Afghan-Americans in Maine watched in horror over the weekend as the Taliban seized power again in Afghanistan just two weeks before the United States was expected to complete its troop withdrawal after two decades of war.

Sadiq Majeed found his mother, Hooria, in tears on Sunday, devastated by news that Kabul had fallen to the Taliban after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.

Hooria Majeed came to Portland in 2002 with her three sons after the Taliban had killed her husband. An art professor, he had refused to stop teaching university students how to draw and paint and sculpt beautiful things from clay and stone.

Like many Afghans in Maine, she questions whether the oppressive Islamist military organization will form an “open, inclusive” government as promised by a Taliban spokesman.

“I am very sad,” Hooria Majeed, 55, said Monday. “I’m watching TV and it’s not good in Afghanistan now. The Taliban is not good. I am afraid for Afghanistan and for my family there.”

Sadiq Majeed, 33, is an electrician. His older brother is an electrical engineer who works for the U.S. military. His younger brother is a mechanic.

“Today, I didn’t want to go to work, but I did to keep my mind occupied,” Sadiq Majeed said. “It happened so quickly. They’re pushing Afghanistan back 50 or 100 years.”

Taliban insurgents stormed across the country in recent days, capturing all major cities as Afghan security forces trained and equipped by the U.S. and its allies melted away.

The Afghan community in Maine numbers about 50 families, or about 300 to 400 people, some of whom came here after helping U.S.-led forces oust the Taliban from power in 2001. Now, the Western-backed government that replaced the Taliban has collapsed and many Afghans are being evacuated or attempting to flee the country.

The Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition hosted a Zoom meeting Monday afternoon to help the Afghan community here organize to assist family and friends in Afghanistan. About 40 people attended the online meeting, including representatives of Maine’s congressional delegation.

“We’re planning now for what they will need going forward,” said Mufalo Chitam, the coalition’s executive director.

Chitam said many Afghan-Americans in Maine are reluctant to speak publicly about their plight because they fear the Taliban will retaliate against family members and friends still in Afghanistan.

Community leaders have started a gofundme campaign, “Emergency Relief for Afghanistan,” to raise money to help Afghan families here and in Afghanistan navigate this crisis. The community also plans to hold a public demonstration in Portland this week to raise awareness of the Afghan community here and its ties to what’s happening in Afghanistan.

Sameera, left, and Daniela Aryaie are Afghan-American sisters who live in Portland, attend the University of Southern Maine and now worry about the future of Afghanistan as it returns to Taliban rule. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Daniela and Sameera Aryaie attended Monday’s Zoom meeting with grave concern in their hearts. The two sisters fled Afghanistan in 2016 with their mother and two other siblings, leaving behind an abusive home environment. Both are now students at the University of Southern Maine.

“For the last few weeks I was trying to avoid news about what was happening in Afghanistan, but I couldn’t in the last few days,” said Daniela Aryaie, 19, who is studying political science and social work.

FEAR FOR WOMEN

“The Taliban were just waiting for (Ghani) to leave,” Aryaie said. “He said he didn’t want there to be bloodshed, but it’s like he had a deal with the Taliban. He was supposed to protect the country. Now, (the Taliban are) going to finish what they started years ago.”

Like many people, Aryaie fears that Afghan women and girls will once again be barred from education and employment, forced to marry or become sex slaves, and be required to cover themselves from head to toe in public. Many Afghan women are now staying home or have gone into hiding.

“It’s the end of normal life for women in Afghanistan,” she said. “Our cousin in Afghanistan can’t sleep at night because he’s afraid the Taliban will come and take his mother and his sisters. He’s 15 years old.”

The Aryaie sisters say they can’t believe the international community has allowed the Taliban to seize power once again. They don’t understand why “the whole world” isn’t standing up against the Taliban.

“I’m confused and really scared for Afghanistan and its people,” said Sameera Aryaie, 22, who is studying pre-dentistry. “I feel safe here, but what about the people there? When you live in constant fear like that and don’t know what tomorrow will bring, it kills you a little bit every day.”

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