Maryam Hashimi’s house pulses with the warm chaos of a family reunion. Her cat, Salad, makes her presence known in every interaction. Her grandmother, Ziagul, enters the house with her arms aloft, headscarf askew, dancing to the music blaring from her phone. Her mother, Shakila, is quick to laugh and to offer food to her guests. Her sister, Shabina, douses her dinner with hot sauce and then hides it behind her back with a mischievous grin. Her friend, Saboor, lounges on the couch and taunts Maryam with jokes.

Maryam quickly lobs back lighthearted threats in return. This environment reflects who Maryam is – a bright, vibrant woman glowing with determination and saturated with emotion. She feels so fully, and her life is so fully lived. “Yeah, I’m funny myself,” Maryam tells me. “Sometimes I’m not talking but I will say one word and make people laugh. I’m trying to make people happy, but inside I’m feeling nothing. I’m trying to love people, give them love, make them love. Inside I’m not happy. The day that I’m upset, I don’t want to talk to anyone. Anyone who wants to talk to me I will fight, I will say bad words, I will shout.”

“For me, it was always sadness and like a bad dream,”

Before Maryam came to the United States, she lived with her family in Logar Province, Afghanistan. Her mother was a member of Parliament, and her family was relentlessly targeted by the Taliban. “Life was always fear,” Maryam says. “Always hiding, always had… like, 20, 25 security guards, bulletproof cars.”

“For me, it was always sadness and like a bad dream,” she says softly. “I asked my mom if I could go out and play with my friend, and my dad locked me in my room and told me they gonna, like, kidnap me, they gonna kill me. I was crying so bad and he was trying to calm me down.” Her family underwent a series of attacks over the years. Her sister was killed. Her mother was shot. Her house was bombed. In 2016, Maryam was shot. She’s used a wheelchair ever since.

When the Taliban took control of the country in 2021, Maryam’s family knew they could no longer stay. They fled to the airport with no thought for where they were going – they only knew they had to leave to be safe. Maryam, her mother, her sister, and her grandmother left for Qatar. But her father, her other sister, and her nephew are still in hiding in Afghanistan to this day.

Resettling in the United States has brought its own challenges. “When we come it’s really difficult to start a life in the country where you don’t know the culture, the people, you don’t know anything about it,” she says. “You start from zero. To start a life from zero is very difficult – like crossing the sea without a boat. You have to swim, you get tired, it’s very difficult. It’s very difficult to try to be here, to get citizenship, to work hard, to have a home, to have a good family. Yeah, it’s really hard.”

But despite the difficulty, life in the United States for Maryam means safety and opportunity. “The best part,” Maryam tells me, “was when I took my sister… with my mom and we went outside without anyone, without fear, we went to the grocery store. For me that was a really good day and I was so happy there was no one to tell me ‘hide your face, do this, do that’ – there was no fear in our heart.”

Now that she’s here, Maryam wants to attend university. She’s working hard to improve her English, to find a good job that will enable her to achieve her goals. She wants to become an engineer, to travel the world, to go on Hajj, to have her own car, and a house by the riverside. She’s eagerly awaiting her next round of physical therapy “so I can be back on my legs.”

“My dreams are really important for me,” Maryam says. “Before they were dreams. Now they’re goals.”

Maryam also looks forward to the day when her fiancé, Sorosh, can join her in the United States and they can get married. She blushes as she tells me, “He’s really nice actually. Really beautiful… really sweet. He has a really kind heart.”

But most of all she dreams to help her dad, her sister, and her nephew come to the United States. “My sister is too young,” she says emphatically. “In these two years I can see a white hair on her, and I can see her face getting really tired.” Maryam stops and her eyes fill with tears. “She lost everything,” she says, her voice breaking but growing stronger. “The thing hurting a lot is my sister. I’m in a safe country and can do whatever I want, but my sister is hiding. She’s always scared. Every time she talks to me she’s asking one question: ‘What happened? Did you find a way for me to come to the United States?’ Sometimes people are in a good position but they are still in pain because something is missing, and we can’t enjoy it.”

“But I am happy about my sister who is here,” Maryam says, steadying herself. “She’s only twelve, and she’s growing up in this country, and she’s going to school safely and happily. She’s enjoying her life and it makes me happy that she’s safe, she’s not gonna get hurt like me. So yes, I’m happy for her and I want to do the same thing for my other sister.”

We end our conversation chatting about going fishing, living by the riverside, how her cat got her name, her service dog in Afghanistan. Shakila asks repeatedly if we want food until we answer correctly: yes.  Maryam’s family and friends talk across one another, make jokes, laugh deeply and freely. And as we leave, Maryam is planning her evening: to put on her shoes and go out. “I’ll get a biscuit for myself, I’ll go around this area, and I’ll come back home.”