ST. CHARLES (KMOV.com) – Pictures are all Fatima and Zahra Nazari have of their life in Afghanistan.
Fatima was a nationally-known female skier, while her sister Zahra helped women start their own businesses in the market in town.
“Never would we have thought we would have to leave,” said Fatima. “Never.”
In 2019, Zahra was working with her mother at the market when Andy Bass stopped in. Bass, who lives in St. Charles, was in town acclimating to the altitude with a friend ahead of an upcoming marathon race.
“He bought some carpets and something from the craft bazaar, and then we became friends on Facebook,” she said.
“She was the most welcoming, nicest saleswoman ever,” Bass said.
The two kept in contact over Facebook for the next few years. But last August, when the United States announced its withdrawal from Afghanistan, Taliban fighters began invading surrounding provinces.
“At first, we stayed because I did not want to leave,” Zahra said. “I wanted to stay to help with food and uniforms and help the army and people in town.”
She said as Taliban fighters got closer, the situation became so dangerous, she had a terrifying conversation with a local military commander.
“He said he would agree to send someone from the military to kill me before the Taliban was able to get to me,” she said. “Women who are sold by the Taliban to other countries…it’s horrible.”
Nazari’s four uncles, grandparents and sister were killed by the Taliban previously, Zahra said.
The two sisters and their mother then fled to Kabul, where Bass continued to communicate with them via Facebook. A former U.S. Marine, he was able to secure visas for the women. But, getting to the Kabul airport would prove a daunting task.
“We were so afraid the Taliban would find us where we were,” she said. “We wore burkas and they could only see our eyes. We were at the airport for 10 days and nights trying to get through.”
As the world watched the ensuing chaos outside the Kabul airport, Nazari and her family lived it.
“We were so nervous we couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep we did so much yelling,” she said. “We didn’t have anyone to helping us, to save us, it was…it was like hell.”
The women eventually made their way to a U.S. servicemember, who reviewed their paperwork and let them through. They flew to Germany and eventually made it to the United States. After being processed, they were taken to a refugee camp in Indiana where they stayed for about three months.
“Mr. Bass kept talking to us through Facebook and checking on us, he brought us clothes, we didn’t have anything,” Zahra said. “He is a super hero.”
In November, Bass brought the three women to his home, where they are now building their new lives. They are in the process of getting the necessary paperwork and IDs to get jobs and are hopeful to get their own apartment and car.
“We are so lucky, we are now in USA, we have good life, I hope,” Fatima said.
Bass said after hearing what the women went through, he has a fresh perspective on life.
“When you see people that go through what they went through to get here, and when you see people handing babies over fences to Marines to get them out of the situation they are in, it tells you what America is,” Bass said.
A Go-Fund-Me has been set up to help the women get on their feet. You can donate here.