The Anguish of Afghans in Sacramento

4 months ago 74

California today

Resettled Afghans are struggling to reconcile the conveniences and cheap food that surround them in California with the hunger and deprivation of their relatives in Afghanistan.

Thomas Fuller

Jan. 7, 2022, 8:45 a.m. ET


Farhad Yousafzai in his Elk Grove neighborhood on Thursday.
Credit...Max Whittaker for The New York Times

From the moment he arrived in the Bay Area from Afghanistan eight years ago, life in America was disorienting.

Farhad Yousafzai had served the U.S. government as a purchasing manager and came to California to start a new life. On Dec. 31, 2013, a resettlement agency dropped him and his family off at an apartment in Oakland and offered an ominous warning.

“They told us: ‘Oakland unfortunately is not the safest place. You guys should not walk around in the evenings,’” Yousafzai said.

That seemed like strange advice for a family inured to war in Afghanistan, but as the night wore on, and with Yousafzai’s family holed up in their new home, they began to hear a series of what sounded like booming explosions and gunfire. Yousafzai wondered whether he had traded one war zone for another.

Then, confusingly, the family heard laughter and cheering. They cautiously ventured outside and peered into the street. Someone yelled: “Hey! Happy New Year!”

Yousafzai and his family are now accustomed to the fireworks on New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July along with other trappings of their American lives. They have since settled in the Sacramento suburb of Elk Grove. That’s where I met Yousafzai last August. He owns a tan-colored, five-bedroom home near a park, a community garden, two microbreweries, a mosque and a church. And he runs a successful business as an insurance broker; his office serves as a de facto community center for the thousands of resettled Afghans who live in the Sacramento area.

I stayed in touch with Yousafzai in the five months since the sudden and traumatic United States withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer and heard the pained laments that still echo across Afghan communities across America: the heartbreak over family members left behind and increasing desperation and exasperation as their friends reported hunger and economic collapse.

The fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban came with a particularly cruel facet for Afghans around the world. The internet connections in Afghanistan have remained surprisingly robust and the lines of communication between Afghan families and their relatives overseas have remained open even as the Taliban has tightened their grip. For Afghans overseas, this has created an agonizing dichotomy of daily WhatsApp calls and Facebook postings — a deluge of distressing information — paired with the helplessness of not being able to do much about it.

Yousafzai and his friends want to send money to relatives, but the banking system has all but collapsed. They want to fly family members out of Afghanistan, but they have run up against U.S. extraction efforts manifestly unprepared to help them.

In the past several months, Yousafzai received word that two relatives in his home village near Jalalabad had disappeared. A friend’s brother, a doctor, was found dead, his body mutilated. Yousafzai has viewed videos of families selling their children out of desperation and forwarded to me images of unspeakable atrocities. On Tuesday his wife told him that their former neighbor reported that he and his family had not had any food for three days.

This cannonade of despair wears on the Afghan community in Sacramento like asphalt slowly stripping away a tire’s last treads.

“Every second you get another terrible story,” Yousafzai told me this week. “Day and night, 24 hours, a story about a kidnapped person, a story about a hungry person, another text message, another call.”

He wishes he could unplug. But he has sisters to comfort in Afghanistan, friends all over the country to support in whatever way he can.

For now Yousafzai says he will remain in his oddly bifurcated world. He sleepwalks through the conveniences of suburban American life. He drives to and from the office, sometimes absent-mindedly making wrong turns. He pushes a cart through the fluorescent-lit aisles of WinCo, a discount supermarket, filling his cart with the cheap bounty of California agriculture: tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, spinach. But his mind, he says, still wanders the dusty streets of eastern Afghanistan and ponders the privations, and hunger, of family and friends.

Yousafzai says he tries to clear his head with walks through his neighborhood. He strolls past the earth-colored homes of his subdivision, down to the collision repair shop, the Amazon warehouse and the animal shelter.

“I try to get everything out of my mind,” he told me. “But it never goes away.”

The proposal was for a luxury wine country resort over a ride from Calistoga, a community of 1,400 villas and five boutique hotels. But in a ruling this week that could have ramifications for other projects in areas prone to wildfires, a judge halted the development, saying it could be a death trap if everyone tried to flee at the same time.


Credit...Allison Zaucha for The New York Times
  • School funding concerns: School district officials are nervously awaiting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed 2022-23 state budget, with declining school enrollment possibly leading to lower funding, CalMatters reports.

  • Legislators quarantine: The speaker of the Assembly and other legislators are quarantining after State Senator Josh Becker tested positive for the coronavirus following a farewell party for Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, The Sacramento Bee reports.


  • Vanessa Bryant: A federal judge rejected an attempt by Los Angeles County lawyers to dismiss Vanessa Bryant’s lawsuit over photos taken at the scene of the helicopter crash that killed her daughter and husband, Kobe Bryant, The Los Angeles Times reports.

  • Marijuana raids: San Bernardino County deputies eliminated 93 illegal marijuana greenhouses and arrested 15 people over a week of raids, The Associated Press reports.

  • Mask mandate change: A change to Los Angeles’s mask mandate will soon require employers to provide employees with high quality, non-cloth masks when working indoors, LA Weekly reports.

  • Hollywood director dies: Peter Bogdanovich, director of 1970s classics like “The Last Picture Show” and “Paper Moon,” died on Thursday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 82.

  • Super Bowl: Despite surging coronavirus cases, state officials and the N.F.L. still expect Los Angeles to host Super Bowl LVI next month, Politico reports.


  • Indoor smoking: A new city law has made it illegal to smoke or vape inside Fresno apartment complexes, The Fresno Bee reports.


  • Powerball winners: The latest Powerball jackpot of $632 million will be split by two winners, who bought the winning tickets in Sacramento and Green Bay, Wis., The Associated Press reports.

  • SAT scandal: A Palo Alto couple pleaded guilty to paying $25,000 to inflate their son’s SAT score, The Associated Press reports.


Credit...Julia Gartland for The New York Times


Credit...George Rose/Getty Images

Today’s travel tip comes from Peggy Burhenn:

“Many people already know about the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove in Pismo Beach. It is one of my favorite places. Now is a great time to go (up until February) as there is a resurgence of the butterflies, with currently more than 14,000 literally “hanging out.”

It is a spectacular sight to see.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

What’s the best part of winter in California? Email us at with your traditions, recommendations and opinions.

The Sacramento Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals announced on Twitter on Thursday that it was slashing the adoption prices of adult dogs to $30. “Our kennels are FULL with the recent increase in dogs entering our doors!” the S.P.C.A. said in its posting. Pictures of Persimmon, Missy, Neo, Mango and lots more potential adoptees are here.

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