In recent months, Yousafzai has learned that two relatives from his native village near Jalalabad had disappeared. A friend’s brother, a doctor, was found dead, his body mutilated. Yousafzai watched videos of families selling their children out of desperation and gave me pictures of unspeakable atrocities. His wife told him on Tuesday that their former neighbor reported that he and his family had not eaten for three days.
This cannonade of desperation wears down the Afghan community of Sacramento like asphalt slowly ripping off the last treads of a tire.
“Every second you get another terrible story,” Yousafzai told me this week. “Day and night, 24 hours a day, a story about a kidnapped person, a story about a hungry person, another text message, another call.”
He would like to be able to unplug. But he has sisters to comfort in Afghanistan, friends across the country to support in any way he can.
For now, Yousafzai says he will stay in his weirdly forked world. He sleepwalks through the amenities of American suburban life. He goes to and from the office, sometimes making wrong turns inadvertently. He pushes a cart through the aisles lit by fluorescent lights at WinCo, a discount supermarket, filling his cart with inexpensive California farm produce: tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, spinach. But his mind, he says, still wanders the dusty streets of eastern Afghanistan, pondering the hardships and hunger of his family and friends.
Yousafzai says he tries to clear his head while walking around his neighborhood. He walks past the earth-colored houses in his subdivision, to the body repair shop, Amazon warehouse, and animal shelter.
“I’m trying to get everything out of my head,” he told me. “But it never goes away.”