This page features excerpts from interviews with Afghan refugees who shared their experiences with us as part of the Oral History Project on Religion and Resettlement (OHPRR), which contains over 170 interviews with resettled refugees from the full range of ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Most Afghan narrators featured here are Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders, meaning they were employed by the U.S. Armed Forces as a translator or interpreter or by a contractor of the United States government overseas.
All paintings are by Wahid Omar, an Afghan refugee who resettled in the US after the Soviet Invasion in 1979.
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List of Narrators
- Narges Mohammad Mahdi
- Narrator: Narges moved to the US in 2012 as a high school student after facing religious persecution for being a Christian.
- Themes: Religious persecution, race, family, education, cultural adjustment, childhood
- Transcript: narges_mohammed_mahdi_transcript.pdf
- Hussain Mohammad
- Narrator: Hussain resettled in Northern Virginia in 2014 with his family with Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) for his service with the US Army.
- Themes: Employment, family, cultural adjustment, immigration process
- Transcript: hussain_mohammad_transcript.pdf
- Safeena Niazi
- Narrator: Safeena resettled in 2017 in Lowell, MA with her family as SIV holders after working with the US government for 13 years.
- Themes: Gender, education, employment, immigration process, entrepreneurship, family, pandemic, community engagement
- Transcript: safeena_niazi_transcript.pdf
- Sughra Bakhtairi
- Narrator: Sughra, born in Pakistan, worked with in the US Embassy in Kabul before resettling with her family in the US as SIV holders.
- Themes: Employment, gender, religion, discrimination
- Transcript: sughra_bakhtiari_transcript.pdf
- Ehsan Mirzad
- Narrator: Ehsan fled to Pakistan before resettling in the US with his family.
- Themes: Violence, immigration process, employment, community, gender, family
- Transcript: ehsan_mirzad_transcript.pdf
- Batol Khan
- Narrator: Batol worked for the World Bank and UN before resettling in the US in 2015 as SIV holders.
- Themes: Religious persecution, employment, gender, cultural adjustment, family, education
- Transcript: batol_khan_mohammed_transcript.pdf·
- Fardin Ghafoor
- Narrator: Fardin worked for the US government and in the US Embassy before resettling with his family in White Plains, NY in 2018 as SIV holders.
- Themes: Family, employment, cultural adjustment
- Transcript: fardin_ghafoor_transcript.pdf
- Mohammad Hashim Noori
- Narrator: Mohammad resettled in Louisville, KT with his family as SIV holders in March 2020 right before the COVID-19 shutdown.
- Themes: Pandemic, family, cultural adjustment, education, religion, community
- Transcript: mohammad_hashim_noori_transcript.pdf
Narges Mohammed Mahdi:
Interviewed on July 17, 2019
Narges’ family converted from Islam to Christianity and faced religious persecution. She arrived in the US in 2012 as a high school student. Her parents fled Afghanistan in 2016 and live in Turkey.
Narges: I remember the first time we had a church service at my parent's house because we had a huge basement. And so the local community decided that it was better to have church at our house, and my parents were like you know what it's risky and it's scary and it's dangerous, but that's what our faith calls us to do, to tell of the good news and to provide this space for other believers and Christians to come and have a place. And so my family was like we'll take that risk, and we'll open our house and our basement to other Afghans, who are trying to see if Christianity is for them, to come and see. And so I remember taking boards and nailing it to the windows and making it as dark as possible and as soundproof as possible so that sound doesn't travel outside, so that when there would be a group coming in to worship, it would not go outside. Because if it did, the slightest sound, the slightest noise would attract people and be like what is happening in your basement? What are you doing? Why is there boards on your basement window? And because the culture's very different, there's no sense of privacy in Afghanistan. [INDECIPHERABLE] where people can just walk into your house, anybody. Your neighbor, at any time could just literally walk into your house. It was very hard to keep that a secret, and so my parents had to be extra, extra, extra cautious of making sure that the neighbors weren't suspicious at what's going on. Why is there a group of 25-30 people coming every Sunday or every Friday night to our house? What is happening? And some of them were Afghans, and some of them were Americans, some of them were blond. And who are these people? Why are they coming to your house? But it's the risk they took, and it's something they wanted to and their faith called them to do.
Interviewer: Yeah, and what was that like for you growing up? Did you ever feel... I mean I'm sure you felt scared, but did you ever question why, or did you ever ask your parents or maybe be like why, why, what is the purpose of this? Or was it...
Narges: Yeah, so I, from very beginning asked my parents like why this happening. So my parents, and my Dad is really good at explaining things. He's very calm person, so he sat me down and sat my brother down. My two younger sisters, they're way younger. So one couldn't talk, so she was safe. And the other one, she was four or five, so she was also very young.
Interviewer: And how old were you?
Narges: At the time when we had this talk, I was 13. And so I remember my brother and I sitting down with my dad and him explaining, not necessarily in a very simplified version of what would happen to us or what's going on or what the deal is, but very clearly saying hey if you do tell people that you're not Muslim, they're going to arrest you. They're going to put you in jail, and they're going to kill you. So as a 13 year old--and my brother is 2 years younger than me--and as an 11 year old, I still remember being like what. What do you mean they're gonna do that? Why are they not arresting other people? Because we do have a very small population of Hindus in the country in Afghanistan, and we used to have a very small population of Jews in Afghanistan, back in the days. But my parents explained because they used to be Muslims, then they converted, that's the real issue there. And so growing up, I was always confused, but I knew that it was... I had to understand, and I couldn't question. And more than that, I think it was just sad to see that I couldn't be myself, and I couldn't practice what I believed, and couldn't share with my peers and people that I grew up around in my neighborhood, even my cousins or extended family, I couldn't say any of those things. So you had to always always continuously 24/7 hide that part of you. Because if you didn't, again you would get arrested, and you would die. So that was the hardest part I think, just continuously hiding that aspect, that big part of your life. And if people asked for example during Ramadan, if people asked are you fasting, you don't... my family was like you don't want to lie, be like yeah I'm fasting because you're not fasting, that's lying. But you also don't want to be like I'm not fasting because I'm Christian. Why would I fast? I'm not fasting during Ramadan. I don't observe this practice. So you would say well, what do you think? Are you fasting? Why is this important to you? So you learn methods and ways to avert the questions, but it definitely was hard, and it definitely was something like I don't understand what's happening, why this happening, but you had to. You just had to somewhat wrap your head around in order to survive.
