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Before Afghanistan reverted to Taliban control in August 2021, Khalid Payenda was Afghanistan’s finance minister, responsible for a $6 billion USD budget – money that the war-torn country depended on to survive. Today, Payenda drives for Uber, ferrying passengers around northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. He also co-teaches a course at Georgetown University, but that income isn't nearly enough to pay the bills. Since 2015, he and his family had split their time between Kabul and their home in the Virginia suburbs, but Payenda never imagined a future living in America.
“I only had one country, and it was Afghanistan,” he told The Washington Post in a fascinating interview conducted during one of his Uber shifts, during which he earned $150 over six hours.
From Kabul to Woodbridge:
- The war in Afghanistan has cost thousands of lives and trillions of dollars over 20 years. When U.S. forces departed, there were two weeks of airlifts out of the country, all desperately fleeing the Taliban takeover.
- Payenda blames his fellow Afghans for the debacle. “We didn’t have the collective will to reform, to be serious,” he said. However, he also thinks that the United States shares the blame for handing the country to the Taliban.
- Despite his drastic change in circumstance, Payenda is thankful for his Uber job, which helps him provide for his wife and four children, aged 2 to 15, after their savings ran out. “I feel incredibly grateful for it,” said the 40-year-old. “It means I don’t have to be desperate.”