Afghan Refugees

From battling insurgents to checking iPhones – Afghan interpreter mourns lost sense of purpose

In Afghanistan he feared death as a military interpreter, in Sacramento he fears the future

Abdul Far​​had Ghafoori, a former translator in Afghanistan, moved his family to the United States in hope of finding a better life and an education. He never imagined the struggle he now faces balancing a swing shift job for minimum wage and cari
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Abdul Far​​had Ghafoori, a former translator in Afghanistan, moved his family to the United States in hope of finding a better life and an education. He never imagined the struggle he now faces balancing a swing shift job for minimum wage and cari

Abdul Farhad Ghafoori misses the sense of purpose he felt in war.

On the wall of his apartment in Arden Arcade, Ghafoori, 25, has hung a photo collage of his former life. One snapshot shows a handsome young man in camouflage fatigues being embraced by a strapping U.S. soldier in Laghman province. In another, Ghafoori poses in front of a tank. Another shows him wearing the Afghan National Army uniform.

“I’ve put these up to remember what I was doing: training Afghan security forces,” Ghafoori, 25, said as his daughter, Kayinat, 4, climbed up on a chair and smiled at the pictures of her dad in uniform. His son, Ahmad Farzad, 2, played nearby with a toy gun.

“I was interpreting and translating documents for coalition forces, and went on foot patrols in the provinces with U.S. Special Forces,” said Ghafoori, whose father was killed by the Taliban when he was a toddler. “We put our lives in danger, trying to avoid (improvised explosive devices) and the Taliban firing into our bases.”

Today, Ghafoori works the night shift at the Apple plant in Elk Grove, troubleshooting iPhones that come in for repair or refurbishing.

He said his life here feels boring and meaningless. A foot injury has stopped him from running at night to reduce his stress, but he has been too busy to make it to the doctor.

Ghafoori earns $10 an hour for working from 8:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. During the day, he watches his son and daughter so his wife can attend English class. He’s also looking for a better-paying job with health care.

His family’s one-bedroom apartment on the second story of a building on Bell Street is dark and gloomy, facing a brick wall and a chain-link fence, but it’s better than the first-floor apartment where he and his family were resettled upon their arrival in August 2015.

Their first night, they were besieged by roaches and bedbugs. His crying children were left covered with inflamed red bites.

At his cultural orientation class soon afterward, Ghafoori, accompanied by his wife, Badria, and their two badly bitten children, held out his palms and said, “We expected the government to provide for us and put us in a good, clean place. My apartment is full of insects, and in Afghanistan we didn’t have these insects.”

Mark Silva, a local official with the International Rescue Committee, which placed Ghafoori and his family in the apartment complex, said bug infestations are a common problem faced by new refugees. “It’s one of my biggest fears,” he said. “Refugees bring in mattresses and couches off the street that have bugs.”

Ghafoori’s building has a history of infestations that long predates the arrival of his family or other Afghan refugees, however. It is owned by Emily Chen of Cupertino, who did not return calls from The Sacramento Bee. In July 2011, the county inspection records show the building had a cockroach infestation. The county classified the building as “substandard” and said it “constitutes a public nuisance.”

Ghafoori said he persuaded the landlord to spray the apartment, but that afterward it smelled so bad the family slept in another Afghan’s home.

The spray helped stave off the attacks, but his kids were still getting bitten. “I still feel like something’s crawling around in my pants or up my body,” he said shortly after his family’s arrival. “I still can see cockroaches and bedbugs walking around, and I have trouble sleeping at night.”

Abdul Farhad Ghafoori shows one of several bugs he photographed in his apartment with his wife, Badria, daughter, Kayinat, 4, and son, Ahmad, almost 2. “We came from Afghanistan. We ran away from the Taliban and now we have to fight cockroaches,” Badria said. The landlord sprayed the apartment, but the family still had trouble sleeping at night.

Like some other Afghan refugees, Ghafoori said he and Badria, 31, had a relatively comfortable life in Afghanistan. They lived in a larger, nicer apartment.

But when they got their visas, they had to pack up quickly and give away their belongings. A lace tablecloth is one of the few possessions they took.

“We brought it to look nice and to make things look beautiful,” he said.

When he first arrived, Ghafoori said he spent hours looking for jobs on Craigslist and researching how he could take the GED.

But he now realizes how hard it will be for him to go to school or get a better job, with two young children and his wife taking English classes. Badria, 31, the daughter of a pharmacist, went through 12th grade in Afghanistan and is studying hard to crack English.

Ghafoori carpools to his job at Apple and watches the children during the day. For awhile, he owned a bicycle, but it was stolen from a tree in front of his apartment where he had chained it.

At his refugee orientation class, IRC staff members who arrived as refugees said they worked as janitors and dishwashers for their first two years before finding something better.

“My dream before I came here was that I would be placed in a good place, clean area, safe place,” Ghafoori said. “I would have a good job and good future. As I see now, it’s too much of a struggle.”

The Bee’s Phillip Reese and Renée C. Byer contributed to this report.

Stephen Magagnini: 916-321-1072, @SteveMagagnini

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