KABUL: As a child, I studied at school in the city of Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan. Like millions of Afghans throughout the nineties, my family left our ravaged home, fleeing across the border to the relative safety of Pakistan. It was there my parents enrolled me in a school staffed by men who had fought against the Soviets during their invasion of Afghanistan. We had little other option. That is how I, a ten-year-old Afghan boy from a relatively middle-class family, in the eastern province of Nangarhar, became deeply religious.
My world changed in 2010 as a 23-year-old man when I logged onto Facebook and saw posts from the US Embassy in Afghanistan, claiming that they had helped some Afghan people. It made me angry, and I wrote underneath the post, “You came for your own benefit and advantages. You are deceiving us with these kinds of posts.” I logged out and forgot about it – but when I logged into the platform a few hours later, I saw that a lady – her name is Kathleen Thorrez – had responded to me.
She messaged me, saying that we (Afghans) have such a wonderful country, but unfortunately we’ve been at war for so long. She and I began talking about different issues, every other day. We weren’t friends on Facebook, even though I sent her so many requests – but she didn’t accept them – because she didn’t know me that well. She didn’t know what kind of man I am. However after a few weeks, we became friends, Facebook friends.
I took that opportunity to try convert her to Islam. I incessantly sent her videos and articles via email and Facebook messenger. I wanted her to see the beauty and truth of my religion. I felt like she wouldn’t be whole without embracing Islam. In retrospect, I must have looked crazy to her. Kathleen was patient. She never seemed annoyed by my efforts. After some months, I apologized for trying to pressure her to convert. She didn’t say anything, but I really felt that it wasn’t good to insist so much.
I have always lacked self-esteem and somehow speaking to Kathleen helped me find some value in myself. I felt like it was a great honor, and a matter of pride, that a woman from a developed, wealthy and modern country wanted to talk to me. And she was! She was from Michigan! We only had one laptop at home, which belonged to my brother. I used to wait every day for him to hand it over to me so I could chat with Kathleen. One day, my brother got sick of me trying to take his laptop and we had a fight.
Finally – I got online and told Kathleen what happened – and her response? She said she’d buy me a new laptop, and asked me how much it would cost. I was so happy, and told my family. My brothers told me to quote a high price, because Americans are rich people. I told them, no, I want to tell her exactly how much it costs. They laughed at me, and said, “You are naive!” But I told her the truth – a new laptop would cost $500 and an old one, $250. Kathleen sent me $500 — and when I went to Western Union to pick up the cash, I burst into tears. I rushed home to tell my family: ‘Look! My generous friend from the United States helped me” I felt so proud.
After a few days, I bought a laptop for $300 and Kathleen told me to spend the rest of the money how I wanted. Later, Kathleen sent more cash when I needed to get married – Afghans marry young – I was only 25 years old. She helped me buy a wedding gift, a mobile phone for my wife and a closet for my wife and I. She didn’t end there: I began doing humanitarian work, finding sick Afghan children and getting them medical care in India. Lots of them have heart defects. Kathleen always helped me out, sending me cash for their passport fees and travel costs.
Today, if I am anything, it’s because of Kathleen. I consider her my adopted mother. She allows me to live with dreams and hope for this world. Now, instead of trying to convert people by sending them articles, I show my faith through my works. I try to spread love. Kathleen, you will always be an inspiration for me. I love you so much, and I’m writing this story as an inspiration for others. Thank you for being my adopted Mom.