Note that this article was first published in the New York Times and if you reproduce this article you must retain this notice.

There have been always a very good relationship between American and Afghan troops and also with other coalition forces. I have worked in the ANA central corps and I have interpreted and communicated between the ANA and the American forces. After the official or off time they play volleyball, soccer or sometimes the ANA invites their American advisors to their chow hall and to their offices for food and tea and their advisors also invite some of the ANA officers to their chow hall. Since I work as a night shift interpreter, I have also been invited in some of these meetings to interpret between both sides and they usually ask about each other's culture, traditions and holidays. A lot of ANA soldiers and officers know about Christmas holidays. There are a few that know about other holidays too. Sometimes American soldiers go to the ANA chow hall because they like Afghan bread and rice with meat sauce. And Afghan soldiers that have eaten in US military chow halls liked the hot wings stick and American sodas.

I also know about most holidays in America because during free time I talk with the soldiers and ask lots of questions about US culture and about life in America and they always gives me useful information. During the holiday season they talk about the holidays and they wish to be back home with their families, especially during Christmas. So far I know about these holidays like Christmas, New Year, Thanksgiving, Halloween and Independence Day. I heard that on Halloween people aren't off and mostly young people celebrate. American soldiers in Afghanistan also celebrate this day. In 2003, one day I went to the chow hall to eat dinner and I saw different kinds of scary-looking and funny-looking heads and 2 coffins with a skeleton on it which said "died in 1979" on it which was very interesting.

I have also told many soldiers about our holidays. We have more holidays than the US does. We have two major holidays called Eid and people are off for 6 days during these 2 Eids. We have new year holiday, independance day and we also have another holiday called the victory of Mujaheedin against Soviets and also have 2 other religious holidays. So we have more holidays in Afghanistan. These holidays are very important for me and other Afghans because we get a chance to meet our friends and relatives. During the Eid holidays people have to go to each other's house to congratulate the Eid and everyone, rich and poor, wear new and clean clothes. They decorate their houses and cook good food and have drinks like tea with fruit.

During my services for both Afghan and US troops I have been very effective, particularly in 2004 when General Dostum's forces created some problems for the ANA in the northern provinces and his soldiers came into fighting position. It was Friday and all central corps interpreters were off and I was the only interpreter in central corps, so the US base commander, who was a lieutenant colonel, came and picked me up and I interpreted between US commanders and the ANA corps commander. We discussed the situation and the situation was solved after the US Air force came to support ANA and aircraft flew over General Dostum's militia and they moved back and nothing serious happened. So I think it was one of my most effective services for both sides.

I have lots of memorable moments from my job that I can never forget. At the end of 2002 I got my job as an interpreter for the special forces and they were all very professional trainers and their mission was to train the presidential protective guard in different fields like physical training, driving, snipers, cat team and scout. I was working with the Driving and Physical Training team where I also learnt driving and a little bit of shooting too. During the 6 months training course we graduated more than 250 presidential guards. Their food, salaries and barracks were much better than the ANA soldiers. First when these young men came to join the program, most of them could only do 10, 20 or 25 pushups. But after 2 months they could easily do over 60 pushups in a minute. Also in shooting, the first days they were missing their targets and only a few bullets could hit, but at the end of the training days they could put most of their bullets in the black circle.

Now these candidates are very active guards of their president and when sometimes I walk along the palace I see them and they really respect me as a teacher. Even though I wasn't their teacher, only a translator, but they respect me like a teacher and it makes so glad now.

Our president Hamid Karzai used to have American bodyguards to protect him and those bodyguards trained our own Afghans to handle security for their president and now they are doing a great job as bodyguards of their president.




Freedom of Speech

Note that this article was first published in the New York Times and if you reproduce this article you must retain this notice.

