He woke up surrounded by bodies.
Wahid Kashify, a native of Afghanistan, was lying in the back of an ambulance, covered in blood.
“That was the weirdest thing in my life. It was very scary,” Kashify said. “I see dead people all around me. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, am I alive? Am I dead? Am I in a grave?’ ”
The intensity of his story stands in stark contrast to the cool and quiet interior of his Spokane home. Kashify speaks gently but with energy. He laughs as he talks about wondering if he was in a grave.
“Well, if I’m in a grave it should be only me,” he said.
Kashify is one of 50 refugees in Spokane as part of the Special Immigration Visa program, designed specifically for refugees who helped U.S. military or governmental personnel and now can’t live safely in their native countries. The vast majority of the refugees are translators and interpreters, said Mark Kadel, director of World Relief Spokane.
There are about 8,000 refugees in the United States here on the SIV program, Kadel said.
In 2006, Kashify was part of an American convoy traveling from Ghazni province to Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital. Since 2003, he’d worked as a translator and interpreter for Mission Essential Personnel, a defense contracting firm.
The Humvee in front of Kashify was hit by an improvised explosive device, and then his vehicle started taking fire from the Taliban, Kashify said. They were hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and Kashify blacked out.
When he woke up, several hours later, he was in the back of a vehicle, racing toward Kabul. He started screaming.
The driver stopped and opened the back of the van-turned-ambulance. The driver told him to lie still because he was injured. Kashify protested, saying the blood that covered him was not his. To prove his point he stripped to his underwear. Convinced, the driver let him sit in the front seat.
So, he rode into Kabul, an AK-47 across his lap, hair caked with blood and wearing only underwear.
He started working as a translator for the U.S military in 2003, his senior year of high school. At that time he said he’d go to school in the morning and work as an interpreter in the evenings. After graduating from high school in Kabul, he started traveling around Afghanistan. Over the course of his 11-year career he served in some of Afghanistan’s most violent areas.
He wasn’t supposed to be a soldier – his main duties were translating spoken and written words – but he carried weapons and fought alongside American servicemen. His commendations, letters of appreciation and service medals fill his coffee table.
“I have seen a lot, a lot,” he said. “I kind of grew up in a fight. Since I opened my eyes, it was fight, fight, fight.”
Burns on his arms tell the story of a country that’s been wracked by strife for decades. As a child Kashify was playing with discarded tracer rounds when they exploded, burning him badly.
Today, Kashify’s 16-month-old son, Omid, plays with his father’s medals instead of leftover bullets. Omid and Kashify’s wife, Arezu, are the main reasons Kashify lives in Spokane.
“If it was only me I wouldn’t care,” he said. “I would just go and continue fighting over and over and over again with them. But I was so concerned about my family.”
Kashify and his family are targets for the Taliban and other terrorist groups. They see him, and others like him, as traitors for working with the United States. Several of his friends were killed for helping the United States, he said.
“He did an immense job for the U.S. Army, for the coalition and for Afghanistan, at great risk to himself,” said Lt. Col. Richard Garey, who worked with Kashify in 2010.
The threats started in 2008 but didn’t concern Kashify at first. However, after he married Arezu in 2012, he started to worry.
“When they come to you they don’t ask questions,” he said. “They just chop your head.”
This was the impetus for the SIV program, Kadel said.
“We didn’t want to repeat the horrible decision we had post-Vietnam War when we left all the people working there stranded,” he said. “We wanted to offer them a route to relocate in the United States, if they so choose.”
Kashify started applying for a SIV in 2012 and was approved in 2013. Unlike regular refugees, SIV recipients arrive in the United States with a green card, giving them all the benefits of citizenship. SIV recipients can apply for full citizenship after five years, Kadel said. Although there have been concerns about backlogs in the program, Kadel and Kashify said overall it works well.
“This is the least we can do for the people that have risked their lives,” Kadel said.
Kashify and his family arrived in Spokane in February 2014. It was a shock to go from their homeland to a city they’d never heard of.
“When we got here we felt so alone and lonely,” Kashify said.
Now he is attending Spokane Community College and studying criminal justice. One day he hopes to return to Afghanistan and help stabilize his country.
“Once I finish my education here I will go back,” he said. “I’m not done with this … That’s why I’m studying criminal justice; my country needs me there.”
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