Taliban: Afghan interpreter describes seeing England for first time

Taliban: Afghan interpreter describes seeing England for first time

September 5, 2021

Mail’s Afghan interpreter describes his joy at seeing England for the first time and adjusting to life in a strange land after his family’s heart-stopping escape from the Taliban

  • Interpreter Bakhtiar Shoresh escaped from the Taliban with his family last week
  • With hours to spare, they caught one of the last flights out of Kabul to England
  • They have since been quarantining at a Heathrow hotel for the past ten days 
  • Bakhtiar and his family are now expecting to hear where they will be relocated

Last week, Bakhtiar Shoresh, an interpreter for The Mail on Sunday in Afghanistan, described his family’s heart-stopping escape from the Taliban when, with just hours to spare, they caught one of the last flights out of Kabul to England.

For the past ten days, they have been quarantining at a Heathrow hotel and today, as they prepare to begin a new life, they expect to hear news of where they will be relocated.

Here, in his diary, Bakhtiar describes his joy at seeing England for the first time, adjusting to life in a strange land – where he says even the cows are more relaxed than at home…

Tuesday, Aug 24

We arrive in Manchester early in the morning, exhausted but relieved – safe from the Taliban! 

More checks, paperwork and waiting, and three hours later our family group of nine – my wife and I, our four children and my three sisters – set off by coach on a three-hour journey to our temporary home, a Holiday Inn Express at Heathrow where we will quarantine for the next ten days.

From out of the coach window we get our first look at England. Until today, what little I have seen of this country has been in books and on the BBC television news.

Above all else, my clear impression is of a calm and peaceful land. Everywhere is so green. ‘Look at the cattle,’ says one of the children. 

Bakhtiar Shoresh (pictured), an interpreter in Afghanistan, described his family’s escape from the Taliban when they caught one of the last flights out of Kabul to England

Even the animals seem more relaxed. If only my homeland were gentle and free of tension. This, I reflect, is something to be cherished.

Despite the excitement, we all manage a little sleep. For security reasons, we are told that we will not stop en route. What security reasons, I wonder? Nobody can explain. Luckily there is a wash room and toilet on the coach.

Finally, after days of travelling, our journey is at an end. Our hotel is next to the airport. To me, Heathrow looks nothing like an airport. It is surely nothing like the one we left behind in Kabul. 

Where does it begin and end? I ask the driver: ‘Are you sure this is an airport? It looks like a city.’

After a wait of 30 minutes in the reception we are shown to our three rooms on the sixth floor – all very comfortable with televisions and bathrooms. My wife and I are with the youngest child, our boy Timor, aged two.

Two of my sisters are with our four-year-old daughter and the other sister is with our eldest child, a boy of 14, and our 11-year-old daughter.

I post on Facebook that I am now in London. The Taliban will see it or hear about it and forget about me. Now we must sleep. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

Wednesday, Aug 25

None of us realised just how strict the Covid rules would be.

This morning, I ventured out into the corridor to check on the rest of the family – only to be met by a security guard sitting outside who leapt up and told me to go back inside my room.

We can’t even mix with our own children yet none of us have this illness. For now, we must keep in touch on the room telephones.

I find myself gazing out of the window for long periods. Planes take off and land every two minutes, and every so often I see figures moving in the distance.

After the deafening chaos of Kabul airport, it all seems so incredibly orderly.

Thursday, Aug 26

The food is becoming a problem. I don’t want to be ungrateful but it is strange to us. Mashed potatoes? And cauliflower? The vegetables here are boiled – why? Not fried like in my country. And so far there has been no meat.

Breakfast, though, brings Coco Pops, which the children think is wonderful. It would be good if they could have French fries or burgers and pizza, but I am told they are not on the menu.

Mostly it’s sandwiches of cold tuna or cheese, left outside the room and accompanied by a sharp knock on the door. Just like prison!

And then, just as we lament the awful food, there is news from home that puts everything into perspective. A suicide bombing has killed many, many people at Kabul airport.

Not for the first time, it occurs to me that we got out just in time.

We are the lucky ones, I tell myself, even though I can’t help feeling desperately sad to have left friends and relatives behind.

Saturday, Aug 28

My sister calls from the room next door. My 14-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter are fighting.

Who can blame them? They’re jumping on the beds. ‘Just don’t let them break anything,’ I warn my sister. The kids haven’t forgiven me for making them leave their iPads and tablets behind in Kabul. 

We were told by the British Embassy to bring just two sets of clothes. Timor has some toy building blocks that someone in Manchester gave us.

I have become addicted to BBC News. With every bulletin comes sad news from home.

To take our minds off it, we are now watching something called Game Of Thrones.

For the past ten days, Bakhtiar (pictured) and his family have been quarantining at a Heathrow hotel and today they expect to hear news of where they will be relocated

Sunday, Aug 29

Timor is crying a lot, frustrated at being confined to a small room. I let him run along the corridor outside but the security guards don’t like it and tell me to take him back in.

There has been one small victory, though. It turns out I have a cousin who lives just ten minutes away. He is bringing some traditional Afghan dishes – rice and beef with raisins – and, to my surprise, the hotel says this is permissible. My mouth waters at the prospect.

I speak to a good neighbour back in Kabul. We were worried that our house would be taken from us so he has agreed to stay in it, on the ground floor. The other two floors are packed with our belongings.

He says things are getting worse and worse in the city despite the Taliban’s assurances when they first arrived.

Girls aged 13 and older can no longer go to school. And young men are now routinely stopped in the street by Taliban officials and told not to shave their beards.

Wednesday, Sept 1

All our Covid tests were negative, and for the past few days we have been going outside two or three times a day for exercise. Seeing the children and my sisters again was fantastic.

We are allowed to walk around a car park. It is good to stretch our legs and be together again. Timor never wants to go back to the room. He just wants to play.

We’ve still got some of the food my cousin brought us. The hotel won’t heat it up for us but it still tastes marvellous.

More news from home: my neighbour has been trying to sell my Toyota 4×4 for me and had a buyer lined up. But the guy couldn’t get his money out of the bank because they aren’t doing any transactions at the moment. 

He said he could get it in a couple of weeks and asked if he could take the car for now, but I told my neighbour that wouldn’t be a good idea.

I hear from others of heavy fighting in the Panjshir Valley, 170 miles north of Kabul, where I am originally from.

This region has not yet fallen and has captured many Taliban fighters. In response, the Taliban is arresting and imprisoning people from Panjshir on the streets of Kabul to use in hostage swaps.

Friday, Sept 3

We’ve heard nothing from the authorities about what will happen next – where we will live and such like.

Today, we passed another Covid test, which I think is a good sign.

On Sunday, our time in quarantine comes to an end. All of us have had enough and cannot wait to leave the hotel to begin a new life, to make new friends, to work and live in a community again.

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