Shah Walli is confident that his pursuit of the American Dream is about to be fulfilled. It is an odyssey which began almost 11 years ago in rural Afghanistan,took him to Pakistan,New York and eventually to a hot dog stand at the corner of F and 13th in downtown Washington,D.C.
“The first time here,God [Allah] helped me,the second time America helped me,” he says in rough English with a thick accent. “They gave me asylum and now my family lives with me. The American government helped me,(may) God [Allah] help American government.”
The governmental help came,as Shah Walli recalls it,when he was summoned in 1997 to an interview that would decide his stay in America. The Taliban had taken over Afghanistan three months earlier. “I said to the judge,‘The Taliban is dangerous,I can't go back to Afganistan. ” The judge then decided that Shah Walli would stay in America and that he could bring his family together.
Since then,Shah has gotten his green card and his name,originally Shawalli,broken in two in order to fill the first and last name spaces in all of the forms he has had to fill out. Also,he has reunited with his wife and five of his seven children.
His family came six months ago,right about the time when the U.S.-led bombings started in Afghanistan. They had fled to Pakistan three years before,he adds,because they feared the Taliban.
Still,Shah Walli has close friends and relatives in Jalalabad. But he doesn't worry about the war being waged in his country. “The bad people are being punished and things will be good in five years. I'm happy Americans are there,” he says.
Punishment is what he asked God to deliver when the people made terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 last year.
Like most Americans,he remembers exactly where he was that day. “I saw people running and the stores closed,but I didn't know what was happening. I closed the cart and went home,” he says. There he saw the planes crashing into the towers on television.
“I didn't cry then. I cried when I saw the people jumping out of the windows,” he said. That moment,he recalls falling to his knees and prayed for punishment for those responsible.
And even when innocent people might be killed in that war,it doesn't bother Shah Walli. “People died in the towers,what can I do? There is no coming back. People die in the war,what can I do? They are dead,” he says.
Instead he has other worries,such as bringing in his son and daughter who still remain in Pakistan or raising enough money to supply his own hot dog cart and work for himself. “I have my hot dog machine,but I sold all to go to visit my family in Pakistan in 1997,” he says.
It's just a matter of time. Maybe when his son grows enough to work,he can help Shah Walli and leave his current job. It pays $30 a day,but Shah Walli is not dissatisfied.
“America is not easy,you suffer and suffer,” he says. Still he has doubts about going back to what he used to call home a long time ago. “Maybe later,in five or six years.”