Narges: My experience with church communities have been very positive because I think it's also that I come from a very different background, so for a lot of church communities, it's interesting to see oh what a privilege it is in this country to go to church every Sunday without any hesitation, right? So it's...for most of my church community members, it's always been a reminder for them to be grateful for the privileges that they have to be able to practice their religion every single day freely without that fear. And then also...and there's no many churches around. Every street corner there's a church, right? But also, to see how faith has driven one person or entire family throughout hard times, how it has guided them, both hope as well as just direct guidance for them.
Interviewer: Yeah, and do you feel like the idea of faith being able to guide you, that this applies to you as well or?
Narges: Yeah, when I came to the US in 2012, I was very scared because it was my first time getting out of the... leaving the country, and it was also my first time being away from family. And I had like... since my family wasn't coming with me, I was all alone. And it's not like going from Afghanistan to Pakistan where you know you can get on the train and go back home in two hours or three hours, right? It's a 36-hour flight. And who knows what might happen. It might fall in the ocean, right like, you have no idea. But it was all because I knew, and I had that reassurance both through my religious background and faith that if my family is not there, my God is there, you know? And so that was my reassurance, that if my parents are not there, my dad's not there to protect me, I have another father who's always there to protect me. So that was my backbone assurance that said doesn't matter, wherever you go, He will always be there for you.
Narges' full transcript: narges_mohammed_mahdi_transcript.pdf
Interviewed on June 13, 2019
A former translator for US Army in Afghanistan, Hussain worked for the US in various roles since he was 17. He resettled as a Special Immigrant Visa holder in 2014 with his family and works at USCCB in Washington, DC.
Hussain: Again I never knew that such a position, such a job-title like translator or an interpreter or cultural advisor even existed, but when I learned about it, when I heard that some of my other friends were already working for the U.S. and they're a translator, they're a cultural advisor, I got really encouraged. I said to myself that, I never thought about this, but such a position does exist. And of course at first I really liked the job and I wanted to improve my skills, my language skills and since I always liked to find a foreigner so that I could talk to and practice my English I was like, there can't be a better opportunity than this. So that's when I started working and I was offered this position and I applied of course. I had to obtain my parents' consent and say that, "ok here you go, they're okay with me"--since I was 17--"working for you." I started working at that time, I was getting paid, and, at the same time I was, in a way, I was also serving my country. Of course I was not in uniform, I didn’t enlist, but I was wearing uniform and in a way, I was serving my country, Afghanistan, almost like a regular soldier. Of course most of my assignments were in the field. Almost all--from 2005 all the way to 2014--I was assigned to infantry units and we were in the field. So, just like other soldiers, we were going out and we were helping with the security; we also did some reconstruction like projects, we built schools and hospitals. So when I was thinking about it, that was that was like a service, and it was always giving me a really good feeling that, not only I have my favorite job, I'm doing what I always wanted to do, but also I am helping with serving the country. I'm also helping the U.S. military personnel to build a very good relationship, partnership, with the Afghan security forces and at the same time, I was also helping this one person who was working for the USAID (U.S. international development agency) and we were helping, doing projects, constructing roads. At the same time, we were helping people, listening to people's needs. So every time that I was thinking about that, I always felt really good. I always felt grateful for having my favorite job, favorite thing that I always wanted to do, and at the same time helping people with building schools, doing projects, and helping with security. And that's the reason why I stayed for a very long time, I think.
Interviewer: Because you loved it? You felt proud?
Hussain: Yes. Exactly.
Hussain: I grew, you know, personally and professionally it was such an opportunity that I made a lot of people, that I had the privilege to work with a lot of people, different units and high-ranking military commanders and Afghan officials--it was such a privilege and opportunity. And one thing I always appreciate, I always appreciate the trust and the confidence that they had put on me with allowing me to speak on their behalf. For allowing me to translate for them. That always, I always appreciated that, because basically, between the U.S. and the Afghan--not just the officials but also the local people, like ordinary people--you communicate through your translator, you basically listen to what your translator tells you, and you tell your translators what you want to tell other people. So it takes, I think, like a lot of courage and trust to have someone doing that for you, and listening to him or her, and that this is what they are saying, this is what they are responding, you know.
Interviewer: Right, because you have no idea, if it's being done accurately.
Hussain: Because you don't speak the language. Right, so that, I really appreciated that and I really, I tried my best to work and to fulfill my responsibilities as best as I could and I always tried to make sure that I tried to keep that confidence and that trust very well. Just like they were helping me, and I was trying to help them as much as I could. But yeah, it was, I remember like the first unit that I was assigned to, was a unit that was out in the field and I think I started from the very bottom. I moved all the way up. And then as I spent more time and gained more experience then they assigned me with different units and I had the privilege to work with the high-ranking officers and gain experience and get to know people, learn more, and from them, from their experience, and share stories--I mean, it was amazing. And we all always, I think like, felt very comfortable and safe and we all working together and I think we all--like every unit I worked with--we all had great relationship, partnership, and just like friends, co-workers. Of course, we were, I was Afghan, I am Afghan, and they were Americans, but somehow we were very well-connected.
Hussain's full transcript: hussain_mohammad_transcript.pdf
Interviewed on July 2, 2020
Safeena worked with US government in Afghanistan from 2004-2017. She was resettled with her husband and two children as Special Immigrant Visa holders in 2017 in Lowell, MA.
