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Zamzama Safi fled Kabul for suburban St. Louis. She’s found freedom — and anxiety

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Evie Hemphill
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St. Louis Public Radio
Zamzama "ZZ" Safi has lived in suburban St. Louis for five months.

A lot has changed for Zamzama “ZZ” Safi over the past five months.

Last August, Safi was at the airport in Kabul with a ticket for an afternoon flight. With her flight delayed and Taliban forces circling the airport, Safi thought she wouldn’t be able to escape.

But just hours before the U.S-backed government fell, Safi’s flight took off. “Whenever our flight left, I was crying so hard and I was so happy,” Safi explained last August on St. Louis on the Air.

Now, the 24-year-old former linguist lives in St. Peters, Missouri. She’s staying with the family of former Navy Lt. Allen Nash, whom she befriended during his service in Afghanistan, when she worked closely with American troops. She’s taking a class at St. Charles Community College and earned her Missouri driver’s license.

“I am enjoying everything here in my life,” Safi explained on Tuesday’s show.

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Zamzama Safi
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Zamzama Safi visited Forest Park in August. It was the first time she'd seen a lake other than on TV.

She’s most appreciative of things she didn’t have in Afghanistan: freedom, safety and peace. That includes the opportunity to attend school without the threat of violence. When she attended classes in Afghanistan, she was fearful that at any moment the Taliban might kidnap her (again) or, worse, kill her.

“Here I can focus on my studying, and I can learn so much,” she said.

Safi takes great pride in being able to drive herself to school. She drives to campus every day, even when she doesn’t have class. Why? Because she can.

Despite the joy Safi takes in her American life, she remains terrified for her family in Afghanistan. Her sister, a nurse, wouldn’t be allowed to work because of the Taliban’s restrictions on women, but even beyond that, Safi explained that her entire family is in hiding; her work for the American military has put them in jeopardy.

“My message to the U.S. government is this: As I sacrificed for them so much and I helped them as a cultural adviser and as a translator in Afghanistan, I want the U.S. government to help get my family out of Afghanistan,” Safi said.

Listen: Zamzama Safi on life in suburban St. Louis

Though her family’s situation constantly weighs on her mind, Safi is infectiously optimistic.

After meeting with the president of the University of Missouri, she received a personal invitation to apply to the university’s venerated journalism school. She hopes to begin classes there next fall.

In the meantime, Safi celebrates her golden birthday on Jan. 25 — something that has special meaning since, she said, she never celebrated birthdays in her homeland.

“My plans are to have a big cake, to have a party and to celebrate with my host family and with friends,” she said.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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