Thousands of miles away from where 10-year-old Noman lives in Afghanistan, a cheery bedroom awaits him in the South Florida home of a relative who wants to offer him a better life.
The bed is neatly made with a sea-green comforter. A teddy bear with a tiny plaid scarf sits on top. All that is missing is Noman — whom Bahaudin Mujtaba has been trying to adopt for five years.
The adoption has taken on particular urgency in recent days as the Taliban swiftly returned to power in Afghanistan, leading to desperate attempts to escape the country as it descended into chaos.
Meanwhile, Noman — who loves soccer and dreams of becoming an engineer or a doctor — is unsure what his future holds.
“He’s very nervous about the situation in Afghanistan, as obviously every Afghan would be. So there’s a lot of uncertainty, a lot of fear,” Mujtaba told NBC News a couple hours after speaking with Noman on the phone as bullets flew within earshot of the boy. “And he’s at that age where he doesn’t want to miss school. Everything is shut down right now. And that’s what the fear he was expressing to me over the phone.”
Mujtaba said he is about “90 percent done” with the adoption process and is hoping that within the next week he will be able to secure a visa for Noman to come to America before the possibility slips away.
He fears the new regime in Afghanistan could mean he has to redo all his paperwork, prompting him to expedite Noman’s visa approval process to get him out — even if it means transferring him to a neighboring country first before he arrives in the United States.
Adoption from Afghanistan was already a challenging prospect: Only 41 Afghan children were adopted by U.S. families between 1999 and 2019, according to the U.S. State Department.
Much of the difficulties stem from stringent requirements on the part of the Afghan government, said Mary Beth King, executive director of the Frank Adoption Center in Wake Forest, North Carolina.
“It’s a combination of the fact that Afghanistan prefers adopting parents who are originally from Afghanistan who are practicing Muslims, and who meet the other kind of legal and personal qualities that the Afghan government has established for their children,” she said.
'I fell in love with his personality'
For Mujtaba, a professor, it’s a battle worth fighting. He and his wife had always planned to adopt. Five years ago, while on a trip to Afghanistan, where Mujtaba grew up, a relative called him and introduced him to Noman, who was then 5. The two are distant relatives: Mujtaba’s father’s cousin is married to Noman’s cousin. Noman’s mother had died of cancer.
“He was very energetic and very talkative, and I fell in love with his personality right then at the time,” Mujtaba said.
Noman has stayed with family members since his mother’s death, including his father, who is older and unable to care for him. But “we can be the parents that this little boy needs,” Mujtaba said.
Noman is excited to come to the United States, he added, and they are looking forward to doing activities they’ve dreamed of doing together for the past five years: flying kites, riding bikes, walking to school.
“It’s heart-wrenching, obviously, for me not to be able to give him a definitive date in terms of when he’ll come.”
“It’s heart-wrenching, obviously, for me not to be able to give him a definitive date in terms of when he’ll come,” Mujtaba said.
In the meantime, all Mujtaba can do is wait. The last time he saw Noman was on a visit to Afghanistan in 2019, before the pandemic hit. Noman has been understanding of the delays and is just as hopeful as he is that the adoption will go through soon, he said.
“We just keep saying that we’re looking at our options, and hopefully he’ll be home soon with Mom and Dad,” Mujtaba said.