[Working with US government] was amazing and always I had one idea in my mind: “Females cannot work in the higher positions.” One of my supervisor, he came in 2005, and he was always telling me, “no, the females can do any work you want.” And I was not accepting. It was not coming in my mind. Because of the culture or because the environment I don't know. But it was not coming in my mind. And then in 2007 I think, it just came in my mind, “No, females can do anything.” And that was the time when I had the opportunity. They had one position called office manager, and then that time, they asked me, “Safeena, can you do this work?” I was a quiet person. I was not talking to anyone, and then I say, “yeah, I can do that.” When I came to that position, I was in a probationary period. And I was quiet. I was not talking to anyone, so everyone was just like it's a big position, I don't know like over 200 people in that department. Office manager was kind of HR person, so everyone was very thinking “can I do this job?” Even I was thinking, “can I do this job?” And I remember one day we had a staff meeting, and in the office, their team had some question for the chief of our team, and I responded as an HR person, as an HR responsible, and from that day I feel I can do that job. They had some hard question asking, and I responded to that question. And from that time, the chief of our team, the director of operations, she was my supervisor, she was say “no, she can do it. She's quiet, but she knows where to response and where to be quiet.” So from that time, and then I moved to Kabul from 2008 I worked there as a retail office manager. And then, my career started as a supervision position until I was coming to the United States in 2017 with different structure. Like my last job I was not supervising anyone directly, but I was working to home office, our salaries, and our reporting everyone was from here, from Washington DC. But the projects I was responsible for, all the projects, HR departments, I was reviewing the policies, I was making the policies. If there was some cases like structure in human resources, I was doing that, creating the HR human resources system for Afghanistan. So that was, each day it was improving, and I was working on different... the only thing is like it came to my mind “I can do it.” Before I was thinking “I cannot do it,” and I was just doing my work. But after that, when it came to my mind, “No, female can do this work,” and I started, and then each day, there was new challenge. Each day there was new progress, and I was feeling happy until like in 2014, I, if you ask me for personal life, I didn't have anything. And then in 2014 when I got engaged, and after that I got engaged, and in few months I got married, and then in few months I had my child. So it was a kind of like then I started having a personal life as well. So that's one of the thing like when you go to one side, then you enjoy one side, and then you move to another side. So I can say Chemonics [her employer] is my first family. I grow up there. I got engaged. I got married. I had two children there
Safeena: Yeah. For example, understanding the culture. We have one family friend who was introduced through International Institute. My mother's instructor, she was helping us. I remember whenever I was telling them okay Martha, can you have a lunch with us? She was laughing, and she was saying you know what Safeena, I will have a lunch with you when I don't have this job. So, and she was very professional, and then there was a day when we were not client, when our time period was ended, and my mother couldn't... they couldn't teach the class and all those things. So she was the one that helped almost with everything. She was helping me with Thanksgiving day. She show us the culture, and she invited us there. And she had... she asked my father where I can find Halal turkey. My father helped to her, and then she cook it there, and she show us everything. Like stuffing, I learned from there. And then, New Year, Halloween, and still I receive a costume for my children from her. She bring a bag.
Safeena: And telling me okay select for your children. I select the costume for my children. They like it, I keep them. And the rest of the bag, she takes it back. So with my driving class, she is helping a lot on everything, even like... again I forget it, the eggs they have events
Interviewer: Oh, Easter?
Interviewer: Egg hunting.
Safeena: Yeah, that was amazing. She invited my children, and my sister children. We had like...we went to her house. It's around 45 minutes from here, from Lowell, We went there, and then we spent a time, and they collect the eggs. My children and my sister's children enjoy the time very much. So that's was like each understanding of the culture, she helped with us. Even like she show us the food, how you can process, how you can cook. She taught me salmon fish, how you can cook it in the oven. Her son-in-law cook it for us, when one time we went to their home. And then I ask like how you can cook it, and then she show us how we can cook it. And then she went with me to the market basket to buy that salmon, and then we cook together. And she was telling me like... she's amazing. So that's why I will say, if you know anything... if you don't know anything, ask for that. And if you ask, there are everyone ready for help. She's not the only one. She's like... now she's a family member to us. And whenever I had any question, I ask anyone. They are ready to help. And it's very amazing to be here and learn things to achieve your goals. When I was in Afghanistan, whenever I was going anywhere, someone was with me. It's not because... it's a culture, and also I was not that much okay to go alone somewhere. But now, I can drive anywhere, I can walk anywhere. From International Institute to my home, I walk alone. I drive everywhere. So that's very relaxing. It's not the only one thing that you can explain about. Everything. With your food, your culture food, you can find it here. No one is telling you why you are wearing scarf, why you wearing a long things, why you are not wearing...whatever you feel comfortable, that's good. And when I was in Afghanistan, one of my supervisor was telling me, “you know, Safeena, good thing about the United State, it's not telling you like you are from this country, you are from that country.” And there are some people who are from other country, they came to our country. We are saying that's my Indian brother or that's my... from this brother. To having that citizenship, and you are from that country. At that time, I didn't feel it. It was a story, I learned it, I hear it. But when I came here, it's true. So you have... you may find one or two people who are little bit harder, maybe they have a bad day or they may have a kind of something issue with themself or with other things. You may get something. I had one experience myself when I came here. But maybe that person was having a bad day. But the good thing is you can see many people already, almost everyone is ready for you to help, if you ask them if you need a help. So that's amazing, and also if someone knows you need help, they always ready to help you. Like the other day in the CTI, in the home learning program, my two-year-old daughter is in home learning program. So she said their manager of that program posted with a picture and a “parent of the week” with my picture and my children picture, like she's achieving all those things, she's usually making these goals for her, she's trying to learn things, she's trying to complete her goals. So that's also... she appreciated that, and she wrote that it's internally feel good, and I try to complete the things more, like okay I should achieve those, those, those things. They appreciate things, what you do. It's not related to them, it's related to you, but they appreciate it. So those are the things, like I'm very happy to be here, and I'm trying, and I will try my best to make things less as I doing for my kids and myself, and hopefully we will achieve many of them. And I know that it's the education, from education, and other side, it's good for my kids. And it's good for myself as well. My English is improved, I'm trying to learn things, and I'm trying to complete my master and hopefully maybe in the next ten years, fifteen years, I will get my PhD.
