggage claim in March, it was the first time they had been able to embrace in nearly eight years. Farida fled Afghanistan to seek asylum in this country when her son was only 12 years old. Now, at 20-years-old, Sohil has grown from a boy into a young man, and while he stands taller and his face has filled out, there’s no question he’s still his mother’s son.
“I used to imagine how it would be to see my mom. When I got here, I couldn’t believe that I had arrived to the United States, and even after a couple days, I couldn’t imagine that I was still here, still here with my mom.”
Farida arrived in Missoula, Montana in May 2016, her asylum case approved and her pathway to permanent residency paved. She devoted herself every day after to helping Sohil join her in the United States under the United Nations’ family reunification program, which allows immediate family members abroad to join their refugee or asylee relatives in this country.
When Kabul fell in August 2021, the urgency of those efforts intensified. Sohil was able to cross the border into Pakistan, where he remained for three months before his documents were secured and he began the final leg of his years-long journey to Missoula and his mother’s arms.
The two are making up for lost time. They live together in a two-bedroom apartment, and they both work long shifts at Wal-Mart – Farida in the deli section and Sohil in the online order fulfillment department. Relaxation looks like a shared lunch break, a weekend picnic on Flathead Lake or preparing traditional dishes in their home kitchen for themselves and many of the other newly arrived Afghans.
Sometimes, it can feel like home.
Sohil speaks in his native tongue of Dari with fellow young Afghans, a situation he says “is perfect for us,” and while many other people might scoff at cooking dinner for a large group of people after a long day of work, Farida says “I’m not tired because I’m very happy. I love helping Afghan people.”
They’ve also taken a liking to some more “American” realities that didn’t exist in Afghanistan.
Sohil makes regular visits to Fort Missoula for volleyball with friends. Afterwards, he regularly goes to the Big Dipper for a banana milkshake or Domino’s for a medium veggie pizza. As he puts it with a chuckle: “I’m eating quite a lot.” They shop together at TJ Maxx, Wal-Mart and Target (though Farida says Soft Landing’s donation closet will always be the “best store”), and Sohil bought a brand new grey Toyota Corolla, which he often uses to drive his mom up through the South Hills at night where they can watch the stars twinkle and the house lights dance across the valley floor.
And while Missoula has proven to be a soft place to land, it’s still not Afghanistan. The places they made memories, the lives they built and many loved ones still remain in their home country, a constant longing that tugs at their hearts.
“There are a lot of differences between here and over there,” Farida says, referring to how it is typical for multiple generations to live together in Afghanistan. “Here, it is very hard for me by myself. I miss my big family, but my kids have a bright future, and that’s why I tolerate this hard life.”
Both Farida and Sohil have dreams for their future in Missoula.
Sohil, recently engaged, is eager for his fiance to be able to make her way to the United States. He also wants to start college at the University of Montana, where his main focus is finding a career that allows him to “serve Missoula people. If it were in my native tongue, I would really want to study journalism."
Farida will continue to work tirelessly in service of making Missoula feel more like home for her fellow Afghans. She’s lovingly referred to as “mommy” by many of them, a tribute to her steadfast willingness to help them make the transition any way she can – like how to cook traditional bread in the oven or how to acquire furniture for new homes. But she’s also working hard to reunite her children, grandchildren, siblings and the rest of her family, currently scattered all over the world as a result of the tumult in Afghanistan, and focusing on all the good she does have in life today.
“My life is changed. I am happy, and I enjoy cooking and eating with my son. I love my son, and he is happy – and I have a good job.”
Story by Carly Graf. Photos by Madeline Jorden