There is something that is hard for me to admit, but it needs to be said. When I went over to Mohaned & Zainab’s house – I kept hearing all of these negative things about refugees and Muslim people run through my head. The things we hear the media saying all the time. Their women are oppressed. They would be angry or not like Americans. They want to rule the US with Sharia Law. They would judge me for not covering my head or having short hair. In my logical mind, I know this information is wrong. I would say 50% of what I hear in the media is alarmist and just to get ratings. I have dear dear friends who are middle eastern. They are amazing, lovely people. I guess the unfamiliar provokes anxiety in me, and I was apprehensive.
I spend a lot of time spouting what I believe to be morally correct, righteous rhetoric about embracing those in need and not shunning those different from us. Remaining a welcoming country – and I truly truly with all my heart believe this. But I was still afraid. I am ashamed to admit this. But I am admitting it, because as I sat in their humble, simple home – embraced by their warmth and welcome – I felt truly and utterly humbled. Humbled because they were letting me in. Humbled because they were sharing their story and their lives with me. They were so happy. So content. SO grateful. Their lives have been upended. They have lost all of their worldly possessions. They live in a simple, spartan home. They are 1 month away from having a new baby and have nothing that they need and very little means to get it. They have lost their extended family. They have come to a foreign land – where they can’t even communicate for themselves. They have to start over. From scratch. And in the midst of all that, they are so GRATEFUL. So relieved. So happy. And they don’t care about me. The just want to live their lives in peace and safety. Mohaned said, “We are not here to get rich or pursue the American dream. We only want to live in peace and safety. We want our children to be safe and have a future.”
In Iraq, Mohaned was a taxi driver and he worked airport security. Zainab was a stay-at-home mom. And things were bad. Every day that Mohaned left home, every fare he picked up – he never knew who they were or what they would want from him. They could trust no one. While I was at their home, a relative from Iraq Facetimed with Abas, their interpreter, and let us know, that just that day a bomb went off in the supermarket. There were bodies laying everywhere, in the streets. Imagine living like that.
Mohaned said – they did not want to leave, but they had to. When he picked up taxi fares, sometimes they were bad people who wanted him to do things for them. Things that he wanted no part of. But if he refused them – he would be executed and they would go after their family. This was especially true because he also worked as security in the airport. His children could not go to school. There was constant random violence. You never knew when or where something would happen. Violence was in the school, in the streets, in public places. All he wanted was to live in peace and raise his family. But, just going to the grocery store could be fatal and that was their every day reality. The air is divisive there. People find out information about other people, and then tell the bad guys to keep themselves safe or to earn favor. You never know who you can trust. There was not future for them in Iraq, and despite it being their home and heritage – they knew they had to go.
Turkey was the closest place, so they packed a bag like they were going on a weekend vacation. A couple outfits, toiletries. Imagine you are going to Rochester for the weekend. Except you will never return. And that’s what they did. Once they got there, they sought asylum and stayed there for 4 years. Mohaned worked odd jobs, they were able to get a small apartment. But they were still not safe. They were still close to Iraq and needed to be in a place where their children could have a future. They applied for refugee status with the US and were accepted after 2+ years of intensive interviews, letters, documentation and background checks. They arrived in Binghamton at the end of September, with nothing, but knowing that someone from the local American Civic Association would meet them and get them set up. They have 60 days of support from the ACA. They helped them find a place to live, to get basic furniture and assistance set up. And then they are on their own. 60 days to assimilate to a new culture and a new country. To learn a language and start their lives over. I have thought about it in reverse. What if tomorrow I had to leave everything I know, everything I own and move to Iraq with my family. How foreign and scary.
They are private people and don’t want to make a lot of friends. They are still worried about who they can trust. I am so grateful that they trusted me to share their story in such a public way. It shows tremendous faith on their part.
Mohaned and Zainab want you to know that they are, “grateful for the American people for helping them. We are grateful to the department of Social Services for helping them get on their feet. Special thanks to the American Civic Association, especially to Abas for helping them communicate, arrange appointments and help them adjust. We are so grateful to be here in America. They gave us a new life.”
Mohaned & Zainab are expecting their 4th child next month – a girl. She will be born an American citizen and God willing, will never know the horrors of war and terrorism that the rest of their family endured. Thank you for following this family’s story.
I have had people ask me what they can do to help this family. On their very limited budget, they are having a hard time getting ready for their baby to arrive. Any donations of gently used baby items – a bassinet and car seat are the most critical at this point – would be very appreciated. Other items they said would be helpful are diapers & wipes, a crib, stroller and any various baby related items. They are extremely appreciative and do not want to ask for help. But according to their interpreter – it is greatly needed. If you have items that are in good condition, that you would like to donate – please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to make a financial contribution, with which I will purchase a Target gift card to help them get what they need, you can do so here: