A New Home Transcript

A note about this transcript: The Moth is true stories told live. We provide transcripts to make all of our stories keyword searchable and accessible to the hearing impaired, but highly recommend listening to the audio to hear the full breadth of the story. This transcript was computer-generated and subsequently corrected through The Moth StoryScribe.

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I grew up in Afghanistan during the Russian occupation, and as a child I remember my dad being gone a lot. The subject of my dad's whereabouts was somewhat taboo in my household because my mom told us we were to never ask about him; so we never did. Sometimes I wondered if he cared about me.

Growing up during the war was very difficult because we had bomb explosions and missile attacks on a daily basis in the background of our lives. And by the time I was ten, these explosions were getting closer and closer to the city of Kabul, where we used to live. In fact, sometimes the explosions would be so close that - there's a distinct whistling sound that the missile makes right before hitting its target, and you could hear that.

And in the meantime there was a rumor about a regime change, which was devastating news for my dad, who was a high-ranking officer working for the current regime. And historically the new regime takes over by violently dismantling the old regime. My parents were desperate to try to get out of the country, but they couldn't because the government put a lockdown on everybody's visas. They needed everyone to stay and fight the war for them. The only way to get out of the country was on forged papers.

In the early 1990s, after a daring escape in the middle of the night, my parents and my brother and I migrated to the US on forged papers and asked for political asylum. This meant that we could stay here temporarily while they reviewed our case. They gave us a work permit and driver's license, social security cards, those types of things. So, we started, all of us started working and our family in California helped us get settled.

In five years, fast-forwarding, our lives were so normal that the worst thing in my mind at that time was how I could get my mom to let me stay out late - like extending my curfew. And I'm at my first job at the Men's Warehouse and my dad calls me. And I could hear by the certain excitement in his voice that there was something going on at home and he tells me, “You need to come home right away, because there's a letter from the immigration.” And I speak the best English in my household, so he wanted me to come home and translate.

And for those of you who've been lucky enough not to be familiar with the immigration system, they don't send you regular updates like, "Hey, still thinking about you all, haven't forgotten about you." So, we were kind of puzzled by this letter and ultimately decided it was a good letter because they sent us this letter without us inquiring about it.

I rushed home and I find my dad in his security uniform, which he often wore, and my mom comes home, too, and my brother comes home, ’cause my dad called all of them. And I'm sitting at the dining table and all three of them are kind of hovered over me and they're, like, kind of rushing me, "Come on, come on, read it! What does it say? What does say?"

And so, I just read just the highlights really quickly and it says our appointment has been moved up to next week. And it says that we need to bring all of our legal documents and our family photos and things that are important. We start jumping up and down and we're thinking, “This is it! This is the appointment that we've been waiting for!”

And the day of our appointment we drive about forty-five minutes to downtown Los Angeles and we go into a big government building. You walk in and there are metal detectors. We go past that and check in with security guards.

We go upstairs and there's an immigration officer waiting for us, and he guides us into this room. And the moment that the doors open up it was like all of us looked at each other. We felt like we were in the wrong place. The people that were sitting there they looked like they were visibly upset. Some of them were still crying. But we still went ahead and we sat down and they told us that, "Just sit down until you hear your last name.”

And after a while, my dad asked me to go and ask the security guard how long this appointment was going to take and what were we here for, because he was dressed in his uniform, he needed to get back to work. So, I go up and I ask this immigration officer, "Hey, can you tell me how long this appointment might take? Because my dad needs to get back to work."

And he says, "Your dad will go back to work all right, just not in this country.”

And it was like my heart just dropped. Going back is not an option, because we are now considered traitors. And I sit down and, hesitantly, I told my dad this. It was like the moment that I told him what this immigration officer said, it was like my dad just lost all the color in his face; he just looked pale.

After a while, I'm looking over at my dad. He's hunched over and he's holding his chest, and he's visibly in some kind of pain and this pain continues on. So, I get up and I go up to the same officer and I ask him if I can use the phone. He says, “no,” and then I ask him if I could use the bathroom. And he lets me. I just open up these doors and I start rushing. There's a long hallway, and I'm looking to the left, I'm looking to the right. I'm just looking for a telephone. And finally, I spot it at the end of the hall and I grab the phone and I dial our attorney's number.

Now, I was extremely upset with our attorney because we couldn't afford even our own meals, yet the only thing that we wanted to be sure that we could have was an attorney. And so, for her not to be here was really upsetting to me. And this girl answers the phone; she sounds like she's about eighteen years old, like my age at that time. And I have to convince her to put our attorney on the phone and she keeps refusing. And finally, I tell her, “It's an emergency. Please put Jodi on the phone."

And as soon as I hear her voice on the other end of the phone I just completely break down. And I explain to her, "Something is wrong with my dad and they won't let us get help for him.”

