Restaurants

‘It’s a really tough time’: Local Afghan restaurant owners react to war’s end

Najeeb Rostami and Ali Tokhi have relatives trying to flee Afghanistan.

Ariana Restaurant
Ariana Restaurant Ariana Restaurant

As the last U.S. military plane departed Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Monday, a 20-year-war between the U.S. and Afghanistan finally came to an end. 

It was a chaotic ending. The Taliban’s swift takeover left the country in upheaval, as Afghan citizens who opposed the new government crowded at the airport in an effort to leave. Two suicide bombings outside the airport on August 26 killed 13 U.S. service members and more than 100 Afghans. On Tuesday, Biden praised “the extraordinary success of this mission,” and spoke of the thousands of Afghans who the administration was able to get out. 

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Still, thousands more have not been able to leave, including the relatives of two restaurant owners in Boston and Cambridge. 

Najeeb Rostami, who owns Ariana Restaurant in Brighton, told Boston.com that his siblings — two brothers and three sisters — and his mother remain in Kabul, and have been trying to leave the country. One of his brothers was at the airport on the day of the bombing.

“When I called him, he didn’t pick up the phone,” Rostami recalled. “There were millions of things going through my head. But after a couple of minutes he called me back. He said, ‘I’m fine, I can’t talk right now after what I saw and what I went through, so I’m going to go home and I’ll talk to you later.’ I talked to him the next day, and I told him to stay home and I’ll see if I can reach out to somebody here and they can do something.”

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Rostami said he and his family have been in contact with Sen. Ed Markey’s office for assistance in helping his relatives leave Afghanistan.

A Markey aide shared that they are aware of Rostami’s family situation and are working on bringing his relatives to safety.

“It’s a really tough time,” Rostami said. “I don’t know what is going to happen to my family. I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Ali Tokhi is in a similar situation. The restaurant owner runs Helmand Restaurant in Cambridge with his wife, Zarmina. A native of Kandahar, Afghanistan, Tokhi has lived in Massachusetts for over 25 years, but many of his relatives were still living in Kandahar when the Taliban captured the city in mid-August. Tokhi said half of his family home was destroyed, and that his siblings and father fled to Pakistan, noting that “they don’t trust the Taliban, because they say one thing and do another thing.” Some of his cousins — one who worked with the U.S. as a contractor, another who worked with an NGO — are still in Afghanistan and trying to get out.

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“This is totally disappointing,” Tokhi said. “Now there’s no hope for this country because the Americans have left. There are so many things I heard from friends and family: My cousin in Kandahar said that everybody is kind of scared, and they don’t go out of the house much. Everyone’s wondering what’s going to happen, and when they go out from the house to do some shopping for the home, they see a lot of scared faces, and they stay home.”

Watching the events in Afghanistan unfold from afar has been surreal for both restaurant owners. But for Rostami, compassion from guests has helped to keep his spirits up. He said that diners have been checking on him and asking about his mother.

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“It’s overwhelming,” he said. “I didn’t expect that, and I really appreciate it. This is something really special. So many people send me emails, they call, they come [to the restaurant], they talk to me. Honestly, it’s amazing.”

Ariana Restaurant; 384 Western Ave., Boston; Mondays–Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; arianarestaurantboston.com

Helmand Restaurant; 143 1st St., Cambridge; Sundays–Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; helmandrestaurant.com

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