Twelve-year-old Kabir Hekmati admits he was a little relieved to find Austin a relatively normal place upon his family’s arrival to their new home in October 2017.
The Afghanistan native and his family had a layover in Dubai on their way to America. Dubai looked futuristic, according to Kabir, and it overwhelmed the boys with its riches and technology. If this is what Dubai looks like, Kabir thought, how fancy and disorienting will America be? Turns out, not too intimidating.
The early days were tough, as one would expect, but the charming Kabir and his brothers, the joyful Komel, 9, and the cool Kamal, 14, adapted surprisingly fast. Soccer has a way of springing over simple language barriers.
The boys, their parents and baby sister, Mehr, now 3, fled Afghanistan in 2017 after the work of their father, Ahmad Kambiz Hekmati, for foreign aid organizations connected to the U.S. government brought threats and intimidation from the Taliban.
The Hekmati family is part of the Statesman's Season for Caring program, which helps hundreds of families each year through local nonprofit agencies. This year, the community has donated a little more than $100,000 to the 21st Season for Caring, which launched Sunday. Donations still are being matched by the Sheth family through Dec. 14.
The Hekmati family was nominated by Interfaith Action of Central Texas, which has called the dedicated Hekmatis a model for newly resettled refugees.
As Kabir snacks on a pizza lunch he prepared for himself and Mehr climbs around on the couch jabbering along with cartoons in her American accent, it’s hard to believe the children have only been in Austin for two years.
Ahmad Kambiz Hekmati, who is looking for work in accounting while working a corporate security job in the evening, admits he and his wife, Maria, were surprised by how easily the boys adapted to life in America, making friends in their school and extended immigrant community. Not long after arriving, the boys were teaching their friends basic phrases in their native Dari language while picking up a few words in Spanish.
"My advice always to the kids is to be a hard worker and smart worker, to be honest and to be loyal," he said.
As is often the case with oldest children, Kamal has taken to serious things, deciding a year ago that he eventually wants to become a doctor. He put aside the clarinet and guitar a year ago as he entered Eastside Memorial High School, but music stayed in the family. Supported by a selective mentor program at Interfaith Action of Central Texas, Kabir started ukulele lessons and wants to expand his repertoire to include the guitar.
Not to be left behind, Komel, who on one visit sported an Austin school district T-shirt proclaiming "All Are Welcome," recently starting playing the ukulele as well.
The boys go fishing with their father on the weekends, but otherwise their time with him is limited. Their mother uses the family’s sole car to attend English and high school equivalency classes in the daytime, and their father leaves soon after she gets home midday to go work until late at night. The brothers hope their father can soon find daytime work in the accounting world, so that they can spend their evenings together as a family.
"Family is very important to us," Ahmad Kambiz Hekmati said.
The family has received very little on their wish list. The biggest need is a better job for Ahmad Kambiz Hekmati. They also need sheets and comforters for the bunk beds their children share; kitchen items, including a blender, pots and pans; a dining room table and chairs; laptops or iPads for the children’s studies; a gently used car; ukuleles and a guitar for Kabir and Komel; and gift cards to H-E-B and Walmart.
To find out more about the Hekmati family, contact Interfaith Action of Central Texas at 512-386-9145, interfaithtexas.org.