American couple help Afghans escape and build lives in rural America

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FERGUS FALLS, Minnesota (AP) – US soldiers called them “Carolina guys.” They turned farms into a war zone – risking their lives for the program she built, sharing her belief that something as simple as apple trees could change the world.

In the process, the 12 agricultural specialists, all traditional Afghan men, forged a deep and unexpected bond with their boss, an American who worked as a US Department of Agriculture advisor in the region for two years.

Now Caroline Clarin tries to save them one by one, doing it all from the 1910 Minnesota farm she shares with his wife, tapping into retirement funds to help a group of men who share her love of life. ‘Agriculture. She is motivated by fear that her team will be killed, although the Taliban have promised not to target the Afghans who have helped the United States.

Clarin, 55, has helped five of his former employees and their families in the United States since 2017, while his wife has helped them rebuild their lives in America.

Since the withdrawal of US forces, more than 70,000 Afghans have come to the United States and thousands languish in US military bases as resettlement agencies struggle to keep pace.

The most recent of Clarin’s friends to escape was Ihsanullah Patan, a horticulturist who waited seven years for a special immigrant visa. After texting him that two of his close friends had just been killed, Clarin withdrew $ 6,000 from a retirement fund to allow him and his family to take a commercial flight to Minnesota before the Taliban won’t take control of the country this summer.

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When Clarin picked them up at the Minneapolis airport at midnight for the three hour drive back to Fergus Falls, she was overjoyed.

“It was like my son was coming home,” she said.

Patan considers Clarin and his wife like family. Her three sons and her daughter call them their “aunts”.

In fact, he decided to live in the nearby town of Fergus Falls, a town of 14,000, instead of moving to a larger town with an Afghan transplant community.

Surrounded by farmland stretching to the North Dakota border, the city’s skyline is dominated by the grain elevators and spiers of the Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, reflecting the region’s Scandinavian roots. .

The only other Afghan family in town is that of his cousin. Sami Massoodi, a graduate in livestock management, also worked for the Clarin team in Afghanistan and arrived in 2017. He and his family lived on their farm before settling in Fergus Falls.

“In Fergus Falls there are some really good people, some really nice people,” Patan said as he drove his minivan through the tree-lined streets to pick up his 5-year-old daughter as part of the tour. ‘a Head Start program.

Only a few months after their arrival, the Patan family already feels at home in large part thanks to Clarin’s wife, Sheril Raymond.

She helped enroll their children in school, find a dentist for Sala, 9’s infected tooth, and enroll Patan for car insurance, new to the 35-year-old.

She has organized English classes and state and federal services for new immigrants. Clarin tracked down a sheep on Craigslist for Eid, while Raymond watched YouTube videos on how to slaughter halal cattle, as the nearest halal butcher is an hour from Fargo, Dakota. North.

Patan longs for his homeland, family festivities. His wife still prepares their traditional dishes, such as Bolani Afghani, a fried flatbread filled with vegetables that Clarin enjoyed with him in Afghanistan.

There, Patan and her team helped her feel at home.

It was the longest separation between her and Raymond since they started dating in 1988. Two years after Clarin’s return, they tied the knot in August 2013 when same-sex marriage became legal in Minnesota.

Homosexuality is still widely regarded as taboo and indecent in Afghanistan, where same-sex relationships are illegal. Yet none of the Afghan families have asked about their marriage or expressed judgment, the couple said.

“We have a lot of respect for them,” Patan said.

Clarin and Patan both speak passionately about farming, detailing how to get a good harvest of apples and avoid disease.

The Clarin program trained around 5,000 farmers in Paktika from 2009 to 2011. They provided farmers with greenhouses, apple trees, pruning equipment and small grants. They taught farmers practical solutions, including using buckets with drippers to irrigate gardens and conserve water.

Patan misses his career in Afghanistan. Most American employers do not recognize degrees from Afghan universities, so he is considering going back to school for an American degree. For now, he is training as a commercial truck driver.

He wants a local trucking route to stay near his home, but it will always be a challenge for his family. His wife, Sediqa, does not speak English, cannot read, write or drive.

Everything is new for their children too. Patan’s sons befriended a nearby boy and jumped on a trampoline for the first time. They look forward to the weekends with their “aunts” on the farm.

Two other Afghan families that Clarin has helped have chosen to settle in Austin, Texas and San Diego, in part because both places have mosques, halal butchers, and established Afghan communities. None of this exists in Fergus Falls.

But Patan knows cities have drawbacks, and he hopes more of his former colleagues will choose to stay in Minnesota.

“I hope that one day they can also come here and that we will form a big Afghan family here,” he said. “They all want to come here to Fergus. “

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