The U. In the process, the 12 agricultural specialists, all traditional Afghan men, formed a deep, unexpected bond with their boss, an American woman who worked as a U. Department of Agriculture adviser in the region for two years.
Now Caroline Clarin is trying to save them one by one, doing it all from the Minnesota farmhouse she shares with her wife, drawing from retirement funds to help a group of men who share her love of farming. Clarin, 55, has helped get five of her former employees and their families into the U. Since U. The most recent of Clarin's friends to escape was Ihsanullah Patan, a horticulturist who waited seven years for a special immigrant visa.
When Clarin picked them up at the airport in Minneapolis at midnight for the three-hour drive back to Fergus Falls, she was consumed with joy. Patan considers Clarin and her wife family.
He and his family lived on their farm before they got established in Fergus Falls. Only months after they arrived, the Patan family already feels at home in large part because of Clarin's wife, Sheril Raymond.
She helped enroll their kids in school, find a dentist for 9-year-old Sala's infected tooth, and Patan up for car insurance, something that was new for the year-old. She lined up English classes and state and federal services for new immigrants.
Clarin has tracked down a sheep on craigslist for Eid, while Raymond watched YouTube videos on how to slaughter livestock according to halal principles, since the closest halal butcher is an hour away in Fargo, North Dakota.
Patan longs for his homeland, the family festivities. His wife makes their traditional dishes still, like Bolani Afghani, a fried, vegetable-filled flatbread that Clarin enjoyed with him in Afghanistan.
It was the longest she and Raymond had been apart since they started dating in Two years after Clarin returned, they married in August when same-sex marriage became legal in Minnesota. Homosexuality is still widely seen as taboo and indecent in Afghanistan, where same-sex relations are illegal.
Yet, none of the Afghan families have asked about their marriage or expressed judgment, the couple said. Both Clarin and Patan speak passionately about farming, describing in detail how to get a good apple crop and ward off disease.
Clarin's program trained about 5, farmers in Paktika from to They provided growers hoop-houses, apple trees, pruning equipment and small grants. They taught farmers tangible solutions, including using buckets with drip lines to irrigate gardens and conserve water.
Patan misses his career back in Afghanistan. Most U. For now, he is training to be a commercial truck driver. He wants a local truck route to stay close to home, but it will still be challenging for his family.
His wife, Sediqa, does not speak English, nor does she know how to read or write or drive. Everything is new for their children, too.
Two other Afghan families Clarin helped chose to settle in Austin, Texas, and San Diego, partly because in both places there are mosques, halal butcher shops and established Afghan communities. None of that exists in Fergus Falls.
But Patan knows there are drawbacks to cities, and he hopes more of his former colleagues might choose to stay in Minnesota. Want to bookmark your favourite articles and stories to read or reference later? Start your Independent Premium subscription today.
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