Safeena's full transcript: safeena_niazi_transcript.pdf
Interviewed on July 10, 2019
Sughra was born in Pakistan and migrated to Afghanistan. After working as a core assistant in the US Embassy in Kabul, she resettled in the US as an SIV recipient with her husband, who worked for the US Army, and infant son. She works as a bookkeeper at a church in Northern Virginia.
Interviewer: Which of the many places that you've lived in do you think of as your home, or how do you think of the concept of home? What does that mean?
Sughra: Well, I believe that home is where you have the peace of mind. I always felt that when I was with my parents, with my brother and sister...my parents are still in Pakistan, they did not go to Afghanistan, because there was always war, and they did not like it. I did not feel that peace even in Afghanistan, and even not here, but always with my parents. I don't know if that was the comfort, or the shelter, or something. But, I feel good here. My husband is here, the 2 kids, it's a small family here.
Interviewer: So, you went to Afghanistan for work originally? Or for school?
Sughra: After my studies, for work.
Interviewer: And, was that difficult, at that point, being away from your family?
Sughra: At the start, it was difficult. When I was finding a job, and I was not familiar with the people there, with the environment. The environment is very different from what we lived in Pakistan. But, later...in Pakistan, there is also community of immigrants, or refugees, like myself, around us. They were born in a peaceful place, so they were very calm, and very friendly, but in Afghanistan, the people were more...I felt a little bit of...I don't have a vocabulary for that, but a little bit of wild, short-tempered, in Afghanistan. So, it was different.
Interviewer: And, you met your husband in Afghanistan?
Interviewer: And, what was the work like in the US Embassy?
Sughra: I believe until now, that was my best job. I had very good supervisors, and very good colleagues. The work environment was very friendly, very disciplined, and well organized. The work description was always clear. The job description, sorry. That was very clear, and you had to do what you were supposed to do. Everything was very good in the US Embassy. I liked the discipline and laws there.
Interviewer: And, at what point did it start to feel unsafe to be there?
Sughra: It was always unsafe outside the Embassy, but I was always waiting for my visa, because day by day, almost every day there was some bomb blast around that place, and I still thank God that I came here, because from the time I've come, the situation has become worse.
Interviewer: And, you mentioned that there was a situation, something happened with your son. Can you tell me more about that?
Sughra: One day, my son and my sister-in-law, they were going somewhere, and on the way, a car with the people, who covered their faces, they stopped them, and they were trying to pull my son and put him in the car. And, my sister-in-law, they heard them saying, pick the boy, that is Zahir[?]'s son, Zahir[?] is my husband. So, she tried her best, she said that, "I grabbed him, and I sat on the floor, and I grabbed him in my arms, and I did not let them take him away." She tried her best, and at that time, the other big cars that came behind them, so they were scared that if the roads get blocked, they will not be able to escape from there. So, at that time, they said that it's not possible now, the other cars are coming, so we'll try next time. So, they just left that place. That really scared me, because that time, they were not successful, but I was thinking that, what if they get successful, and what will happen? So, that things were really a stress for me.
Interviewer: And, why do you think your son was a target? Was it because of your husband's work, or because of your work?
Sughra: I don't know. I don't know, because my husband, he also worked for the US Army in some camp. Many people knew that we, husband and wife, are working for the US Army and the US government. So, maybe.
Sughra: I had...I must say that I had a good salary. I used to work with the US Embassy as a core assistant, and my husband, he used to work as a finance manager. His salary was also very good in that company. Our life was good. Financially, we did not have any problem. Our families were there, relatives. The only problem was the security, and one more thing I was concerned about was that once, if the US Army and US government, they go from Afghanistan, what will be the condition of the people who work for the US government or the US Army? So, that was my only concern, because the people who lived there, the terrorists, they must know who work for the US government and who are with them. So, they will be the first victims for them.
Interviewer: So, you worked for the Embassy, and you were thinking, when they leave, I'm going to be even more unsafe than I am now.
Interviewer: How would you describe your religious or spiritual background?
Sughra: I am a born Muslim. My father's giving was only his religion to me. He was not financially very good. The only thing I believe that he gave me was his faith. So, I am Muslim. I have a strong belief in Islam, but I don't have that faith or belief in the Muslims. I believe Islam is the best religion, but its followers are the worst. I believe that.
Interviewer: Can you explain more, what do you mean?
Sughra: Because, the things that the Muslims are doing now, I don't think that is in my religion. Like, the war, the killings. I've not read that anywhere in my religion. So, I believe that its followers are the worst, and the people who are making them do, or motivating them to do all such stuff, I believe they are just using the name of Islam, but their purpose must be something else.
Sughra's full transcript: sughra_bakhtiari_transcript.pdf
Interviewed on July 14, 2021
Ehsan was resettled with his family in Alabama and worked as an agricultural laborer. Because they struggled with the lack of a large Afghan community there, they moved to Northern Virginia.
