Between Two Worlds
Qiam (pronounced “Kee-um”) Amiry ’09 proudly shows Shirmila Cooray ’09 a returned government exam.
Sitting cross-legged on his bed like a rail-thin Buddha, Qiamuddin Amiry ’09 searches the air above his head for the words to explain his life before Colby. He is used to searching. Just five years ago, he spent his nights wearing a bulletproof vest, patrolling the streets of Kabul.
As a translator for British special forces, Amiry spent his nights with soldiers who maintained security on the war-torn streets of his home city. He worked the night shift with the military so he could attend classes during the day and teach English in the late afternoon. “At the time, I never thought what I was doing was unusual for a sixteen-year-old kid,” Amiry said.
In fact, what he is doing now—attending Colby, studying philosophy and government—is unusual for a kid from Kabul, especially for one with Amiry’s background.
His family is from the Hazara ethnic group, which is at the bottom of the Afghan social class strata, he explained. For centuries the Hazara were viewed as servants for more privileged ethnic groups: Pashtuns, Tajiks, and Uzbeks, he said. As a result, the Hazara lag behind the other groups in education and literacy.
Amiry brought his passion for soccer to college.
As a boy Amiry worked 14 hours a day making carpets. “I was a really good worker,” he said, “I used to work very hard. I would only sleep two hours a night.”
Working with the British soldiers as a teenager was tense and often marked by tragedy: a sick old man who died before Amiry’s eyes as a security-force ambulance rushed to the hospital; a child accidentally shot by another child. “There was a sense of fear late at night,” he said softly.
But life under the Taliban included happiness, too. “There was something joyful about that life,” he said. “At that time just going to a stadium and watching a soccer game was so fun for me.” In the United States, he says, he does not get the same pleasure from things like listening to music, because it’s so freely available. “I do long for my childhood,” he said. “I miss it.”
Amiry came to the U.S. by way of Hong Kong. He was working as an interpreter, attending classes, and teaching when he heard about scholarships to the United World Colleges (UWC), a worldwide system of postsecondary schools with which Colby has a relationship. Amiry decided to apply.