Yalda Kabiri

Former interpreter starts over as she opens day care, goes to college

Yalda Kabiri, 27, was an interpreter for U.S. Armed Forces medical personnel for five years in Afghanistan. She was one the few female interpreters. She said she was often taunted and threatened as she taxied or carpooled from her village to the base. In 2013, while she was six months pregnant with her second child, Kabiri was granted a visa to come to the U.S. She had no friends or relatives here. “I wanted to go to California,” she said, “because I heard there were a lot of Afghans.”


Yalda Kabiri describes how she ducked for cover when she heard gunshots outside her window in Sacramento last summer while cooking. “We were afraid when they were shooting that bullets would come inside our house,” she said. Children attending her day care center gaze out of the window. She worries about what the children see.

Yaldi Kabiri never drove in Afghanistan. Now she nervously navigates the streets in Sacramento. “In Afghanistan it only costs a dollar or two for a taxi someplace, and they are everywhere,” she said. “Here in the U.S., you need a car to get around.” She purchased a bicycle and taught herself how to ride while she was seven months pregnant. She rode to her doctor’s appointments in Fair Oaks, 90 minutes round trip.

Yalda Kabiri and her husband, Zabihullah Najem, listen to a worker from Sacramento County explain why she hasn’t been reimbursed for the children enrolled in her day care. After several  weeks, they were finally paid.

Yalda Kabiri supervises her youngest daughter Usna, 2, along with Ozair and Samaa, 17-month-old twins enrolled in her day care. Kabiri received a child care certificate through a program at Opening Doors in Sacramento.

Yalda Kabiri balances running her day care and attending classes at American River College. “I have less children because of my school schedule and day care is now available at some ESL classes, so there isn’t a big need,” she said. Her day care provided an important service for the other Afghan refugee mothers. Unless they have children under 2, they can lose government assistance if they don’t attend required English classes three times a week and enroll in job training programs.

Yalda Kabiri says her apartment needs repair, as one of the twins in her day care opens a cabinet door. The rent is $700 a month.

Yalda Kabiri brings food home for her husband, Zabihullah Najem, who works a second job shift. Kabiri is concerned about how violence, crime and drugs that surround the apartment complex could affect her children and those in her day care. “I worry about the children and what they see growing up here,” she said. “They hear gunshots, see police cars and can smell marijuana.”

Yalda Kabiri works on her college homework. In May, she completed her third semester at American River College but hasn’t decided on a major. “I want to work with people to help them,” she said. Three years later and still living in poverty, she and her husband dream of a better life. “I wish the U.S. government could provide us better housing,” she said.


Former Afghan interpreter shifts gears for a new career in America