Tales from the Departure Lounge

#34 Wali & Wahab Yasini (The Great Escape)

March 17, 2024 Andy Plant & Nick Cuthbert Season 3 Episode 34
Tales from the Departure Lounge
#34 Wali & Wahab Yasini (The Great Escape)
Show Notes Transcript

Wali and Wahab are two brothers studying in the UK having escaped Afghanistan after their mother was brutally murdered by the Taliban. Targeted because she was one of the first female judges in the country who had been trained by the International Bar Association, they too were at risk. Amid the chaos of withdrawal of US troops, a group of lawyers led by Baroness Kennedy, managed to charter a series of evacuation flights to rescue more female judges and their families. This is the story of their escape and a modern day Schindler's List

The boys talk to the TFTDL crew about never giving up, a Hollywood script, gratitude and Lamborghinis - and their incredible mother Judge Qadria Yasini. 

Final boarding call: Athens, Greece

Not to be missed! This inspirational student story is brought to you in partnership with The Ambassador Platform, a leading peer-to-peer marketing and recruitment platform that connects your current students to prospective students for honest advice. Check out www.theambassadorplatform.com 

Tales from the Departure Lounge is a Type Nine production for The PIE www.thepienews.com

Andy:

Any questions before we start?

Nick:

explain how it happens.

Andy:

you know, we'll, we'll talk, we'll just chat.

Nick:

Welcome to Tales from the Departure Lounge. This is a podcast about travel for business, for pleasure, or for study. My name's Nick and I'm joined by my co-pilot, Andy. And together we're gonna be talking to some amazing guests about how travel has transformed their. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the journey. Welcome to the podcast.

Andy:

Today on the show we're joined by two students, Wahab and Wali from Afghanistan.

Nick:

Yeah, more than just students, two brothers.

Andy:

And they are studying civil engineering and medicine at the University of Central Lancashire.?

Nick:

Our audience will. Recall the chaos that was happening at the airports across Afghanistan as the U. S. withdrew and people scrambled to try and find a way out. I heard about their story, their mother was one of the first female Supreme Court judges in Afghanistan. And sadly, she was attacked and killed by the Taliban. They targeted her in her car and she was shot five times, And she was actually carrying a note from her sons at the time, she'd been carrying this around and it was actually pierced by the bullets. And this really is the story of her two sons. they escaped on an evacuation flight arranged by Baroness Kennedy, who had raised over a million pounds to charter flights and save these female judges and their families. because they had been trained by the International Bar Association.

Andy:

It's just an amazing story really turbulent times within a country and the international community responding to that,

Nick:

This is the story of their escape.

Andy:

and then it's about what happened after that with these two brothers sticking together. They wanted to find a way to continue their studies.

Nick:

credit goes here to, to Kaplan who gave them scholarships to come and study in the UK

Andy:

It comes across how incredibly grateful they are for the opportunities they've been given.

Nick:

They are acutely aware of how lucky and how privileged they are to have been saved in many ways, and they want to repay that faith

Andy:

The story itself is phenomenal, they had to don disguises, hire transport, bribe people to get out of the country, it really is a Hollywood script. This is a story of brotherhood, overcoming tragedy, learning values from our parents that carry us through, and most importantly, about always having hope. Let's get some tales from the departure lounge from Wally and Wahab.

Wahab:

When the U. S. declared that they were going to leave the country. That gave a lot of the people this false hope that if they rush to the airport, they might get a chance to escape because the Taliban was coming which created a massive chaos

Wali:

they found her, they, they targeted her. they found exactly where she lives, which route she takes,

Wahab:

the most important, lesson that she taught us is to never give up, she was amazing,

Wali:

it was very risky. They told us to keep our phones shut. Don't let anyone know where our location is we did it. we, worked, our way out of that situation. We are here in the UK. I mean, now looking back, I enjoy talking about this because some people might be going through the same situation. I want them to know that, it's never too late. don't give up, and never lose your hope.

