Handed over to a foreign soldier, Sohail Ahmadi had disappeared on August 19 in the chaos of the evacuation of the Kabul airport: last week, the baby was reunited with his family after five months of separation.
The infant, then two months old, had been handed by his father to a soldier who overlooked the crowd panicked by the coming to power of the Taliban, who had just seized the Afghan capital.
The father and the child had been separated. Despite extensive research, it was impossible for Mirza Ali Ahmadi to get her baby back. It was a taxi driver, Hamid Safi, who found him, crying and abandoned on the airport floor.
“I have brought it to women to breastfeed”, without success. “I continued to look for his family,” swears the 29-year-old who had gone to the airport to drop off his own evacuated brother.
“So I called my wife and she told me to take the baby home.”
The couple claims to have continued to search, unsuccessfully, for the child’s parents. They then named him Mohammad Abed and started raising him.
“If we had not found his family, we would have protected and raised him like our own child,” continued Hamid Safi.
For three days, Sohail’s real father had searched for his son in the crowded airport. In desperation, the former US Embassy security guard flew to the United States with his wife and their four other children.
Kabul airport was stormed in August by tens of thousands of Afghans desperate to leave the city along with the last American troops, after 20 years of war.
Many Afghans feared the return of the Islamists to power, recalling their cruel regime of the 1990s or for fear of reprisals against collaborators of the former government or foreign forces.
– ‘Like his mother’ –
It was only last week that Sohail’s family was able to track him down in Kabul, helped by social media and the police.
The boy was entrusted to his grandfather, heartbreaking separations for the Safi couple and their three daughters.
“I felt responsible for him like his mother,” says Fatimah Safi, 27. “He used to wake up often at night (…) Now, when I wake up at night, he is not there and that makes me cry”.
“I am a mother. I understand that he will not always be with us and that he needs his parents,” she continues.
Her husband admits that returning the baby was “very difficult”.
Sohail’s grandfather, Mirza Mohammad Qasemi, on Sunday invited the Safi family to his Kabul home to spend some time with the child.
“They took care of him for five months and were very attached to him,” he told AFP, adding that the Safi were initially reluctant to return the baby.
Mr Qasemi, who had also been looking for his grandson, now said he was excited that Sohail could join his parents in the United States. They have contacted the American authorities, but the process could be long.
“It was difficult for my daughter. She was crying and not eating anything,” said the old man, wiping away his tears and watching Sohail sleep on Fatimah’s thighs.
Until Sohail joins his parents, his aunt will take care of him.
On the phone Sunday, his father did not hide his joy: “we were in a sad state for the past five months (…) But when we found our baby, we were happy that God had given us our child back”.