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Afghan Interpreter Arrives In U.S.: 'I'm Trying To Have A Better Life'

Zamzama Safi worked as an interpreter for the U.S military forces in Kabul and escaped the city when it first collapsed.

The 25-year-old left for St. Louis, Missouri, on Aug. 15 with the help of Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver.

“When our plane left the ground from Kabul I was so happy and I was crying a lot because I was suffering over there,” Safi says. “It was very hard as a female, as a woman in Afghanistan, this job is very hard.”

The situation in Afghanistan’s main airport in Kabul remains tense. Tens of thousands of people are desperately waiting to be evacuated from the country before the U.S military is scheduled to be pulled out in just eight days.

The rest of Safi’s family in Afghanistan is in danger and hiding in the country, she says, but they received visas that she hopes will help them travel to the United States.

She recalls wanting to leave Afghanistan since 2012 after a tragedy occured. Her father supported the U.S. Marine Corps in Jalalabad as an Afghan colonel during the early 2010s, she says. The Taliban began to follow Safi and her brother while they were at school, she says.

“They kidnapped me in 2011 and they kept me for three nights over there,” Safi says. “They tortured me, they raped me very badly and I was begging them to let me go home.”

The Taliban insisted she could only reunite with her family if she agreed to marry one of them — and she accepted the agreement because if not they would kill her, she says. The men told her she would have to wear a burqa to get her back to her parents, she says.

“Then they brought a Quran for me to say … ‘I swear that I will come back and I will marry you.’ ” Safi says. “I said ‘I swear I will come back and I’m going to get married with you’ but in my head I will say no.”

Once she was reunited with her family, she says there were negotiations between the elders of the village, her father and the government on whether she would have to go through with the agreement.

The elders in the village decided they would not force her into a marriage because she was facing pressure from the Taliban, Safi says.

Her brother faces the greatest risk of being killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan, she says, because they’ve asked him various times to return her to them after her kidnapping.

The Taliban has promised amnesty for people who fought and worked against them in the past. But Safi says the Taliban never keeps promises.

Safi feels happy living and trying to build a better life in St. Louis. She wants to receive an education, she says, and pursue a master degree that will help her start working in the U.S.

“There [are] a lot of differences between the United States and Afghanistan because the United States is very peaceful, very safe,” Safi says, “and everybody has the same rights, which we didn’t have in Afghanistan.”


Lynn Menegon produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Camila Beiner adapted this interview for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

People disembark off a Royal Air Force military transport aircraft carrying evacuees from Afghanistan and arriving at Al-Maktoum International Airport in the United Arab Emirates on August 19, 2021. (Giuseppe Cacace/AFP via Getty Images)
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People disembark off a Royal Air Force military transport aircraft carrying evacuees from Afghanistan and arriving at Al-Maktoum International Airport in the United Arab Emirates on August 19, 2021. (Giuseppe Cacace/AFP via Getty Images)