“A lot of Afghan Americans came in to help out with that sense of responsibility as an American and as an Afghan,” he said. “I came back to rebuild.”
Rebuild he did. Maqsudi, fluent in Dari and sage in the ways of corporate America, soon landed contracts to build the new U.S. Embassy in Kabul and a major road. During the first three years of the war, he was involved in 17 major business ventures.
Yet, looking back, he and other Afghan Americans who returned to their native land see a decade of mistakes, missed opportunities and miscalculations. The hope is gone, replaced by disillusionment.
Even Maqsudi, who did exceptionally well in a war economy flush with cash, said he and other Afghan Americans have little to be proud of. They say that the benefits of what was rebuilt have not trickled down to average Afghans, that the money they have amassed has largely been sent overseas, and that today’s Afghanistan is in many ways worse off than it was when they came to help.
“Sadly,” Maqsudi said on a recent morning, sitting in the shaded patio of a Kabul restaurant, “I would say I was not successful.”
The motives of Afghan Americans who returned were as varied as the reasons they left. There were those who embarked on short visits to see old neighborhoods and relatives. Some came hoping to get a slice of the bonanza of foreign aid that was pouring in. Others arrived with dog-eared land deeds, seeking to reclaim a physical part of their past.
Gina Hamrah, a salon owner from Virginia, returned with a sink — an improbable donation in a war-wrecked capital. She hoped it would help a fellow beautician.
“I felt so guilty for such a long time that we couldn’t do anything for people living under the Taliban,” said Hamrah, 48, who is married to another Afghan who had spent years out of the country, Jahed. “We decided that as soon as the opportunity came, we had to go back. We wanted to show our children where our blood is from and show our Afghan friends and family that there is hope.”
Gina Hamrah’s first visit was emotionally devastating. The streets of Kabul were filthy. Much of the capital had been reduced to ruins. The scores of orphans and amputees transported her to the years of war she had dodged.
“I was crying nonstop,” she recalled of her trip, which was the subject of a Washington Post article in 2002. “I thought I could have been one of those people.”
As draining as the homecoming was, the Hamrahs felt an obligation to stay connected. Jahed Hamrah, a physician assistant who had driven a taxi in the Washington area to support himself, accepted a posting as Afghanistan’s consul general in Toronto.