As an Afghan interpreter, I sought refuge in the US. Family is everything to me—and I’m desperate to save mine
In this personal essay, an Afghan man living in the US shares his plight as his family flees Afghanistan.
I sacrificed for my family.
I grew up in Herat, Afghanistan, and spent the first six years of my life under the shadow of the Taliban regime. To this day, there are entire chunks of my education that are missing because of what the Taliban stole from me. So when the United States came to my country to help us, there was not a question in my mind: I had to volunteer and do something to build a better future for myself, my brother and my three sisters.
My brothers in arms became my family
I joined the United States Army, and then the United States Marine Corps as an interpreter. I served seven different infantry battalions for over two and half years, starting in Garmser District and pushing to Marjah, clearing the way. During the tough and grueling days, I gained brothers and a camaraderie I never knew existed. I saw countless friends shot, wounded, and even die for this cause, but we had a mission—to push the Taliban out of Afghanistan. I knew we were making a difference. I was on a continuous rotation with different Marines for a straight two and a half years with no break. My father was in the Afghan National Army, and I feel guilty for the double worry we caused my mother.
I came to the US and joined a beloved family
After my work with the U.S. military, I knew that staying in Afghanistan was no longer a safe option for me.
After a lengthy process of paperwork and hoops to jump through, I was granted an SIV visa. I came to the United States! I was greeted by the first Marines officer I had ever translated for, David Kinzler. He picked me up at Camp Dwyer in Afghanistan and four years later, he picked me up at Dulles Airport in Washington D.C. My brother in arms has become family.
I have lived with Dave and his family for the last seven years, and watched as their family has grown and my connection to Dave and Ashley, his wife, has only deepened. I call his wife my sister, his four children are my nieces and nephews, and I have thanked my lucky stars everyday for the amazing American family I have.
The author with his adopted family.
Coming from a very family-oriented culture, I sincerely think my success and happiness has been in part to being a member of this large and dynamic family. I have moved two times with them, and while I may be late to the game, I hope to someday—sooner rather than later—have a wife and family near the Kinzler clan. Their parents are my extra parents; Ashley's parents were even there as I became a United States citizen almost two years ago. As Ashley says, they are "my people." I am very blessed.
I am desperate to protect by family back in Afghanistan
I have visited my own parents, three sisters, and brother twice since immigrating to America seven years ago. Once in November of 2020, and then again in June/July of 2021. Dave and several other Marine buddies were extremely concerned about me coming home. I was not worried and made it home safely in time for my nephew's 10th birthday!
I never anticipated what was to come. I knew troops were pulling out of Afghanistan. I knew that it would cause a disturbance. I even accepted that the Taliban would unfortunately gain some footing in certain areas of the country. I absolutely, positively did not think the Taliban would ever take control of my city, Herat. It has been a devastating few weeks. I do not know where to start in conveying my feelings, but there is a wide range of them.
Initially I thought my parents and siblings surely must be safe. They were tucked away in the basement of the house. I became alarmed when the Taliban took control of the Heratian Prison, which is located maybe two blocks from my family home. When the internet started becoming more patchy, I became increasingly anxious. Then, it was as if everything just erupted. My parents' neighbor, who worked for the National Directorate of Security, was taken. Just up and gone.
My mind has been reeling. My father was a Colonel in the ANA [Afghan National Army], and what would keep the Taliban from going after him? My family is adamantly opposed to the Taliban and all that they stand for. My youngest sister is in Turkey at University. My other two sisters are college educated women. How do I help? How do I keep my family safe? What can I do?
I have gone through so many feelings: anger that the Taliban has taken control, profound sadness for the girls and women of Afghanistan, terror for not only my family but for the safety of all the people who have helped Americans or protested the Taliban, and doubt. Were all the fire fights, patrols, and IED explosions worth it? Did I make a difference at all? At this moment it feels like we are all back where we started. I don't blame Americans for pulling out after 20 years, and yet I am also ragingly upset and feel like this is a massive failure on the part of the United States. I'm not a political person; I can't even imagine the heaviness of this situation weighing on the shoulders of our leaders. I don't have a solution, I don't have a suggestion, I don't even know if I have hope right now.
Through spotty communication, a lot of friends' help and support, and some crazy logistics, I have helped get my family to Kabul. My parents finally consented that they know they are not safe as the Taliban continues to find and take people in Herat. The drive from Herat to Kabul is dangerous as it is littered with Taliban check points, not to mention unpaved roads. The overall journey is about 15 hours across the country. My family took a bus that left in the middle of the night, and as of yesterday, they successfully made it to Kabul. The question now is: what do they do in Kabul? They wait. Kabul is their only very, very remote chance of fleeing the country. They are not eligible for an SIV visa or a P1 or P2 evacuation. They did not directly help the Americans, so while they remain in danger, they also are waiting their turn. The Kabul airfield is being slammed, and the gates are overgrown with people desperate to get their children out. We have all seen the videos and pictures. It makes me cry for just so many reasons.
Humanity is one family
I don't know what I can do, but I can't be quiet. Please, do what you can, and act as if it were your family in danger, too. If you are a praying person, pray. If you are an activist, help activate any aide you can possibly think of. If you are able to donate or open up your home, please do so. There is a show called The United States of Al: it is about an interpreter and his life coming to America and living with his Marine family (much like Dave's and my story). Follow them on social media—they have so many resources they are linking and places you can donate. It all matters and makes a difference. Share, like, and send positive vibes.
While I am truly unsure if I will ever see my family again, I have to remind myself that during this entire hellish past few weeks, there is good. There is true kindness in the world. I have received more phone calls, emails, texts, and private messages than ever before. Every single one is cherished and appreciated from the bottom of my heart. I am now not only working on helping my own family, but any and all Afghans that we can get to safety. I welcome your words, wisdom, and support.
Thank you for reading the ramblings of an Afghan-American that is clinging to the prospects of humanity coming together to help save a nation. There is evil in this world, and I have spent my life fighting it, but there is still so much good.
Editor's update: Shortly after publication of this article, Wahid's family was able to board a flight to Qatar, where they are awaiting visas in hope of joining Wahid in the US. Contribute to their GoFundMe to help the family rebuild their lives here.