Ehsan: She shows up. I mean, Melanie [the leader of Christ Church’s refugee ministry in Alexandria] shows up as a as a mother, like, as a really kind person. show up to me. She was like, Okay, get this money, go home. Then she got my phone number. She's like, we're gonna call you. Then I come home. But I still am not sure that I can get help from these people or not. Then next day, I got a call from Melanie. She was like my husband is there. He wants to see you. And he wants to take you somewhere. Uh, to buy some stuff. Then I get out of the apartment. I saw a gentleman was waving his hand to me. When I get there, he's like, I'm Melanie's husband. She sent me here. I'm going to take you to a store. I was like, Okay, let me let me get back to the apartment. Tell my wife that I'm going out. There. I told her. I let my wife know that I'm going somewhere. I came back. He sent me to the [INDECIPHERABLE], he was so kind, he shows me, he shows up, a really kind person, then he takes me to the Walmart. And he was like, anything that you need, like, clothes, shoes, jackets, anything, I take everything. Then the same for my wife or my kids. Then I got a lot of groceries. And he paid for all of those stuff. Then, at the end, he gave me two gift cards, and he was like, This is from Melanie and Melanie sent me to help you. And this is not, uh, this is not everything that we want to help you. This is just from me, then Melanie is gonna give you a call back and well. Talk to you more well, send more help for you, help you with the [INDECIPHERABLE]? It was it was so cool for me. I couldn't believe that time. How these people can or how hard How could I've found this people this much kind. Unbelievable. Unbelievable. They showed up like, like my own family. They take care of me, like my parents. Which was which was awesome for me. And Melanie, keeps supporting me. And always asking about life, about job, about health. And keep taking care of me and my family. I appreciate that…
Then my caseworker in Catholic Charities, she told me that we have a meeting and Catholic Charities with a General Manager. So she's hiring people, if you want to come and meet her. And I was like, Okay, I went to the Catholic Charities. Then I found the general manager. Her name was Christina. Then I spoke to her. When I talked to her, she was like, she gave me her card. With the phone number. she's like, give me a call tomorrow. The next day, when I called her I asked somebody to help me. Oh, what she asked me was what I have to tell her. Then he—she hired me. But I, I didn't know English. just [INDECIPHERABLE] I know like short words. Then after I started, after I started with them, I had a manager. His name was David. He’s a Mexican American. He was born, his parents, his parents are Mexican. Then he was born in the United States. Then he was like, I understand you, brother, I understand you. I know my parents had the same issue. Sometimes they are talking about this issue when they when they come to United States. Now I know how hard is if you don't know the language, if you cannot tell what you want to say. He was like, what I can do for you is . . . I'm, I'm going to try to teach you the, as much as I can teach you. Then, when we've been busy, work time is work time. And when we’re not busy, He was showing me like, this is cheese. This is a bagel. This is tomato, like, this is [INDECIPHERABLE]. This is avocado, like small things, we start with really small things in the workplace. He was showing me the real things, and then teaching me the names. This is the back gate. This is hallway, this is [INDECIPHERABLE], I learned little, little, little, little, little. And then after a few weeks, it was like, oh, man, you're being, like you're learning so fast. Then I was like, I have to, I have to learn. As I don't have any other option. I cannot go to a school. I don't have the option to go to school, then I have to talk with people. There's no choice. When I have to talk with people, I have to talk in English. Because people don't understand my language. And they don't need to learn it.
Life is getting better, and better and better. Since I came here. what like, earlier I said I appreciate the American people appreciate the government of United States that they accept my documentation and let me come here. My life's getting 100% different than the life I had earlier, Back home in my country or in Pakistan. Now my mind getting [INDECIPHERABLE]. the important thing that my daughter next year she's gonna get the second year of her school like second grade. Then my son going to be in first grade. That's, that's very important for me. I couldn't, I couldn't go to school. I was by when I was young. I couldn't go school. My country after the ninth grade, I mean, I had to leave the school, there was not an opportunity for me to go to school. Then for for girlpeople in my country, I can tell that 99% or 95% of the girls still not allowed to go to school in my country. There is like danger for them. They're not allowed to get out of the home. Then for my family and for my children, since I can hear my, my daughter going to have second grade next year. She speaks English 100% better than me. She speaks my language, then she speaks a little bit of Spanish. That, That makes me a lot happy. A lot happy. And it happened for me and my family after we come to United States. Now I know that my life and my family's life, my family, my children's lives are saved. They are growing in a safe country. Maybe in the future. The when they grow up, finish school, finish the college, like yourself, they can help other people. I'm just hoping. And it makes me really happy.
Ehsan full transcript: ehsan_mirzad_transcript.pdf
Interviewed on July 19, 2019
Born in Kabul, she migrated to Pakistan as a child and later returned to Afghanistan. A member of the Hazara Shia minority, Batol worked for the World Bank and United Nations. She resettled in the US as an SIV holder in 2015.
Batol: In Afghanistan, the whole community lives in tribal bases, so I do belong to a tribe which is called Hazara. Sadly, we are the minority in the country. Being a Hazara, being a Shia Muslim, of course, my family - specifically when it comes to my mother, she is a very strict Muslim woman. The society that we lived in, everyone was religious. I grew up being a very strict, not only Muslim, but a Shia Muslim, who has to obey the rules and regulations as a Muslim kid or teenager.
I know it's sad when now I think about it, I feel bad for everything that happened, but for me when I was a kid, because I was brought up in a way that being a woman and being a second citizen is... Being a woman is of course not okay, but being a second citizen as a woman should be acceptable only because you were a woman, and I had that mindset. Of course, I was literally a kid, around 7 years old, when my father passed away, and then after that I think things changed. I started looking around, exploring, especially when I graduated from school (high school). I started working, and I met people, and I realized that no, it is not okay to be - only because you were a woman, to be, not to get respect, not to get the rights of a human being. It is not okay to be treated as a second citizen. That was, I think, the time that I started exploring about religion, about being a woman in a country like Afghanistan.
Interviewer: What kinds of things did you do after you graduated from high school that made you more conscious?
