Harris’ Journey: From War Zone in Kabul to New Home in the USPosted on December 5th, 2014.
By Roni Breite, San Diego, CA.
Harris is the go-to guy. I’ve noticed that during my year as a volunteer with the Alliance for African Assistance where Harris works. Computer or technical problems? Ask Harris. Need a last-minute interpreter? Ask Harris, he speaks four languages. He’s effective and always willing to help.
Harris Siddiqui, 27, has only been in the US for a year. He grew up in Afghanistan, on a generations-old family compound that included six uncles and many cousins, with cows, sheep, goats, and grapevines. “We had a really good life,” he said.
Then life turned horrific. When he was three, his family moved to the city, Kabul, to steer clear of the Taliban. An RPG (rocket propelled grenade) hit their apartment building, and they took shelter in the basement. As they waited out continuing blasts, he managed to climb up to peer through a small window. What he saw made him unable to speak for days, “Everywhere there were dead bodies and parts of bodies.” They had to remain in the basement for about ten days.
“Everything was scary there,” he said. His father was beaten twice with cables by the Taliban for missing one of the five daily prayers. His mother had to wear a burka outside the house. By 18, Harris said he had a dream — and a plan — to move to the US.
“America beat the Taliban, peace came, and we continued our education.” He studied English, received his BA in computer science, and got a job with USAID doing data entry. Then he became a translator and interpreter for the US Army for five years. He’d heard that if you work for the Americans, you could get a visa to the US, but it wasn’t a piece of cake. There were still Taliban, and they made threats through his father because of Harris’ job.
But Harris is a guy who figures out solutions. He went to his boss, asked to take the ten days leave he’d saved, hung out at home at the family compound in the country, and told everyone he’d quit. Then he said he got a construction job, and returned to his army job in Kabul. He never went back home; he said his life would be at risk.
He applied for a visa in 2010. The process is slow; he arrived in the US in November 2013. His wife and toddler daughter joined him; their son was born here.
But the transition wasn’t a piece of cake either.
“Everything was different: the culture, the way of life … but I like the freedom here, I like the laws, I like the system,” he said. “My kids have freedom.”
He found a job on Craigslist for an IT Administrator at the Alliance for African Assistance, then he worked as Assistant Case Manager, and now he does outreach for the Resettlement Department.
Harris finds it very special working for the Alliance, “I feel emotionally good because I can help them (the clients); I know how they feel; I was depressed at first. I help them from my heart. I tell them, ‘Just be patient; you will build a new life, you are safe, nobody’s going to kill you, your kids will be educated.’
“I tell them the first three months are always difficult; it’s like you’re a newborn person here. But if you don’t see the hard times, you won’t see the happy times. Everything will be all right.”
“They smile and say, ‘You’re right.’ ”
To help refugee families with whom Harris works, become a Resettlement Intern, Family Advocate and Mentor volunteer, or donate today!