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Former Afghan translator rebooting his life in the US

In this Aug. 24, 2021, file photo, provided by the U.S. Air Force, a family boarding a C-17 for their flight during ongoing evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen / U.S. Air Force
In this Aug. 24, 2021, file photo, provided by the U.S. Air Force, a family boarding a C-17 for their flight during ongoing evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Caught up in the chaos of the last days of the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan, one former interpreter is getting back to the difficult task of creating a new life in his adopted country.

Reached via Zoom, Lucky sits in the passenger seat of a tractor trailer on a drive through North Carolina. We’re only using his nickname — one provided by U.S. troops — since he still has family back in Afghanistan.

Former Afghan translator rebooting his life in the US
Listen to this story by Steve Walsh.

“It’s not that bad. Thing is, I had no other option,” he said.

Lucky is training to be a long-haul truck driver. He settled in San Diego after receiving a Special Immigration Visa in 2017. Now he’s rebooting his life in America, after a recent harrowing escape from his former homeland.

“I was stuck there. I tried to get out as soon as possible,” he said.

Lucky hadn’t expected to return to Afghanistan, but his mother fell seriously ill.

“My brother called saying she is asking for you. She’s in hospital. I don’t know if she’s going to make it. So I just decided to go there in an emergency for a week or 10 days,” he said.

So he took a chance, thinking the U.S. wouldn’t pull out until September. He even brought his young children. As the Taliban advanced on his village, he left Kabul to help fight alongside some of his family. Eventually, the local commander of the Afghan army told them to lay down their weapons. Lucky was trapped. He hid his American papers and found a cargo truck, called a jingle truck, because they’re adorned with bells and slowly made his way through checkpoints back to Kabul.

By mid-August they were still trapped in Kabul, without a way out. True to his nickname, Lucky and his family were helped by American veterans, including Shawn VanDiver with the ad hoc group #AfghanEvac, who stepped in to guide former translators out of the country. Lucky made it out, although many didn’t.

Groups are now trying to get more people out of the country, and help resettle those who are in the pipeline, either in the U.S., or at staging areas outside the country, said Eric Schwartz is president of Refugees International.

“The Afghans, like other refugee groups will become you know important contributors to American society,” he said. “Help address Labor shortage issues. In places like the middle of the country where there are real challenges in that regard, so this will be a good news story.”

Refugees International are one of the groups calling for a pathway to citizenship for Afghans being processed through U.S. military bases, but who do not qualify under other programs, like Special Immigration Visas, along with $5 billion to aid in resettlement. They are also lobbying to raise the total number of refugees allowed in the U.S. to 200,000 for the next two years — a relatively modest increase, given the tens of thousands of Vietnamese who immigrated to the U.S. after the war.

As the sun was going down in North Carolina, Lucky talked as the truck was being unloaded.

“To be honest, I’m still not normal. I can’t even sleep, only two hours, three hours, after the situation that I went through and my kids,” he said.

In San Diego, he had been a translator for the Afghan community, but that work ended while he was trapped in Afghanistan. His new life is now in Texas, where he lives with his brother-in-law. He says it’s been tougher on the kids, especially his young daughter.

“They don’t go out. They don’t play with kids. They’re scared. I even took her to a doctor, cause she was not eating. She jumped when she was sleeping. She jumped when she feels she was still in Afghanistan.”

Eventually, Lucky’s mother did pull through, but he’s had only limited contact with his family since he returned to the U.S.

“Things are not normal for us. Especially when you’re struggling financially and you’re worried about your family back there,” he said.

Lucky doesn’t think he’ll ever see his home country again, For now, he’s focused on his family’s future here, in the U.S.

Former translator rebooting his life in the US