She tells me to just sit still, sit tight, and that she was going to see what she could do. And so, we're sitting there and my dad continues to be in pain. After thirty to forty-five minutes later, a man walks in and says our last name and all four of us get up and we're following him, we're not sure where, but we're following him. And we end up going into this small office, which it was so small that only my Dad and I could barely fit in there. And there's a man in there, who’s working on his desk. He didn't even acknowledge that we were standing there; he didn't speak to us one word. He just hands over this paper, and the paper said that our visa had been extended for three months so that we could go get my dad some medical help, which we did right away.

And afterwards, the next three months is the worst time of my life by far, because we’re fearing deportation every single day. And whenever we would see the mailman show up and put mail in our mailbox, it was like a dreaded task; none of us wanted to go and check our mailbox. And my dad's behavior was so completely over the top. He moves out of my mom's bedroom and moves into the living room. And our blinds are closed whether it's day or nighttime. And he sleeps with a pair of clothes right next to him. And whenever he would hear footsteps, he would jump out of the couch and look through the blinds and see who it was.

We finally go to our final appointment at the end of the three months. And we walk in with our attorney and I notice that it was a different judge who was sitting there. It was an older gentleman. And he looks really intense, and I remember the first time that I saw him, in my mind, I was so intimidated by him because he wouldn't smile, he wouldn't talk, or anything like that. And I was pretty intimidated because I had to translate whatever conversation was gonna happen, because I was our family's translator.

So, the judge carries on with our attorney for a little bit and then turns his attention to my dad. And after some basic questions, he gets right into it and starts asking my dad if he has a translator, and my dad says, "My daughter will translate for us."

And he says, "Young lady, whatever I say to you, you say, you translate exactly what I say, nothing more, nothing less. And whatever your dad says, you tell me exactly what he says, nothing more, nothing less."

And I agree.

He asks my dad questions, really demeaning questions like, "Do I understand correctly that you came here on forged papers?"

And my dad starts to say, "Well, yes, but..." And he goes on this long explanation.

And then he cuts my dad off and says, "I just want to hear yes or no. I don't care about the explanation. I don't need explanation."

This conversation goes on like this, back and forth, and it's not going well at all. And finally, he tells my dad, "You know, we, here in the United States, do not give citizenship to people that break the law. We can't and I won't."

And as soon as I translate this to my dad I just put my head down and I just start praying. And when I open up my eyes I see my dad rising out of his seat. And he starts unbuckling his belt, at which point I'm thinking he's completely losing his mind 'cause I'm not sure what he's getting ready to do. But he lifts up his shirt on the right side, and in his native language, looks at the judge and says, "This is what the Communists did to me." He's pointing at a four- to five-inch knife scar.

And then he pushes down his pants in the back and turns around a little bit and again says, "This what the Communists did to me," pointing at three gunshot wounds.

And then he takes off his shoes and takes off his socks and points at his toes and says, "This is what the Communists did to me." He's pointing at his toenails, which they had tried to pull with pliers.

And I remember thinking, “I know I am hearing what I am hearing,” but somehow everything wasn't registering, because as I am translating these horrible things, I am also learning for the first time about my dad's whereabouts. In all of those times that I didn't know where he was, he was in prison being tortured. And in that moment, I have never felt more sorrow.

He continues to tell the judge, "It's easy for you to judge me. You sit in that seat and you wear this robe, but if you came on this side and you looked at me, one man to another, you will see that everything I did, I did to save my children. I had no other choice. And you might deny it right now, but had it been you, I know you would do the same thing. And if you have to show the American public that you didn't take it easy on us, I understand. Send me back. I volunteer. But please let my children stay. Please give my children a new home."

And then he just puts his head down and starts just crying like a baby, and the judge leaves. We're on a break. And he comes back after an hour. And as soon as he enters the room I notice that he doesn't have his robe on, and we thought we're still on break, but he goes up to his chamber and grabs something and starts walking back down and towards us. And we're pretty nervous because we're not sure why he's walking towards us. The entire time his both eyes were on my dad.

He goes past me, behind me, and stops right next to my dad. My dad turns his chair and looks up at him, and he says, "Mr. Samadzai, let me see your hand.”

My dad shows him his hand, and he puts a stamp in my dad's hand and says, "Mr. Samadzai, I would like you to be the one to stamp your children's papers."

Together they stamp our papers and when they move their hands it reads, "Asylum granted.” He then flips the page to my parents' papers and stamps it with the same stamp, then looks on to my dad and puts his hand on his shoulder and says, "Welcome to America."

It took us eighteen years from the day that we arrived here for me to be granted an American citizenship. On January 29th, 2009, as I stood there and I was sworn in as an American citizen, I pledged allegiance to my new homeland. And it is through my children, my two-year-old son and in my unborn child in my womb, that I will make sure that this gratitude that overflows in my heart every single day will continue to live on long after I am gone.

Thank you.