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'Everything blows my mind': Afghan refugee talks about the successes of her first year in St. Louis

Zamzama Safi has finished a book, traveled to Hawaii, applied for a master's program and one true American rite of passage: getting her driver's license.

ST. PETERS, Mo. — When flights left Kabul airport in August 2021, Zamzama Safi took her seat on the plane. It was a moment she'd worked nearly a decade for, and one she can still hardly believe landed her in St. Louis.

"Still sometimes I don't believe that I am here for real," she said.

A former translator for coalition forces, she is, in fact, here. And she's talking with 5 On Your Side exactly one year after our first interview.

"Everything blows my mind because I didn’t have all of these opportunities," she says of her first year in the US. "I did not have all of these good things in Afghanistan. Since I was 15 years old, I was fighting for my life."

"It was just natural," Safi's US sponsor, Allen Nash, said of the decision to bring Safi overseas. "We need to bring her in. We need to give her the framework of how an American lives, and she's a good friend."

Nash decided to get involved after meeting Safi through his work with the US Navy.

Since landing a year ago, Safi's traveled the country, visiting old military friends as far away as Hawai. She's written a book, is looking for publishers and got her driver's license. It's a list of experiences that she says bring her freedom and appreciation every day.

"Even the other day, I was driving by the high school. I could see the parking lot at the high school was packed, and I could see the students studying and getting an education. That was the best feeling for me," she said.

Safi says she appreciates the high school parking lot so much because she had to fight for her own education, achieving a Bachelor's degree in Kabul before she left. She comes from an educated family. Her sisters are trained nurses though they are no longer allowed to work or study under the Taliban regime.

Safi says she's still prioritizing and pursuing more education, applying for a master's program.

"I've made an application to the J-school of the University of Missouri, and I would love to get my master's in journalism," she says, calling it one of her "biggest goals."

Despite all the personal growth and achievement, there is one goal still out of reach: her family. Wanted by the Taliban for his work during the war, her brother is in hiding, unable to leave the house. 

Safi says despite their circumstances she communicates with her family nearly every night using WhatsApp messenger. When they talk, she shares her experiences and celebrates her successes. It is her family, she says, who made it all possible.

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