Meet Virginia: Ajmal Haidari – WVTF

3 minutes, 27 seconds Read

This post was originally published on 3rd party site mentioned on the title ofthis site

It happens every time Ajmal Haidari and his wife go shopping—to Home Goods, to Target, Marshalls, or one of the five Afghan grocery stores around Fredericksburg.

“If I see those customers that they come to the store that I work, they come, they say, ‘Hey, amigo, hi, hi, how are you?’ Especially my son, my daughter, they say, ‘Dad, you are still famous in the United States! Everybody knows you!’”

Ajmal, his wife, Zakira, and their four children immigrated to Virginia in 2019 from Kabul, Afghanistan. Once a journalist, on-air personality, NATO translator, and TV host, Ajmal now works six days a week at 208 Gas and Check Cashing in Fredericksburg, a small convenience store sandwiched between a car lot and a McDonalds.

“The jobs that I am doing now, I’m thankful, that’s OK. But it’s a new experience. You have to do something that you never did in your life,” he admits.

As a young man, Ajmal got his first break in radio because his English was good, and his voice was smooth. He’d translate news bulletins into Farsi Dari, one of Afghanistan’s main languages, to be read by on-air anchors. Soon, he was hosting three-hour, live programs with music, call-in and request lines, news—even poetry readings. The gigs scratched Ajmal’s itch for fame, creativity, and meaning.

“That’s a pride for me for doing that show that I could have like a place in the society among the hearts of the people. That’s a blessing for me.”

But given the political situation in Afghanistan, he knew he’d need a plan B. By 2015, he’d accepted a job as a NATO radio host, interviewing government officials, extolling the virtues of vaccines, healthcare, and both the Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani administrations.

“So that was the main point of our radio show. We were giving the hope to the people,” Ajmal remembers. “If the war is continuously going on in Afghanistan, we are trying to help, we are trying to rebuild Afghanistan… If you all come together and help, we will have a bright future.”

The work with NATO was a means to an end, too—important given threats from the Taliban toward Afghans who worked with foreigners. After four years, Ajmal and his family earned special immigrant visas and passage to the U.S.

“Yeah, it’s plan B. That’s plan B. Plan A is just aside now.”

Fredericksburg has a small, tight-knit Afghan community. With his kids enrolled in school, Ajmal quickly got a driver’s license, found work, a better, more affordable apartment, and bought a minivan. At 208 Gas, he often speaks Farsi Dari with colleagues, and has even picked up some Spanish from his customers.

Ajmal Haidari and his children at their home in Fredericksburg.

Christine Kueter

Ajmal Haidari and his children at their home in Fredericksburg.

Ajmal’s kids—Zulaykho, 14, Aisha, 13, Jamil, 11, and Mehrangiz, 8—speak Farsi Dari at home but mostly dream in English. The little one has Instagram. Ajmal’s dreams and writing, though, are still in his native tongue.

“What I am telling my kids is that Afghanistan is our home. It is. And we cannot just reject it. And this is also our home. United States is our home. And whatever we have, if it’s for one day, a month, and a year, that belongs to us.”

2024 is their 5th year in Fredericksburg and a big one. Ajmal and his wife hope to apply for citizenship, buy a house, and maybe start a business. He still writes and records poetry, like he used to do in Afghanistan, which he mixes with traditional Afghani music and plays for his kids in the car.

“When the kids are with me, and we are driving some far distance, and I put the poems, if I put Afghan music, my kids, they like some of them. But lot of times they’ll say, ‘Dad, can you please turn on the radio?’ So, I just select B-101. It gives me an image that I am doing and I am hosting that show.”

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Similar Posts

    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop