Former Afghan journalist Zubair Babakarkhail has found a home in Pittsburgh. Photo by Justin Merriman.

Afghan journalist Zubair Babakarkhail has only been in Pittsburgh since November, but already he is picking up on the city’s friendliness.

With help from the publishers of Postindustrial magazine, Zubair and his family rented a house in Squirrel Hill, within walking distance of the Forbes Avenue shops and the Squirrel Hill Cafe (aka the Squirrel Cage).

“Every time we go, someone will ask us who we are,” Zubair says. “When we say we’re from Afghanistan, they will buy us a [beverage].”

Readers of Postindustrial have been following Zubair’s harrowing story of escape from Afghanistan since before it was safe to identify him by name, and they have been donating to a fund to help his family settle in here.

The effort was so successful that the publishers — Kim Palmiero and Carmen Gentile — have set up a fund to help other Afghan families: Team Zubair has raised $45,000 since November.

“What we’re trying to do is develop a very personal approach,” Palmiero says. “Zubair is intimately involved and leading this to identify specific families and help them in a way that is personal, but that does not duplicate what already is available. We want to help people feel part of the community, to do things to empower them and to make them feel more independent.”

Zubair, 40, had been working in Kabul as a journalist for Stars and Stripes, which is backed by the U.S. government. He has also reported for The Daily Telegraph, USA Today and The Christian Science Monitor.

When the Afghan government collapsed, Zubair attempted several times to bring his family to the Kabul airport, turning back one time after someone hit him in the face and blood poured from his nose and lip. Ultimately, he waded through a sewage canal, going back and forth to carry his wife and three children on his shoulders.

In September, when the U.S. government required Zubair and his family to stay at Fort McCoy, an Army facility in Wisconsin, he fell back on his trade and started telling stories. Since then, he has resumed his work as a journalist and translator. Because of his experiences, he brings an authentic Afghan perspective to his reporting about the war and its aftermath.

“It’s really important that Zubair gets to ply his trade here, not only to cover Afghan arrivals but to then go out and seek others from all over the world who had similar experiences,” Gentile says.

Postindustrial had hoped to raise $10,000 for Zubair, but quickly exceeded that amount and ended up with about $40,000. Palmiero says that has helped his family have “as soft a landing as possible.”

In the meantime, Zubair and his family are getting used to American life. His three children — two daughters, ages 6 and 10, and a son, 13 — are attending Pittsburgh Public Schools. Zubair has gotten his work authorization papers, a Social Security number and a bank account. Next, he’s hoping to purchase a car.

“Pittsburgh is like a very nice, small and quiet city, and the people are kind of laid back,” he says. “Everyone is welcoming.”

You may see some of Zubair’s recent reporting here, here and here.

Andrew Conte, founding director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park Universitywrites the On Media column at NEXTpittsburgh with support from The Heinz Endowments. You can find all of his columns here, and you may email him

Andrew Conte

Andrew Conte, founding director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University, writes the On Media column at NEXTpittsburgh with support from The Heinz Endowments.