Nick:

So before we get into the episode, a quick word about our latest sponsor. Most of our listeners spend a lot of time traveling the world, staying in hotels or apartments, often where they haven't stayed before. I don't know about you, but whenever I'm choosing a hotel, I like to check out online reviews, or even better, ask friends or colleagues for recommendations. International students face the same uncertainty with their study choices, but the investment that they're making is much greater than the price of a hotel room. They'll be investing in that study destination for years. This is where the Ambassador Platform helps your prospective students. It links them up with your current students to receive honest, personalized advice and to answer any questions that they have. This is a direct and trusted source of information. It provides instant reassurance for students and improved conversion for your university. And it's not just messaging. Your ambassadors can generate their own content and videos to share, showing prospective students from anywhere on the planet what life is really like at your institution. And it gives them confidence and reassurance about their decisions. we're really excited to have teamed up with the Ambassador Platform to bring you some tales from the Departure Lounge with real students and graduates, to show you how powerful the student voice can be. So to find out more about this highly impactful peer to peer platform, or to book a demo with one of the friendly TAP team, please visit the link in the episode notes or go to the ambassadorplatform. com.

now let's get on with the episode

Andy:

Welcome to the podcast guys. It's great to have you on.

Wali:

Thank you for having us. It's a pleasure being with you guys.

Wahab:

It's a great opportunity to share our story.

Nick:

think we need to do names, Andy.

Andy:

okay.

Nick:

because it's the first time we've had two guests on the show.

Andy:

So, uh, you go by Wally and Wahab. Is that right?

Wahab:

Yeah, I think Wally you go first and then I'll go after

Wali:

Okay.

Nick:

and I'm interested, who's the older brother?

Wahab:

it's me

Wali:

Oh, I wanted to leave it for him to guess, but, uh, usually people think I am older than my brother for some reason, but yeah, he's older than me.

Andy:

do you think you're older because of looks or because of the way you act?

Wali:

I don't know, maybe sometimes I'm, the one who's talking too much. So it kind of gives them the idea.

Andy:

I'm on a podcast, so I must talk too much. so the first question we always ask our guests is our final boarding call. If you could take our listeners anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

Wali:

Wahab, do you have any place in mind

Wahab:

Well, I think for me, one of the most amazing places that we have been to apart from Afghanistan, of course, was, the first few months when we went to Greece, Athens is such a beautiful city. And the historical places are just amazing It was quite an interesting transition from Afghanistan as well. It was the first time that we came to Europe and it was very fascinating the people are very friendly. In every instances, they tried to help us. And some of the locals that were living in the area were very social,

Andy:

how did you arrive in Athens? Was it by a plane? Did you come through an airport?

Wali:

When we left Afghanistan, it was a temporary, state for us because we came on an evacuation plane with a group of, women judges on their families. The Greek government actually, accepted that, and let us stay there. And, it was a very kind thing for them because Greece is already having a lot of immigrants and a lot of refugees. It's a difficult situation for them but they still, allowed about 500, people, who came on two planes that arrived in Athens. And, we stayed in,, in hotels for that time. some of the families left to their final destination much earlier than us. But we, from the very beginning, we kept saying, is there any chance for us to continue our studies? We have good grades. We have, we had been studying very hard back in Afghanistan. we can speak English. We waited for much longer than other families. Then eventually Kaplan in London, they gave us a scholarship that we can study our foundation here that will help us to proceed into university in the UK, which really was a great news for us. We both became so happy after hearing it.

Nick:

Can I ask were when you left Afghanistan?

Wali:

I was 17,

Wahab:

you were underage'cause there was some complications with the visas as well. But for me, I had to go through a different, set of processes because I was, over 18.

Andy:

You mentioned that culture shock between Afghanistan and Greece and then the UK. What were the major things that you noticed

Wahab:

In Afghanistan, probably there's a lot of restriction towards women, but in Greece, there was more freedom towards women. And also in Afghanistan, basically everything was cash based. When we went to the Greece, a lot of the places preferred even the card. So we had to adapt to a new system of monetary funding. There was an interesting part when we came to the UK. First, we came to the Chelsea. And, Chelsea is actually a very rich area. So when we first came, we thought, wow! no wonder UK is way ahead than any other European country. I remember when we first came to the Chelsea, there was a Lamborghini, I think with a plate number one, which belongs to a Saudi prince or something. So we were shocked that that area was so expensive. But then we realized that, of course, London is such a diverse city. There was so many mosques all around the city, there was a wide community for basically any cultural background making our transition way easier.

