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One year after escape, Afghan refugee Zamzama Safi builds new life in Missouri

Zamzama Safi has lived in St. Peters, Missouri, for one year.
Alex Heuer
St. Louis Public Radio
Zamzama Safi has lived in St. Peters, Missouri, for a year.

Zamzama Safi’s life has changed a lot in the last year. On Aug. 15, 2021, she was at the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, with a ticket for an afternoon flight. By that point, Taliban fighters had encircled the city.

“The security situation was not good, and I thought maybe the flight would be canceled,” Safi explained onSt. Louis on the Airlast August. “I was scared.”

After a delay, Safi’s flight took off. She cried with joy. The 25-year-old former translator for U.S. forces in Afghanistan had a layover in Doha, Qatar, and in Washington, D.C. She landed in St. Louis soon after.

Since that time, she’s lived in St. Peters with former Navy Lt. Allen Nash and his family. Safi met Nash in 2019 as part of the NATO mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan people. She holds a Special Immigrant Visa and is one of about 700 Afghan refugees to have settled in the St. Louis area.

“This year was a great year for me,” Safi explained on Friday’s show. “I proved that women can do anything and women can chase their dreams … and have independence and get education.”

In 2011, when Safi was a teenager, the Taliban captured her when she was walking home from school. She was tortured and sexually abused. She escaped a few days later because she gave a false promise to return and marry her captor. It’s a promise she never intended to keep.

Lt. Col. Aaron Thomas was one of the first people she encountered after her escape.

“He supported me and rescued me,” Safi said. Thomas played a key role in securing Safi’s safety and employment as a translator.

Earlier this year, she had the chance to reunite with him in Hawaii.

“Oh my gosh, that was such an exciting and wonderful trip, going to Hawaii,” she said. “He's like my big brother, and I truly admire him for his financial support and the way he supports me.”

Safi’s time in the United States has been filled with other moments of joy. She earned a driver’s license, she takes courses at St. Charles Community College, and she completed a manuscript about her time in Afghanistan that she hopes to have published.

Zamzama Safi builds a new life in Missouri

Despite her happiness, Safi is saddled with worry for her family back in Afghanistan. Her brother, mother and three sisters are targets of the Taliban because of her work with U.S. forces.

“Life is very dangerous for them in Afghanistan. I have a very peaceful and happy life right here. But my concern is for my family because they are stuck,” she said. Safi said that she frequently talks with her family and that the situation is so dire that some of her family members never leave their home.

As she reflects on the one-year anniversary of her escape from Afghanistan, Safi is looking toward the future. She’s applied to the University of Missouri and wants to get her master’s degree in journalism.

“I'm really appreciative of the United States that offers me very good opportunities, and I have opportunities to get my education,” she said. “I can follow and I can chase my dreams. I can achieve my goals.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.