Published on April 21, 2015
Day and night, amid the relentless din of interstate traffic, Aimal tries to take solace in this nondescript low-income housing unit alongside the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
The Spartan flat holds all his worldly possessions: a wooden coffee table, a couch, a lamp, a yellow manila envelope bulging with vestiges of a prior life.
The former war zone interpreter is among an estimated 15,000 Afghans who risked their lives and endangered their families to guide U.S. forces through their longest-ever conflict. While Aimal’s five years of service exposed him to Taliban militants’ death threats, marked all his relatives as traitors and frightened him into locking himself in his Kabul home for months, it also earned him a prized U.S. visa.
He used to consider himself one of the lucky ones, but a year after arriving stateside, the prospect of a better life remains frustratingly elusive. He’s been homeless and jobless, his prestigious university degree meaningless to American employers.
“My family in Afghanistan treats me like I’m a failure because I don’t send any money back and I’m on public assistance,” said Aimal, appearing older than his 30 years.
“I would rather die in Afghanistan with my pride intact than live here in poverty and shame,” he said. “At least in Afghanistan, the grave is free. Here, they make you pay for it.”