Nick:

I think the East London Mosque is one of the biggest in the country, if not Europe.

Andy:

a mosque is probably a better place to start a conversation than the tube, the underground. If you start a conversation on the tube, everyone thinks you're a total weirdo, so

Wahab:

Yeah. Over time we learned, especially some of our British friends said that, Oh, you better not. Don't talk too much in the tube, otherwise people will think that, okay, what's going

Nick:

we all drive Lamborghinis.

Wahab:

True. When I first came to the Chelsea, that was my thinking. Okay, everyone here has Lamborghini.

Nick:

and a small dog that you keep in your handbag.

Wahab:

Sure.

Nick:

I think for context, we do need to go backwards a little bit. I wondered if you could talk a little bit about your mother and pay tribute to her work. She was one of the first female judges in Afghanistan, if I'm right. tell us a little bit about her.

Wali:

Well, my mother, uh, judge Qadria Yassini was one of the female Afghan women judges in the country. she worked for, several years, before the civil war where a lot of, people who work for the government had to leave And after that, when the Americans came to the, to Afghanistan, she was working during both of the periods and, uh, she published books. She has a very, interesting book called The Explanation of Inheritance According to the Islamic Laws. Me and Wahab were thinking of translating that into English, She loved her work. She loved to spend time studying. She did her master's degree. She was planning to do PhD. She was planning to continue as much as she can. and, always was very enthusiastic. I was taught us about, you have to work hard because I think the main reason why she was very interested in education, because she came, through a. Through stages in her life where she had to come out as a strong person and she did that through education and in a country like Afghanistan, for a female to stand out. You have to be a very, very, talented so she had to go through exams. and even if there was a tiny chance for someone, she would have to work very hard to get that opportunity. There was a French school that was only accepting a few number of students and the French government sponsored, education for those students in the country and give it was giving them very good education. She wanted to go there, but she had to pass a very difficult exam. She did that. She got into the school. That was the moment she realized that if you want to get into higher. positions, good opportunities. You have to be a very hardworking person. And she did the same thing when getting into the law school. If you want to really get something, you have to work very hard. And that's what she left for us. I mean, if there is the pass mark for something when it comes to my university exams and other students are saying, Oh, the past Marcus is 40. So we don't have to work very hard. For me, it's like I have to get. above 90. That's, that's my, goal. And I got this idea from the things that I learned from my mother. She really stood out with that sort of a mindset because she was one of the most influential judges in the country being in a situation where your life is in danger every single day. Being a woman judge a risk which you have to take every single day. And, she did it. She worked hard. She was happy. She enjoyed it. even though she knew that there is a danger, there's a risk of being attacked, being targeted, the judges kept on receiving threats. Every single day in their life. I remember my mother she was offered a gun, because they had in the recent months before the country collapsed, the government was getting a lot of threats. So they offered these women judges a gun to carry with them. And my mother said, even if I have a gun, I don't think I will be able to use it. I didn't get myself involved in things that would, hurt anyone. she was more like a scholar. But still being a woman judge is itself a risk. They found her, they, they targeted her. they found exactly where she lives, which route she takes, even though the driver was supposed to take different routes. tHey somehow had, some knowledge that they found out that she's going from this location to this location. There was one car for two judges. And, um,, they knew that. this car will arrive in this time at this destination, pick the second judge and then we can attempt our, our, our attack. So it was very, very tragic. I mean, right now, thinking about it brings me all the, all the bad memories I have. Even though, um, uh, I lost her, I still have her teachings and her, memories, which will always stay alive with me. And I think if I become a good doctor, she would be very proud of me. So we'll keep it, uh, by God.

