Entries in interpreters (1)


An Afghan interpreter in Canada

As part of a touch-and-go media tour of Afghanistan two years ago, I spent a few hours at the headquarters of a Canadian OMLT on the outskirts of Kandahar City. The OMLT - for Operational Mentor and Liason Team -- was the business end of Canada's training mission in Afghanistan. Small groups of Canadian mentors -- about 30 or so -- would embed with ANA kandaks, and spend days and weeks out in the field, patrolling villages and engaging in move-to-contact missions. 

As the small troop of reporters I was with were being introduced to the Canadians, one of the officers made a point of drawing our attention to a squat Afghan wearing a rumpled uniform and a broad smile. "This is Froggy," the lieutenant said. "He's an interpreter." I looked at Froggy, who nodded and smiled. The Lt. went on: "Froggy saved one of our guys out in the field. He'd stepped on a mine, Froggy ran over, put tourniquets on what was left of his legs, and saved his life."

I looked at Froggy again, more sharply this time. He smiled some more. "Seriously?" I said. "Froggy's a bit of a hero around here," the Lt. said, then wandered off. Froggy and I chatted for a bit, and the source of his name became obvious: he spoke in a deep, guttural voice, almost like an Afghan Louis Armstrong.

Our stay at the base was hurried, and between the usual rounds of powerpoint decks with the Canadians and tea and nuts with the Afghans, I never saw Froggy again. But I always kept him in the back of my mind, partly because of what he had apparently done, but moreso because the way the tough-as-nails Canadians clearly worshipped him. 

And so here we are two years later, it turns out that Froggy is now living a few miles from me, in Ottawa, Canada. After receiving one night letter too many from the Taliban, Froggy (real name, Mohammad Rahman) decided to pack up his wife and seven children and come to Canada. It wasn't easy. Just as the Canadian government likes to support the troops when they are young and healthy and kicking Taliban ass but neglects them when they are wounded vets with PTSD and family problems, Canada made all sorts of promises to its Afghan terps about fast-tracking their refugee status if they wanted to come here, only to reject two thirds of all applicants. 

But with some of his Canadian friends pulling strings, Froggy made it to Canada. How is it going for him? To find out, you must listen to the CBC documentary, "The Interpreter", an outsanding piece of journalism by Julie Ireton, which aired this morning on The Current.  The closing scene, where Froggy is reunited (via Skype) with Major Mark Campbell, the officer whose life he saved four years ago, is an absolute triumph of storytelling. Yeah, I cried. So will you.