Nasirullah “John” Safi | September 23, 2021
Professor Kyle Beardsley spoke with Afghan interpreter, Nasirullah “John” Safi. Safi’s relayed personal stories of working with the U.S. military to fight the Taliban and shared some interesting insights into how the situation looked for Afghan citizens.
Event Summary by Ritika Saligram:
On September 23, Professor Kyle Beardsley hosted Nasirullah “John” Safi, a former interpreter for U.S. and Afghan forces via Zoom. Born and raised in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime, Safi is a co-creator of “A Voice for Two Nations,” a platform for stories about the war in Afghanistan, and recently published his memoir, “Get the Terp Up Here!” He is now studying to become a medical doctor in Oregon. Mr. Safi began his remarks with a discussion of his childhood, family, and early life under the Taliban.
Mr. Safi spoke of the hardships and suffering he and his family endured under the Taliban, including lack of access to education and food, and being forced to move homes often. He described a connection he had with American soldiers that visited his school at a young age, and how that interaction sparked a desire to communicate with them, which led him to learn English.
Mr. Safi then shared how he came to be an interpreter for U.S. forces. He spent 8 years in Kunar Province, working mostly on combat missions and SIGINT (signals intelligence), but he also helped carry out developmental projects for locals. He described how he served as the bridge between American troops and local populations, bringing cultures, traditions, and practices together. Mr. Safi ended his remarks by saying that he chose to work for U.S. forces for the betterment of his country and his people, who had suffered for a long time under a regime with no respect for human rights. His journey was not easy — he lost family members and friends — but he found great meaning in his role and will never regret his choice.
During the Q&A, audience members posed questions about the cultural exchanges Mr. Safi facilitated as an interpreter, the impact of the American presence on Afghan culture, and lessons for those who want to work with interpreters in the future. In response, Mr. Safi stressed the integral role of interpreters in foreign combat situations, particularly emphasizing the sacrifices that many Afghans made to join the U.S. effort. He impressed upon the audience the tremendous debt and obligation of the U.S. government to those Afghans, and the need for the U.S. government to save those very people who now face persecution from the Taliban.