Batol: Once I graduated high school, as I mentioned before I was a kid when my father passed away, being the eldest child in the family, especially in a country like Afghanistan, you have the burden on your shoulders of like: now it is your turn to take care of your family, your younger siblings. I started working. My first job, I got very lucky to work with the World Bank. That was the time that I kind of dipped into a community where women are working and still, working in a ministry... I was working in the Ministry of Higher Education but I was appointed from the World Bank to help the Ministry of Higher Education. The difference was day and night. Working inside the Ministry with the women, who were so okay to be treated as a second citizen, their ideas didn't matter or change a thing, everyone starting from the Director and most of the administrators and managers were all men, which was still acceptable. Then on the other hand, I was going to the World Bank HQ in Afghanistan, in Kabul, which was so different. Women were not wearing headscarves, they were leaders, their ideas mattered, they made decisions. If there was any back and forth in emails or communication, there was a woman leader who would put a full stop on everything, and make the executive decision. That was the time that I started exploring and seeing that everyone can do this. It is not that only I can do this, and I should be the hero, or a savior to bring the change. I started exploring from that time, bringing it back to my sisters but not very open with my mother, because at the end of the day, she is a very strict Muslim woman still, she wants us to respect what is not only the religion but what is the culture and how everyone lived their lives, so we should be still following the same pattern only to get a place, once we die, in paradise. That was the time to be able to measure between working in a working environment inside an Afghan ministry and then going back to a community in which everyone was equal, it was your choice if you wanted to wear your headscarf or not to wear your headscarf.
Interviewer: When you were in Afghanistan, were people around you suspicious because you were working for these international organizations?
Batol: When I was working with the UN, the good thing was that we had transportation, a UN armored vehicle which would come pick you up and drop you at work, and then bring you back home, so I didn't have a lot of exposure to what people say outside, once I'm in the car, but, of course, working with the World Bank and working with the USAID, I didn't have that luxury of having transportation, so walking back and forth from home to work, and coming back home, I had not only people around that harassed me, but of course there were a lot of my relatives that always thought that if you were working with a prestigious company like USAID or World Bank, you have done something. Especially being a woman, it was always the thought that you - I'm sorry for using this word- that maybe you were a prostitute, that you got your way up to a place like this because it is not usually a common thing for women to work in places like this. You have to be super talented or you know people, but based on the outsiders, it is always for them that women only have one talent, to be available for men, to get a position.
Yeah, I did have my tough times, I did have the days that I would cry, but I was not a very open person to go and talk to my mom because at the end of the day, she is very conservative. There were times that she told me, "Don't work. You don't have to work." and there were even times where I had my uncles, who were my mother's brothers, would come to my home saying: "I think it's time for you to choose a husband", not to go to work, and one of my uncles told me that if I was going to work, I should take his son with me and come back with his son. There were times that I was close to giving up, but I didn't. Here I am. At the end of the day, we, my family, needed the money so…
Batol: One thing that I want to say is, yes, I am a Muslim. I am not saying that I am proud Muslim, the reason being I chose not to be one, because in Afghanistan I was forced to fast, I was forced to pray, but since I came here, I had never kept Ramadan and I had never prayed, and the most amazing thing is, no one judges you. No one will label you in the sense that, "oh my god, it's 1:00pm and you still didn't do your afternoon prayers and you're still in here". So that's the aspect that I'm not saying I enjoy the most, but that's the aspect that I like, that I am free to choose if I want to do something or if I don't want to do something. I am free to choose if I want to go and leave work at 5 or I want to do some overtime and work until 8, and I feel safe to take the subway and go back to Brooklyn. These are the things that I appreciate, I enjoy the most. I know I also feel the pain that my mother and my sisters still have to live in the country. They have to, like, every time there is a bomb blast, if they don't answer their phone or something, I do always feel like I lose a couple of pounds when they don't respond to my messages or my phone calls if something happens, but living in a country like Afghanistan and coming to a country like the US, I do appreciate a lot. I appreciate a lot about life, a lot about facilities that I have in here, I have seen a lot of my American friends don't appreciate certain things that happen in here, the health insurance, the subway and everything, but I do appreciate everything. If the delays are happening, if people are celebrating that happy Friday or oh my god it's Monday, for me everything is a blessing, because I lived in the worst conditions/situations that I appreciate this time. I do remember when we were just back from Pakistan to Afghanistan, we were basically struggling in a sense that we didn't have a lot of money or at my school, I was in 9th grade like all day after 2am, we - I'm not sure how to say it - but we had a lot of almonds, that we would bring from the big shopping deli stores, that they would give you in big bags a lot of almonds, that you will come and break it and give back the almonds to the store, and then you could use the peel or the remaining to keep warm in the winter. Coming from that time, to something in here that I work in a company which happens to be worldwide, which happens to have 600 offices. I do appreciate my supervisor so much. He actually started talking about if I want to work in another country, where do I want to work. So, this is a luxury that I am living. I do appreciate it. I don't want to be a person that says that everything starts from: "Oh my god, why this, why that," I am like, "Oh my god, thank god it is this or that, that I am still in here." So, I'm happy.
Batol's full transcript: batol_khan_mohammed_transcript.pdf
Interviewed on August 19, 2019
Fardin worked for US government contractors at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan and later for the US Embassy in Kabul. He applied for SIV status in 2014 and resettled in White Plains, New York with his wife and children in 2018.
Interviewer: Could you describe a little bit more about your family and what it was like growing up during that turmoil?
Fardin: So you know families in Afghanistan are big. I have six brothers and sisters, so I have four brothers and two sisters and we all lived together. Until I came to the US, we were all together. We grew up in a different part of the city in Kabul. So, we were in Kabul and then we had to move to another province of Herat, which my parents are originally from, so during the war during the mujahideen regime, we had to move to Herat and back and then Kabul and then back and then Herat. I completed part of my elementary school in Kabul and then we moved to Herat. I continued, but there were times that I couldn’t go to school because of the conflict that was happening and it was not safe for people to come out of the house. In Kabul, there were militants that were firing rockets. Each group had part of the Kabul city, they were controlling the city. They were firing between each other and they were firing rockets, so people were not feeling safe to come out of the houses. There were parts where I couldn’t go to school and there were millions like me who suffered the same way. As I said, I never experienced the normal childhood life. Like when I see kids here, they have a great time going to school, no attention about being killed, kidnapped, these are all problems that people have in third world countries.
Fardin: It was in 2014 when I decided that it’s time to leave the country. I used to work with the US government contracts. Every day, the security situation was getting worse. By that time, the office I was working for, they closed, and then, I didn’t have any support, like security or anything else. So, I decided I should leave and I applied for the special immigrant visa program and it took almost four years for the US government to do the rating process, the background check... I don’t know what process they were doing, but it took them four years until they gave us the visa. Then we came to the US in November 2018.