Wahab:

the most important, lesson that she taught us is to never give up, to always strive for what's best and, uh, we will try our best to keep her proud because she was amazing, both academic wise, and, uh, as a mother, she was amazing. When we actually lost her, then we realized it all. Life can be a lot harder, and there is a lot of complications that she was going through, but all this time she kept silence, so that we don't get worried, took all the pressure on herself, and, tried to bring something better in our life,

Nick:

she sounds like an incredible woman, a real pioneer in her field and an incredible mother as well. And it's such a special tribute listening to you talk I think people who champion change, the legacy lives on. Their work influences other people who then. Influence other people and the change lives on. It's more than just one person. Yes, you are her sons and you're going to carry this forward. But it sounds like your mother literally changed the country. She changed the ideas. To be a female figure in that role is history and will live forever.

Wali:

That's very true. It's not just the things that she has left. It's not just for me and my brother as her sons. As you said, this is an inspiration for all the women in the country. When the country collapsed, when we lost our mother, that was the point where we felt like Everything is done. We were very scared it brought us a lot of, trauma at that time, um, in, in, in, in a moment where you feel like every chance, every opportunity has gone a bit of hope can move you forward. And we had that hope. Our mother told us, that we must always be hopeful. We did it. we, worked, our way out of that situation. We are here in the UK. I mean, now looking back, I enjoy talking about this because some people might be going through the same situation. I want them to know that,, don't give up, and never lose your hope. You will find a way through it.

Andy:

We remember the, pictures. August 2021, I think. pictures from Afghanistan of people trying to literally climb onto the outsides of planes, as, the U S and other nations withdrew. could maybe explain what it was like for you personally on the ground at that point and how you eventually did, manage to get evacuated.

Wahab:

when the U. S. declared that they were going to leave the country. I think there was a rumors that spread. that some of the U. S. Soldiers are not checking for any passport or anything because they are in a hurry and they will take anyone and that gave a lot of the people this false hope that if they rush to the airport, they might get a chance to escape because the Taliban was coming from the other side, which created a massive chaos around the airport. thousands of people rushed towards the airport for a chance to escape, and that made the whole situation very difficult. sO we stayed and the organization basically told us to keep it low, do not go outside, do not interact with anyone. And at that time the Taliban took over the Afghanistan., we were, waiting for a call and Wali, received a call from the organization. There was another flight, but they tried a different strategy So instead of using the Kabul airport, they asked us to go to another province. It was a bit farther away from the capital, about 10 hours of driving. and in order for the Taliban to not recognize us, We all wore this traditional clothes and, every one of us was instructed that if they stopped us, that we would say we are going to a wedding, party. In Afghanistan, because the families are very big. Like cousins and uncles and stuff. Usually when they go for a wedding They just get a big bus and basically like hundred people Get on it and then go from one province to another and the weddings are actually very big So it was a setup for us to go from the capital toward the other province. We got the airport and we came to the Greece. It was quite scary, but a journey to remember.

Wali:

We did face it two times. A Talib soldier stopped the car and, one of them came into, into the bus and checked, the people in there were children and women. So that gave them an idea that there are families in there, so they're probably going for a family visit or something. So they let us go, but still everyone was in shock because first time we encountered that, we're like, Oh my God, what if the next stop that we face, they will actually find out about who we are because it was all judges. it was one bus, all the people that they would have targeted. So it was very risky. They told us to keep our phones shut. Don't let anyone know where our location is. Um, but we got, to the Mazar Sha, which is a northern province of Afghanistan. In the middle of the night, we stayed, in a. safe house for one night. And in the morning we took the flight, and left the country. and, and in the airport was again all the Taliban soldiers who actually guarded the airport. But, uh, those soldiers, they were given money to help us, They were bribed, they were given probably a lot of money to stay silent and let these number of people get into the plane and leave, which worked out fine. Thinking about it, it's like movies., but movies in real life, which is much more horrifying

Nick:

Yeah. I think there's going to be a Hollywood film about you two. We can barely imagine what you went through.

Andy:

The next section of the podcast is called any laptops liquids or sharp objects And this is where you can offer out some advice to other students, international students perhaps,

Wahab:

I think the advice that I can give for international student is to stay away from isolation. Try to be as social as they can be, because a lot of the times the students they don't have much communication. They are alone on their own so just go out and try to talk. Trust me, no one is, judging you, everyone is going through the same thing.

