A Place to Call Home

Afghan Family Makes a New Life in Manchester
Afghanchildren Article

Ezatullah and Hekmatullah are happy their family has found a new life in Manchester. But they also love their native country and hope to return and visit in the future when the situation in Afghanistan has improved.

When Zulmai Noorzaie, his wife, Zahra, and their six children arrived in Manchester in October 2021, the Afghan family felt delight, anxiety and pure culture shock.

Before they left their native country along with hundreds of other Afghan families to flee the Taliban, neither the couple or their children had ever been anywhere.

Thanks to a group of kind-hearted church volunteers, the family is enjoying their
new Manchester home and new life in New Hampshire.

The couple’s eldest son, Ezatullah, 19, was one of his mother’s translators when 603 Diversity visited their home this spring. As tricky as it has been for his family to adjust to a new way of life, they are delighted to be here, he said.

Afghan Children Ezatullah

“We are happy, because in Afghanistan there is no work and no school. Everything is destroyed,” said Ezatullah, who hopes to become a mechanical engineer.

Mike Mailloux, a volunteer with Brookside Congregational Church in Manchester, is one of several volunteers who have worked with Ezatullah’s family and many other Afghan families who have settled in the Queen City.

The family had to flee their home in Kandahar, because Zulmai would have faced the wrath of the Taliban, Mailloux said. But their journey to America and the life they lead now included several stops.

“They have been in New Hampshire since October 2021 and lived in a hotel on South Willow Street for five months. They also lived in three military camps before they got here,” Mailloux said.

The main reason why the Nourzaie family had to flee Afghanistan was simple.

“My father worked with the U.S. soldiers and security,” Ezatullah says. His father had also worked with Canadian forces. Zahra shared copies of certificates of appreciation her husband received from the U.S. military for his service.

The U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan nearly 20 years after the beginning of war and the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda, the terrorist group that carried out the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Mailloux said that when the family learned the U.S. military was leaving Afghanistan in August 2021, they understood they would be airlifted to safety. Zulmai drove his family to Kabul, where they boarded a U.S. Air Force C-130 cargo plane with hundreds of other Afghans.

As evidenced by news coverage, the scene at Bagram Air Base was chaotic, as Afghan civilians who had worked with the U.S. military scrambled to board aircraft to take them to safety.

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 3.2 million Afghan residents were displaced from their homes due to the U.S. military’s exit. Zulmai’s service allowed him to receive a Special Immigrant Visa, which gives those who were “faithful and valuable” to the U.S. government a path to permanent residency via a green card, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

They traveled to Qatar, then to Spain, and then to Washington, D.C., before finally landing at a U.S. Army base in New Mexico. While there, Mailloux said Zahra learned to speak Dari or Persian to communicate with other Afghan families there. Zahra and her family are Pashto speakers. Overcoming an Afghan language barrier was the first of many adjustments to make. After a few months, the family flew back to Washington, D.C., before moving to Manchester.

The family works with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants to resettle in America. The International Institute of New England’s Manchester chapter has partnered with Brookside church for many years to help refugees. The institute welcomes volunteers to help with apartment setup, transportation, English as a second language, grocery shopping and monetary donations.

Mailloux said church volunteers initially visited them daily.

Afghanchildren Young Brothers

Assadulah and Ahmadullah,
are happy their family has found a new life in Manchester. But they also love their native country and
hope to return and visit in the future when the situation in Afghanistan has improved.

According to Kristin Nealon, a church volunteer who teaches English as a second language, no one in the family could speak English when they arrived in New Hampshire. With her help, all six children — Ezatullah, his younger brothers, Hekmatullah, 17, Assadulah, 15, and Ahmadullah, 9, and their two sisters, Lema, 13, and Setara, 10 — now speak English.

Church volunteers worked with city property managers to try to find apartments where Afghan families who became friends could live nearby.

Nealon said some families who lived in the same hotel before moving to their new homes became very close. She recalled there were at least two pregnant mothers. “There have been some babies and new Americans born in the last year and a half,” she said.

After finding the family a three-bedroom apartment, Mailloux said church volunteers gave them donated pots and pans, rugs, furniture and many other items for their new household — everything a family would need to live.

Inside their home, everyone takes off their shoes. Many of the rooms have Persian rugs on the floors. Bunk beds for the boys and the girls go unused, because Ezatullah says they prefer to sleep on the floor.

As she did at the family’s former home in Kandahar, Zahra bakes fresh bread each morning. She also makes her yogurt recipe for her family. The family prefers to go with native Afghan dishes whenever possible. Each day, they observe their Islamic faith by praying together in a room set aside for this sacred ritual.

The children are curious and excited to learn new things. “School is fun. Summer is the best,” Setara said.

She just completed third grade and is looking forward to fourth grade in the fall. Setara has made new friends. She loves trying out new phrases that she learns from volunteers like Mailloux. “Get out of here!” Setara said repeatedly in jest.

When asked what she would like to do when she grows up, Setara replied, “I would like to be a teacher or a doctor.”

Assadullah, Ezatullah and Hekmatullah enjoy playing soccer. Assadullah and his younger sister, Lema, were scheduled to play a game. When asked to name the best soccer player in the family, Hekmatullah proudly proclaimed, “Assadullah!”

When asked what he would like to do someday, Hekmatullah replied, “I want to be a mechanical engineer,” like his older brother, Ezatullah.

Zahra said she is happy that her children will be able to get an education and have opportunities to pursue careers here. She needs help to get used to the digital world of using bank passwords, among other things.

Fortunately, her children are there to help her navigate technology and the language barrier. The children are very adept at using their smartphones. Like many teens, they enjoy following social media and watching videos.

The whole experience has been worthwhile, Zahra said. “It was the first time I left Afghanistan, and now I have a lot of friends here, and it is good.”

A large Afghan national flag hangs on the wall. As much as the brothers love the new country that has provided them with a new life, they also love their homeland.

“We love our country,” Hekmadullah said. One day, he says he and other family members may return to Afghanistan to visit family members who are still there.

Zahra is grateful that her family can stay together and feel safe as they continue to navigate their new lives in their new city.

“I like the place and I like the people,” she said.

This article is featured in the fall 2023 issue of 603 Diversity.603 Diversity Fall 2023

603 Diversity’s mission is to educate readers of all backgrounds about the exciting accomplishments and cultural contributions of the state’s diverse communities, as well as the challenges faced and support needed by those communities to continue to grow and thrive in the Granite State.

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