How 3 Strangers a World Away Came to the Rescue of a Badly Burned Afghan Girl

Asma told her family she wanted to be a doctor. They asked her what kind. A children’s doctor?

Not just any doctor, Asma told them, pointing an index finger in the air, as she often did to make a point. “I want to be the head doctor.”

The death of Asma’s father meant that the bureaucratic hurdles for the family to come to the United States were infinitely higher, since there was no primary applicant. But as long as American troops remained in the country, there seemed to be no huge impetus to leave. A few relatives, including Yousuf, Asma’s uncle — whom, like others in the family, The Times is identifying by one name for safety reasons — made it to the United States. But Asma’s family remained in Afghanistan.

Then Kabul fell to the Taliban, and suddenly what was once an aspiration for a better life became a matter of life and death. Nabila fled with her children to her sister’s house in Kabul, and then, on Thursday, Aug. 19, at 6:30 a.m., the family got into a taxi and went to the airport. Each child had a backpack with one change of clothes. Nabila had her husband’s work documents and a handful of family photos, including one of her engagement. That was it. No clear plastic bag of travel-size liquids. No favorite book. No suitcases.

The taxi let the family off near the Abbey Gate, where thousands of people had massed. Nabila knew that perhaps this was not the best day to be fasting, as she would most likely be outside for hours, if not longer. But then again, this was perhaps the perfect day to be fasting. “I wanted requital” from God, she recalled.

About 12 hours later, with the sun gone from the sky and the stars becoming clear, the crowd at the gate surged, pushing the family closer to the concertina wire. Troops threw out tear-gas canisters, and Asma was hit in the face. The hem of Nabila’s dress caught fire briefly as they both went down.

Asma’s brother Israr rushed to his mother and sister and poured water on Asma’s face. He struggled to breathe amid the smoke. His sister’s mask was stuck to her face in a ghastly melding of burned material and skin.

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