StoryCorps Shorts: The Rent We Pay

During the onset of the Soviet-Afghan war, Ajmal Achekzai and his family fled to the United States to seek asylum. More than 20 years later, Ajmal returns to the place he once called home as a United States Marine. In 2021, as the political state of Afghanistan took a turn for the worse, Ajmal came to StoryCorps to reflect on the dualities he faced as an Afghan-born U.S. Marine.

AIRED: December 30, 2021 | 0:02:39

I told myself I was going to go back to Afghanistan,

but never thought I would go back in the time of war.

We were the first 300 boots on ground Marines,

and when I returned to Kabul,

my birth city,

I was trying to teach the Marines

about the Afghan culture,

and then I was teaching the Afghans

about the military and what we were about.

Being the only one that spoke the language,

I became friends with a lot of the locals,

and they would bring food,

like, "My mom made some food for you."

They saw me as one of their own.

Afghan people

are one of the most honorable and hospitable people

in the world.

I was right there between two cultures that I love,

and it was a lot of emotions from both ends.

Then the image of leaving Bagram Airport,

I could see the whole city --

desert, huge Afghan flag.

Afghanistan to me is my motherland --

beauty, poetry,

and they're survivors, that's what they are.

40 years of war,

they wake up every day,

dust the dirt of their shoulder and keep going.

We told them that we're here for their safety.

We're here to make sure that they progress.

But I feel like I failed the Afghan people.

I had to escape, just like them.

I joined the service, basically,

to serve the country that allowed me to come.

And as I've gotten older,

I've realized what my part in this world is.

It's to help others.

It's the rent we pay to live in this country.

And the Afghan people,

they're just like us.

They want to live free.

[ Gentle music plays ]

[ Music continues ]


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