One of the most memorable experiences I have had as a photographer covering the conflict in Afghanistan is my evening with Afghan interpreters over tea. Our conversations usually centered on the leagues or the battle from the past day and the dreams they had of making, one day, the United States or Canada.
Through countless packages of tea, I learned about their lives. They came from almost every province in Afghanistan, most were in their early twenties, and had grown up in a changed country after the overthrow of the Taliban. As a photographer seeking to understand the perspective of Afghan civilians, I’ve had to spend a lot of time with these interpreters in tandem with Canadian and US forces. Over the years, I got to know a lot of them.
[Imperiled for helping U.S. troops and stranded by bureaucracy, Afghan interpreters see Biden evacuation plan as last hope]
We slept together in trenches and fields and under armor. We were shot, bombed, bombed, sometimes we gave first aid to the victims together. They carried no weapons and hid their faces when they were on patrol for fear that they or their families might become targets. Despite all this, they have always had a great sense of humor, which is a prerequisite for emotional survival in one of the harshest conflicts in the world.
These translators are the voices of the US and Canadian forces. They were some of the few connections that allowed us to communicate with the locals or train Afghan soldiers, most of whom did not speak English. They have done more than translate words. They also explained the culture and daily life of civilians caught between the Taliban and the coalition.
And now, as the United States pulls out of Afghanistan, this important force in the daily lives of all Western soldiers, diplomats, journalists and NGOs hopes not to be left behind. Last week, in the face of mounting calls from military leaders, Canada unveiled a new resettlement program for some of them, but the process has become an administrative nightmare for many. In the United States, the Biden administration Plan to house temporarily About 2,500 people – translators and their family members – are in Fort Lee, Virginia, with another 4,000 people relocated to other countries around the world.
As the Taliban advances, I can only hope that the interpreters I have met over my years in Afghanistan will reach safety.
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