Interviewer: Could you describe a little bit more about the government contract and how you signed up for that? How did they approach you?
Fardin: In 2006, there were some Americans who came to Afghanistan and they started a company. They were a prime contractor for the US military forces in Afghanistan and I was hired by that company to work for them. From 2006 to December 2014, I worked through that company. I supported US military forces in different projects, like we were delivering them their fuel and food items from their aboveground air base to other provincial military bases. We used to provide them military clothing for Afghan National Security Forces. This was also a project of the US military. We were educating the Afghan National Security Forces with basic Dari and Pashto, the local languages of the country. That was also through the US military forces. These were the works and I was responsible for the Operations Department. That company, we did all these projects. We had a project that the US military had in Afghanistan.
Interviewer: Why did you decide to join and support the US military and how did you make that decision?
Fardin: As I said, I was working as a contractor for this company so I wasn’t working officially for the US military, but the company I was working for was awarded all these contracts. We went through the vetting process and we were getting these projects. The reason why I was working was because I didn’t have any reason not to do that. I still think that the projects that the US military implemented in Afghanistan were all for the benefit of the people there. I feel like I was taking part in the reconstruction of the country, and civilizing the country, so that’s why I was working with them and supporting the project.
Interviewer: So you mentioned in 2014, the office closed. What security threats did you face during that time?
Fardin: As I said, I was responsible to hire contractors and counselors for the US Military Detention Center in Bagram Airbase. When we were going to Bagram Airbase and this detention center, we had to face the people who were captured by the American forces and their family members were outside the prison. This, and also supporting the military project, this all puts not only me, but most of the people who were supporting the US forces in Afghanistan in a position where we could not move outside the Kabul city. We were always the targets for the militants to kill or just to scare us in a way to stop other Afghans to support or cooperate with the US military. So while going to the prison in the Kabul province, a few times we got under attack. I was receiving phone calls threatening, “Stop working with the infidels or you will be killed, your family will be killed.” Me and a lot of other colleagues, we were receiving different kinds of threats from the militants, but I had the support from the office. We were always moving with security guards. We had armored vehicles with us always while travelling from one part to another part. I knew that as long as the office is here and people are here, nothing will happen. When I saw the office get closed and the projects are done, I decided I wouldn’t have the support and it’s better to leave. At this time, I just applied for this visa.
Interviewer: How did you react when your application finally went through and how did you move your family to the United States?
Fardin: Well, it was not an easy decision. At the beginning, we were just counting the hours and the days till we would get the visa and get out of the situation. But in the four years of time till I got the visa, it was really difficult to make the decision and leave the country because people back in Afghanistan, we always live together. As I said, me and my brothers and my parents, everyone was together. It was really hard to leave everything behind and just take the suitcases and come. But I didn’t have any other option. I knew that the work that I am doing there, at some point it will punish, and I wouldn’t have the support from the government’s side or the companies to survive. My kids couldn’t openly enjoy their lives there, so I wanted to create a freedom for at least my children that they deserve, like other kids, they should be happy at the very least. It was a hard decision to leave my mom and other siblings behind, but I had to do that. We came after lots of crying and everything, and we came here and started a new life.
Interviewer: What were your first reactions when you entered the United States and you started to get settled in your new home?
Fardin: Everything was new for us, from A to Z, like, social life here, the culture. Everything is different compared to Afghanistan. Because I used to work with the American colleagues back in Afghanistan, so I had some kind of idea of how people lived here and how things were happening. But for my wife and my children, it was hard to adjust themselves with the situation here. When we arrived here from day one, everything was new and surprising. Every day, we were facing a new surprise, but all good. From the time we arrived until now, we saw a lot of things which we had never seen back in Afghanistan, but everything good, nothing bad has happened.
Interviewer: What would you say was the most difficult thing for your family to adjust to?
Fardin: I would say the loneliness here. That was the most difficult, because my wife, she doesn’t speak the language. In the community where we are in White Plains, at that time, there wasn’t any other family. I was going to work, the kids were at school, and she was alone. That was a difficult time for the family to deal with. It took some time for the kids to learn the language, so for me to convince them that things will get better and they should be patient, that was the most difficult thing. If we had a few other family, or someone that could speak the language, they could show us the things which we need to learn. That would be much better. I think loneliness was the biggest challenge for us.
Fardin's full transcript: fardin_ghafoor_transcript.pdf
Mohammad Hashim Noori:
Interviewed on September 02, 2020
Mohammad worked with the US Army in Afghanistan for several years. He received SIV status and resettled with his family in Louisville, Kentucky in March 2020, right before COVID-19 shutdowns proliferated across the US.
Mohammad: Let me underpin one thing here that when we arrived in the United States soon after our arrival, if I'm correctly remembering that it was about a week or 10 days later with the crazy situation of land locked down and that really changed everything. In my mind, I was thinking, the first and the foremost plan that I had that that I had was about my kids to provide them a better environment for the studies a better environment for I mean, to develop particularly with your education. Yeah, that was my the first and the foremost wish that I could all the time I was wishing, you know that in Africa, in third world countries, particularly like Afghanistan, a conflicting country, such things are not possible. Education system is not good. So what I was aiming and what was my aim, and I wish that I could do it should be a better environment for my kids that they should get a better education. Since I have a I have missed those things. So I was always wishing that my kids should not miss that opportunity. But unfortunately, when we arrive here, so the crazy situation of COVID-19 and the lockdown is started. And since then, my kids have never been to school. They have what they would have been doing online. On the other hand, I was I was wishing that America is a land of opportunity and having my education background, my experience, will I be able to get to get a good job opportunity. But all together, as I said, the crazy situation of lockdown has knocked everything out. So yet none of those things that I was emerging in my mind has come through yet or even though you can say I've not gone to their ways yet. So let's hope for the best. And let's hope for the situation to recover and then I will, I will, I see that the opportunities are looming. At the end of it from the end of the term of some lives are looming. And one of the things that was, I mean, in our mind or in our aim, my wife, she wanted to continue her education. She has graduated from midwife. She has the Diploma of midwife. And also she has a diploma in engineering construction. She wanted to continue her college and her university. But again, the same situation. It has not come through yet. So let's hope for the best.
