While working with International Security Assistance Forces at Forward Operating Base Kalagush in eastern Afghanistan’s Nuristan province for the past three years, he used his spare time to take classes in Arabic.
When he was not translating or learning Arabic, he started hosting a weekly radio broadcast called “Shedding Light on the Civil War in Afghanistan.”
The show, which he writes, became so well-known the Taliban offered 1 million Afghanis for his capture and death.
The threats against Saify did not stop him from speaking his mind, he wrote a paper on the importance of true democracy for Afghanistan. Then he applied for a scholarship to Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., with the support of a number of faculty members there.
If accepted, he may start classes as early as this summer.
“I like languages and I like education,” he said. “I’m always learning something.”
After two years, interpreters working on behalf of the U.S. military have a chance to get a special immigration visa, he said, adding that many translators want to go to America to enjoy many freedoms including partying or dancing, which have been forbidden by the Taliban in the past.
Saify plans to study diplomacy and political science, with both eyes on earning a doctorate. He wants to bring his family with him to America, but plans to later return to his home country and possibly enter politics.
“My goal is to serve Afghanistan,” he said.
U.S. Army Maj. George L. Hammar IV, of Youngstown, Ohio, the executive officer for 2nd Battalion, 77th Field Artillery Regiment, Task Force Steel, said Saify is one of the most proficient, mature translators they have.
“Everyone knows him,” Hammar said. “Sometimes we call him the Paul Harvey, (a famous news anchor), of Afghanistan because he tells the rest of the story.”
Saify, whose family fled Afghanistan when the Taliban were in power, is prominent enough that the military, for his safety, no longer takes him on missions outside the base. Instead, he translates for Afghan officials who come to Kalagush to meet with U.S. personnel.
Saify said he has seen many improvements in the country since he returned, including infrastructure, health care and security. However, he worries what will happen to his country if ISAF troops pull out, noting the possibility they would merely have to return later to fight terrorism.
“People have a lot of hopes now,” he said. “The hopes of the Afghan people are not completed yet.”
Democracy is not a term Saify uses lightly. In fact, he warned that corruption is the major issue officials have to deal with, as its existence erodes the government’s credibility.
“There are still a lot of things we have to work on,” he said.
After three years of work as a translator, officials have already approved his green card. He has stacks of books in his room – many dealing with history and language – as well as an Afghanistan flag hanging over his bed.
He is reminded of how different American culture is through the movies he watches, yet remains enthusiastic about the prospect of going there and fulfilling his educational dreams.
“I just want to have my books on me and go to college in a free environment,” Saify said.
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