Under the Taliban regime, Afghan civilians couldn't raise their voices through the media. Only one or 2 newspapers were in the whole of Afghanistan with one radio station that belonged to the Taliban. So in this case there was not any private media - radios and TV channels. But after the fall of the Taliban regime, the media have promoted incredibly in our country. People can easily write anything they want and express their opinions. There are some good female writers and reporters that write in the two official Afghan languages - Pashto and Dari - and there are some Afghan female reporters that report in English for the local English newspapers. We have some Afghan bloggers that write in Pashtu and Dari and only a few in English.

There are many English learning centers everywhere in Kabul city. Also in other provinces people now realize how important it is to learn English and computer, especially young boys and girls - they spend half of their day in high schools and university and after school time they go to English and computer classes. Young Afghans love watching TV and they use the internet but for some people it's hard because we suffer from lack of power. In the capital, Kabul, we have power after every 2 nights and it comes on only from 6pm to 11pm - only 5 hours. The number of young Afghan singers have increased since the fall of the Taliban. There is a TV program called Afghan Star. This program started in 2005 to find new and young talented singers. The program official goes to different provinces and holds competitions between young Afghans and selects the 12 best singers out of over thousands of singers. Last year they introduced some really good singers and this year this program is in progress and 9 singers have been selected from over 1700 singers. And when they select the 12 best singers they let people SMS each singer. They have a special code so people SMS to their favorite singers and every week those singers who get lower scores have to quit the competition. So from 12 best it goes to one best singer and they call him the Afghan star.

When I was very young I wanted to be a writer or reporter, but during the war this was only like a dream because I wouldn't know if one day Afghanistan will be liberated from the Taliban and other warlords. So after the fall of the Taliban when I came back to Afghanistan I went back to school and I was working only on Fridays. I was selling Afghan handicrafts to soldiers from different countries, mostly American, Italian, Germans and French. So with this money I could support myself and my family. It was 2002 and there were only 2 net cafes in the whole capital and it was really expensive for the locals. US$5 per hour. I could only afford to use it once a week. Most users at these 2 cafes were foreigners and you had to wait 1 to 2 hour for your turn because there was a huge crowd. One time I remember I saw over 12 foreigners were waiting for their turn. I was going for a brief time to check my email. In 2003 a few more internet clubs were opened in Kabul city. They were still expensive like US$3 per hour. In 2004 the number of internet clubs increased and the prices went down and now there are dozens of internet clubs in different parts of Kabul city. There are still a few places in Kabul that don't have any net club and I hope the prices go lower than this because many Afghans can not afford it. If you get a satellite connection for your house it costs over US$1500 for the connection, then you have to pay from US$200 to $300 a month depending on speed. There is only one phone company called Afghan Telecom, which is cheaper. I also got my internet connection from this company but it's not cheap for normal Afghans because if you use it over 3 to 4 hours a day it will cost over US$100 a month. I hear from soldiers that its costs US$20 a month in America.

I wouldn't have become a blogger if there wasn't such a thing like the internet. It was the beginning of 2005 when one day I went to a net club to check my email and I had extra time so I went to an IRC chat room and I met this Australian guy named Paul Edwards. He was very excited to talk to me and he persuaded me to start blogging. So I was the first Afghan who started blogging in English. First I wouldn't think if people will like my blogs but after posting my first blog I got over 150 comments and over 80 emails in a week and every one congratulated me and asked me to keep up the good work. In the first few weeks I had problems with blogging because I didn't have my own computer. With the help of Tom Villars I set up a paypal account. Some readers contributed in donations so the total donation money was US$1600. With this money I bought a laptop computer because it was easy for me to carry from work to home. On my holidays some readers sent me packages like Sheila Kimmel offered to send winter clothes for poor Afghan kids and I was really happy, so I gave her my commander's mail address and she sent me 3 boxes of clothes in 2005 and 2 more boxes of winter clothes last month. Paul Edwards from Australia made a great donation for the poor Afghan kids. My main problem was transportation. It was hard for me to go to work from home or from home to work. Taxis cost me so much I was paying half of my salary on taxi fares and I couldn't save any money. Paul Edwards offered to loan me US$4000 for the car, but he said do not pay it back to me, instead buy school supplies for the poor Afghan children. So now every month I save over US$100 from taxis and buy school supplies for the poor Afghan kids. I am so happy with my blogging because from blogging I got donations of clothes and school supplies for the poor kids and I also feel so good when I see smiles on their faces. I hope more readers contribute to sending winter clothes for poor refugee kids who live under tents in very cold weather. There are some refugee camps in Kabul. It will be a great help to save kids from the cold winter.




