An Iraqi journalist in America: Gathering my family

Nearly six months after my arrival in the U.S., most of my family has finally joined me in Arizona. Making the trip from Baghdad was my father, who turned 63 in October; my mother, who is 50; and my 16-year-old brother, Anas, who is very eager to discover this big country.

I also have two older brothers and one sister. My oldest brother is also a refugee, but he’s been in Sweden for four years. The other older brother is in Baghdad working with the Iraqi Security Forces as a guard for a government facility. My sister, the oldest of all of us, is married and has two daughters. We expect her to come to the States at some point; she and her family are still waiting for approval to travel here. I will be their sponsor.

Mudhafar’s mother, Faten, his brother Anas, and his father, Fadhil. (Mudhafar al-Husseini)
Mudhafar’s mother, Faten, his brother Anas, and his father, Fadhil. (Mudhafar al-Husseini)

I used to live with my family in Iraq, and now we are all living together again in one apartment. The social relationships in Iraq are much different from those here in America. It is common to see married people with their kids still living with their parents. You get to see the grandfather, the son, and the grandson in one home. That’s how Iraqis prefer to live: warmly and closely.

Before my family arrived, I was living by myself for the first time. Most single Iraqis who come to the States as refugees live by themselves, which is something they are not used to. For me, it was a very good experience. I gained a sense of independence but I realized how lucky I was when I lived with my family. I had no worries then about my food and laundry and other things.

I appreciate the family life. We get to eat together–my mom prepares Iraqi meals every day–we get to talk a lot and, most important, we share both the happy and the sad moments.

It’s been almost a month since my family’s arrival. I was concerned about several things before they left Baghdad. I was worried about their living in Iraq because the security situation is still not stable. I was also worried about them not adjusting to their new life in America. But it was clear that the terrible way of life in Iraq made Iraqis able to adjust even to life in hell. My younger brother has no problems at all with his new existence here. He’s at a very good age to start over and forget the worries of the war in Iraq.

My mother is another story. In Iraq, when you get to 50, you are old enough to be concerned about death or similar things and you probably have more than two chronic diseases because life is so difficult. She had eye surgery recently and complains of pain in one of her feet in addition to other health problems that are considered minor problems in Iraq but, in fact, are not. Unfortunately, Iraqis don’t pay much attention to their health.

She is a traditional woman in her manner and wears a head scarf whenever she goes out. She has a very kind heart. In Iraq, she never had time for herself; her time was allocated to us and to domestic work. The last six years were so miserable, and my mom suffered a lot by not having electricity or water at home most of the time. She was like most Iraqi mothers—thinking about the safety of her children as they moved about in Baghdad.

Now, though she is still dealing with culture shock, everything is good for her. But from time to time, I sense that there is something missing inside her. I can’t blame her. She spent all her time in Iraq among her relatives and loved ones and it’s hard for her and for my father to adjust to this new, different life in America.

My father, who just had his birthday here on the 12th of October, is very different from my mom. He is always cool and calm. He is more secular, with liberal thoughts and ideas unlike traditional Iraqis. He speaks a little English, unlike my mother, who speaks only a few words. He doesn’t like to stay at home and he’s talkative, but you would love to listen to him.

On his second day in Tucson, he was already tired of sitting at home or sleeping so he decided to take a walk to explore his new city. He got lost. We found him after five hours in one of the Arab stores with some help from the storeowner and other Iraqi friends who immediately responded to me and started looking for him. He is now quietly studying English, writing his diaries, and thinking about the day when he can turn those reflections into a story or even a Hollywood movie.

Mudhafar al-Husseini
Mudhafar al-Husseini

Both of my parents are satisfied and grateful to have this new life, but my mom can’t wait to have my sister and her family here. She loves my sister and her two daughters to death. (One child is 11 years old and the other is 4.) My mother keeps talking about how nice the Americans are and how simple and humble they are in dealing with refugees or foreigners. Unfortunately, the image of Americans in Iraq is that of the “occupier” who has the right to kill and do whatever he wants. It’s clear now for all Iraqis who arrive here that the Americans in the States have nothing to do with the war–they can barely keep up with the requirements of their busy daily lives.

I’m very glad that I have my family with me and that they have the chance to live like normal people and see the other side of the world. I have bigger responsibilities now and that’s all right. I’m used to handling difficult situations after living in Iraq and working in dangerous conditions as a reporter and interpreter for the Americans.

There is one thing that I would like to achieve now, however, for the sake of my mother. Mom is a big fan of Oprah Winfrey and her dream is to see this woman and talk to her. She thinks that Oprah is kind and lovely, especially in the way she helps others. She used to see her show every day on TV when she was in Iraq. I wish I could find a way to reach this woman and achieve my mother’s dream, but that might start my father thinking about meeting Barack Obama. I don’t blame them. They think everything is possible now that we are in America.

Mudhafar al-Husseini worked at The New York Times in Baghdad for two years, reporting news stories and writing blog entries as well as acting as a fixer and translator for other reporters. Before that, from 2004 to 2006, he was a translator for the U.S. Army in Iraq. He graduated from Baghdad University in 2007 with a degree in English literature. Now living in the United States, he is updating us on this new chapter in his life.  

Read al-Husseini’s previous entry hereTo read all his “Finding Refuge” entries, click here.

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