Nick:

it's such good advice.

Wahab:

Doesn't matter how much you're good at studies. Socializing is just as important as let's say eating Because, it's a necessity in one's life, and humans are social creatures.

Andy:

isolation is uh, is torture, isn't it? Genuinely used as torture. I think we're supposed to have our brains connected all the time with other humans

Nick:

on this section, I'm interested, when you took that evacuation flight and you landed in Greece, what possessions did you have with you? I'm assuming you had very little

Wahab:

They were evacuating a lot of the families. And so they told us to Keep everything at minimum. They were going to give us everything when we reached to Greece So I think on the first night we only had two clothes and no pajamas or anything

Wali:

they sent us an email that we should only have one backpack, each per person. But some families still brought a suitcase, which, they had to leave in the airport. they kept on saying, we cannot, we do need some clothes. we have children with us, we have women. we cannot just go with a backpack. but these planes, they don't have space for your suitcases, so you have to leave it. The organization was very quick to provide us with, clothes they gave us, instantly some money to, if we need to go to the supermarket, we can buy some food from there. They helped us quite a lot. I don't know how much the organization had funding for this evacuation to take place, but they helped us through every bit of it

Nick:

it's an incredible story that people moved to get these charter flights to raise the money to support the families. What I love about this is there's always one person at any airport, even an evacuation flight, who's over packed, who's got the big bag, who's packed too much. You're lucky Andy wasn't there because he packs orange juice, tennis balls, uh, radio.

Wahab:

Well,

Wali:

Well, but that

Wahab:

he would have left all of them

Wali:

Talib soldiers who were guarding the airport, they probably felt very happy for that, because they had all the suitcases they could open.

Wahab:

Oh

Andy:

They're very well dressed now.

Wali:

Yeah.

Andy:

The next section of the podcast is called, uh, what's the purpose of your visit? And this is a section where you can tell us what you're studying, perhaps a moment that transformed you as well in your lives.

Wali:

Well, me and my brother, came to the UK mainly to continue our studies to, get our, uh, bachelor's degrees. I have always loved to become a doctor. Because, um, my father. a, ophthalmologist. And throughout my life, I have always come across the impact that a doctor has on society, the difference that healthcare workers Brought into little villages or little communities. It was beautiful to see people loved it. I want to become a doctor so that I can serve a community in the same way. Before leaving the country, I was studying very hard to. pass that exam, which gets you into the main medical school in the country in Kabul. I was working very hard for that. Then the country collapsed, I was like, oh my God, my dream has crashed. I'm not becoming a doctor. I spoke to this, friend of mine who actually is, a doctor here in the UK, it was an Afghan. He told me he had to study outside of the UK. to practice as a doctor here. Because the medical schools here were, very difficult to get in. But I was still having hope. I made sure I have A's on my A level topics. I did work experience in, Queen Victoria Hospital with a group of doctors with Professor Jack DeHonda, who gave me these opportunities to, to get some experience. and, it worked out. I got into medical school, and I'm very proud of that.

Nick:

Hang on, I've heard this from Kaplan. Okay. I love how determined you are you've never given up. This is your dream to be a doctor. And as you say, it's actually very selective to, to get into medical school in the UK. So it was quite difficult for Kaplan to find the pathway for you to continue this dream.

Wali:

Uh, this is very interesting because, in the beginning, Kaplan, put me in a program for biomedicine because they said, the chances are very low that you get into medical school straight from coming from Afghanistan. I said, I'm going to, even if it's competitive, hopefully things will work out. What happened is that me and my brother we learned to sometimes take risks for example, leaving the country. That taught me to take risks. So when I came here, I had this mindset, even if it's difficult, why shouldn't I be able to do it?

Nick:

Yeah, Never give up.

Wahab:

For me, when the country collapsed I was at that time studying in university and when the Taliban took over the, basically I didn't have any way of continuing my studies. Everything seemed lost. But then, I got the chance to come to the Kaplan to continue my studies. My, our mother always told us Follow the path of education and it will lead you to somewhere good. I decided to study civil engineering cause I always loved, this, major. And it's also one of the most, beneficial majors in Afghanistan, a lot of projects. and constructions need. There's room for improving the country. So I thought, this is going to be my path. Perhaps in the future helping back my country and also giving back, to the people of UK for all their supports. I have to be good enough to Pay for everything that they have done for me I'm very grateful and I hope that one day I can, do something in return.