About Me

Note that this article was first published in the New York Times and if you reproduce this article you must retain this notice.

My name is Waheed. I am 22 years old. I work for the US Army as an interpreter, since 2002. I have mostly spent my life in war and conflict. I was born in 1984. During that time our country was invaded by the Soviet Union and from that time fighting started in our country between Mujahideen and Soviet army. After the Soviet army left we had a civil war and then the hard-line Taliban regime. So during these wars we couldn't live in peace. When the Taliban took control over the capital Kabul, my family went to Pakistan. Life was really hard for us there. I couldn't go to school because I had to work hard and to support my family. I only had a little time to learn English in an Afghan refugee English learning center. I was very disapointed at that time. I thought I would not be able to finish my school and it was making me feel very upset. During the Taliban regime the world community forgot our people, but after the 9/11 terrorist attacks they realized that now is the time to fight the terrorists and American troops ousted the Taliban regime and a new wave of hope came to our people.

Like most Afghan refugees, we also came back to Afghanistan and I went back to my school. My father and mother who were jobless in Pakisten got jobs. Before the Taliban regime my father was an officer and my mother was a teacher, so they got their old jobs back and our life started getting better.

I was in 10th grade when I got my job with the US Army. At first I thought I would not pass the interpreting exam, but out of 20 guys, 6 of them passed the exam and I was one of those who passed the exams. I started working as a night shift interpreter because I wanted to finish my school. So finaly I graduated high school in 2004. It was a great moment for me because I could work during the night and study during the day.

I have enjoyed working with the US Army. I have been on over 800 patrols with the US Army to provide security for the Afghans. During these patrols I have meet many people and interpreted between the locals and US Army. We had Afghan green tea with the locals. They were always asking us for tea or food and one of my best patrols was to a refugee camp. It was between two hills. These refugees had just returned from Pakistan. There were more than 50 families and it was the beginning of winter. We went to talk to them about their problems and we found they didn't have any good tents, blankets, food and health care, so our patrol leader wrote down their problems and took it to the base commander. He was a kind commander and he said we will solve their problem. So after one week we went to this refugee camp with medical team, food, blankets, tents and toys for the kids, and they were really happy. I can not forget that moment. They were really happy and they spent a good winter.

We always had a medic with us during patrols, and if the villagers had any basic medical needs, they would come to us and we were ready to help. One day we saw a little girl. Her face was burnt. She belonged to a poor family. Our team immediately acted and treated her face before it got worse, and we were checking up on her twice a week until she healed. These moments are very memorable to me.

I would like to tell the American people that the Afghans are very peaceful and hospitable people. They are tired of war and they want to live free. Some American people think that Afghans aren't peaceful people, but that is not true. Now it is clear to the world community that the Taliban regime was created by Pakistani Intelligence Service ISI and this regime sheltered the terrorists and they made life hard for our people. Most of these fighters were Pakistani and from some other countries. We could not fight them on our own because we had a civil war in our country and we did not have a central government and united army.

So I hope all American people realize this. Sometimes when I have free time I go to some chat rooms and when I tell American people or some other western people that I am Afghan, they don't show their interest to talk to me and some of them call me a terrorist. So I hope they realize the difference.

The situation has been getting better for the past 6 weeks and I hope it gets even better and I hope one day American tourists could come to visit Afghanistan and see the Afghan people for themselves. We have some nice historical places and beautiful mountains and good food. I am sure they will enjoy being here and they will see a good response from us.


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