WOODBRIDGE, Va. (WUSA) -- The war against terrorism in Afghanistan has dragged out for more than 12 years. President Obama has ordered U.S troops to start coming home in 2014. But, what will happen to the Afghan interpreters who risked their lives and fought side by side with the U.S. soldiers?
Ahmad Zaki is one such man. He waited two years until he was able to get a visa and take refuge in the United States because his life was under threat.Zaki, who is from Jalalabad, in Eastern Afghanistan has been working as an interpreter for the U.S. Military for 10 years. He met Major Joe Evans in the province of Nuristan, Afghanistan in 2006. They spent 16 months in isolated areas in the war-torn country. At times, going months without a shower and living mainly off of 'Meal-Ready-to-Eat (MRE)' and water.
Their job involved going on missions, patrolling, and building relationships with the local Afghan's. In their free time, they played chess and even tried fishing.
Today, they remember those times and play chess in a much safer environment; Zaki's 3-bedroom town-home in Woodbridge, Virginia. The Afghan hospitality is evident after his wife places some tea and food on the table, as is tradition in Afghanistan.
"I remember Joe brought a fishing pole and we were catching fish and the only fish that got caught was by me," chuckles Zaki.
Major Evans is done with fighting on the battlefield for now. But Zaki had to fight another battle in 2013. This one was with the Taliban.
In January 2013, they had threatened to kill him because of his service to the United States military.
Zaki knew of four interpreters who had been killed by the Taliban. To save himself and his family, he applied for the Special Immigration Visa (SIV). With this program, approved by Congress, Afghans who have worked for the United States can take refuge in America If they feel their lives are threatened due to their service.
With the assistance of the State Department and Catholic Charities Migration & Refugee Services, Zaki was able to bring his family of seven to the United States safely.
He knows his family is safe but he also understands that there are many challenges that lie ahead of him including the cultural shock of moving to a country he has never been to before. He says, "You have to struggle. It's too cold. I don't have a car to drive if I am going to shop or if I am going to buy stuff. Life is tough. I had a bicycle but unfortunately now my son is taking the bicycle, riding the bicycle, going to school so I no longer have a bicycle. But, that's good, we are safe now."
In Afghanistan, drinking alcohol is prohibited for Muslims. Zaki experienced this cultural difference when he came to the United States.
"Especially when you are talking to your neighbors. There are neighbors who live (close by) and I was going to make relation to tell him you know, 'how are you, how are things going' and when I approached him, he was drunk! He was totally drunk and couldn't talk. That was something, (I had) never experienced that back in our country," says Zaki.
The move has also been an adjustment for his five children.
"The children are having difficulties in their school because of the language. They are used to going for Pashto which is their (native) language and now they are going to a school and being taught in English. So that's hard for them, but I am working hard with them to teach them English," says Zaki.
The future of his children means the most for him.
Zaki says proudly, "I don't care about my life. I will work day and night but I'm caring about my kid's life. I want them to have a bright future"
He says his wife asks him when they will go back to Afghanistan. He knows it is not safe right now to go back but he misses the rest of his family and speaks to them frequently.
"Well my mom, she sees us on the internet and she cries," Zaki explains with tears in his eyes.
Written and Reported by: Aisha Chowdhry.