Mohammad: And that is why I believe that religion is, in particular, I believe religion is always either it is her Muslim, it is Christian, it is us, whatever it is that religion is a sort of, I believe it is in a tool, it is a kind of tool that helps you to stay strong spiritually, it helps you to stay strong spiritually when there are difficulties when they are when you are in a hard worker. So, that that will help. So, you can say, without religion, most of the times, there will be I mean, hard time, you will need a row, when you're drowning, you need a rope to take from that I believe religion with correct cognition is a kind of rope that helps you to take when you're drowning.
Interviewer: That's a lovely metaphor. I think, I think a lot of people would, would agree with that. Are there examples throughout your life recently or further back? When religion served as that rope for you?
Mohammad: Yeah, actually, I can give him a present example of my life. You see, I'm sure that it has never been easy nor for me not for others, the COVID-19 situation and I believe it it has effect it has much more effect on my life than any other one. For example, I when I came the first time when I came, you agree with me that whenever you are immigrating from one society to another society, the first thing that you receive is culture shock, I have received the first culture shock and then when I arrive here, the second thing was the COVID-19 situation, which after the culture shock of the first is it directly put me in a limitation I was locked, totally locked. And you you I believe, you understand how the situation has been tough for me. A person who has been, I mean, in his community, with his families, and then I had my own job, I had my my own office, going to my own office, my job it was quite nice job and, and from weekends, from financial perspective, it was also good for me, I was I had a, you can say, good salary as well, and then my own communication with the people around me. Then suddenly, everything cut off. Sonali within 10 days, everything cut off. The only thing that I had was the computer and the internet. And that's it. So if a person who was living in the US before or a US citizen for him, that would be much easier, even if he was cut off from his community, but he still he was in his own country, within his own geographical location of where he was born or whatever. But for me, that was the first thing the culture shock then the kids for my kids, that's that was the most difficult part. They were always going out there. They were going to school they were playing but we have brought them in just we have locked them home. You can't believe that for the last for the first month. Even we did not open the door. We have locked the door and we just we did not go out. We have brought everything for the one month and then boom, we were afraid. Okay, you are new here. You don't know anyone. You don't know anything if anything happens wrong. So what will you do? So that was a place when sometimes, honestly, speaking, I was I was really disappointed. How Oh my god, what will happen What? Frankly speaking sometimes when I was saying Oh, why I came here, why? I had not to camp. It was better for me from the other side. My parents was there as I discussed about social relation of Afghanistan. My parents was there, okay, if anything happens to them or what the COVID-19 studied over there, what I what happened to them? What happened to me now? If anything happened to them, there is no flight. How can I go back? This all was pressurizing pressurizing then that sometimes I was lucky. I was praying to God, God to Malaysia, and I was just, I mean, hanging to the role of religion. Okay. Okay, let's deal with hope. There is God there will be one way he will saw that he will sort out one way. So yeah, that isn't in a live in a current example, though, there have been there are many other examples from the past as well.
Mohammad: You see, I believe it is, it is true with the most of the people or most with most of the religion, like I'm a Muslim, because I was born in a Muslim family, in a Muslim community, in a Muslim society, in a Muslim country, considered if I was born in the US in a Christian family or in a Jewish and Christian country and community, for sure, now, I might not have been a Muslim, might have been a Christian or a Jew. So, that is something and when I'm coming to the cognition, cognition is something that when you have the knowledge, when you study, when you when you, when you try it, understand that when you try to, to, to understand what is religion, when you when you from, you can say, from psychological perspective, you study the religion, you study, the benefits, the obstacles, the troubles of the religion. So, for me, the cognition of the religion is that I have to understand why I'm a Muslim. That is back to that the point that in most of societies, particularly in countries like Afghanistan, since the literacy rate is very low, more than you can say, 50% of the people are illiterate, and they do not have any sort of studies in in sort of, a can six proration about the religion. So, it comes back to the, what I said, they have been born in a Muslim country, in a Muslim society, and they are Muslim. So from my understanding, the combination of the religion for a person, particularly for myself, is to understand why I am a Muslim. So that, then that gives me that gives me the opportunity to understand and to, to have a cognitive against it to have a cognitive perspective to towards the relation that that is a sort of a can say, cognition of religion for me to study, to make yourself educated, and to explore it. And to answer this question, why I'm a Muslim, why I'm a Christian, or why I’m a Jew or whatever, why I'm that.
Interviewer: That's a big question, and I wonder if I can ask it to you. So why are you a Muslim?
Mohammad: As I said, the first thing before being raised or before being, I mean, reaching to the age that understand or to start exploring myself or exploring my religion, the first first thing is I said I was born in a Muslim community in a Muslim family, so for sure for the Muslim. And then then I have when I reach to the age that okay, it gives me the understanding to study art history, religion, and then I started studying religion starting, okay, knowing something about religion about Muslim. So all together, I mean, being born in a Muslim country being born in a Muslim family, and then in a country that 99.9% of the people are Muslim. So that was a main factor there, that I have Muslim. And that is why I'm a Muslim. Because there are there have never been such opportunities for me life. To in Afghanistan, there was no church that I once said, once a time or once a year, twice, or three times a year, I had gone to the church and we would apply some What are they say? Then that might be a point, or that might be an issue that that could have changed something in my mind, but that opportunity was never there and then being born in a Muslim country, and then I all my studies have been related to that. And then that is why my Muslim and then I, as I said, When I reach to the edge of and that is that I could study about it. I did a study and I find it. And I enriched my knowledge about Islam and about my knowledge.
Mohammad's full transcript: mohammad_hashim_noori_transcript.pdf