Andy:

THe last section of the podcast is called Anything to Declare, and this is a free space for you to talk about whatever you'd like to.

Wali:

No matter what circumstances we come from, if we come from a poor background, whether we come from a country like us, a war zone country, there is always a chance for us to make a difference in the world. ThE reason why we're willing to always speak out and tell the story is because it is very inspirational. it is an inspirational story to anyone who's going through a tough time. my mother she didn't come from a very rich family. She came, from a normal family, didn't have that much opportunities, but she brought in a big difference to the country. She became an impactful woman in the entire Afghanistan. And we can always have a big impact in the world and reach the dreams that we have. So, never give up stay always motivated, uh, certain situations in our life that we felt hopeless, but we made it, we went through it, that was what brought us this courage to always be hardworking, gave us the strength that we have today to keep up with our studies, that's how we will become very impactful.

Wahab:

You can be a good role model for your future generations and also you can live up to the expectations from the family, from the society and taking everything with a positive heart.

Nick:

I wonder if you could just also describe this journey as brothers. The fact that you've had each other, through this time, and what that's meant.

Wali:

I think it would have been very difficult. I mean, I cannot imagine going through all of this without my brother, honestly. Maybe this is because I'm the younger brother and I feel a support, a protection. Knowing that I have an older brother who is wise, who is smart enough to always give me good advice. After losing my mother, my brother has always been the one person I would seek if I need advice and things that I, that come through in my life. I think this bond that we have between each other is what makes us. Keep going. And makes us strong. The main reason we're studying the same universities, because, I picked this university for medicine. And I got in and my brother, he received scholarships from several universities. He came to the same university that I'm studying because we wanted to live together. He could have, chosen any other university. He got A stars, in his A levels. and that would get him into any civil engineering university. But he chose to study with me.

Wahab:

A lot of our, problems that, we overcame, It was because we had each other, there was, situations where we were doing the the wrong decision and the other one, guided us. So basically it was, uh, this journey wouldn't have been, like this if I didn't have the support of my brother. People might think it's Odd or something that two brothers would call in the middle of the night to discuss about a scientific Topic but we actually do for some nights we call and then we talk for like an hour it's a way of us keeping in touch and also to check on each other at such a young age we were vulnerable. And so it was the best thing that we had each other through everything.,

Andy:

awesome. thank you so much for coming on and talking to us. It's been really fascinating and inspiring to hear your story.

Wahab:

It was a great pleasure for us to share this time and talking with you too. Amazing, uh, podcast creators. Is that what the word is? Influencer.

Andy:

ha!

Nick:

ha.

Andy:

Yeah.

Nick:

Guys, it was brilliant. Thank you so much for being so honest and, sharing your hopes and dreams as well, good luck with everything. I can't wait to just keep in top of this story of your lives. I think you two are going to do amazing

Andy:

Yeah. Me too.

Wali:

Thank you so much. Thanks for believing.

Nick:

Just remember us as your

Andy:

Yeah. you need to write in the scene where you do the podcast. that's what you need. Yeah.

Wali:

definitely

Wahab:

we will recruit you for that scene

Nick:

Hello everyone. Thank you so much for listening. As always I want to say a massive thank you to the ambassador platform for making us focus on these incredible students and graduates and telling their stories. I hope you're enjoying this series.

We have a new social media campaign. People are sending us their travel pictures and we're putting them all up online. Or you can send them to as sick bag tales from the departure lounge.com.

Nick:

Uh, it's really good to be back. and Andy's made a jingle to celebrate. Safe travels.

Andy:

Welcome back, welcome back. Hi mum. Yeah, my wife, thanks, good to be home. Nah, jet lag's okay actually, just a bit tired. Oh, don't kiss me in public. What's for tea anyway?

Nick:

Tales from the Departure Lounge is a type nine production for the pie.