I just can’t believe that it’s been almost a year since I arrived in the States. It’s been very quick, seemingly quicker than waiting in a drive-through line for a restaurant.
“America” was a beautiful dream when I was a child beginning to study English in the 5th grade. America was the big city, with so many people walking around. It was the high school or the college that has everything you would love to find as a student; that was my image of it. My picture was contrasted by the concept pushed by Saddam Hussein’s regime that America was the source of all evil and wickedness and that the whole world was suffering because of this country. Many people believed that.
My dream was fulfilled, and I arrived here in April of last year. My feet stepped on American soil first in Chicago, which was cold and white. Georgia was next, and it was a little humid but amazingly green. I made my last stop in Nevada before arriving in Tucson, which was super hot. The change of climate from one state to another explained many things to me. It was the variety in everything that gave this country the power. Variety in resources with the right leadership; that’s what we miss in Iraq. The Americans should shape things there as they are here in the States.
I really can’t tell how I spent my first year or how it was. Maybe it was all about observing and judging things. The image in my mind is not yet clear. Everything was new to me until recently and I needed some time to rest when I first got here. It’s about time now to start thinking more like an American.
My first observation, since my early days here, was about people. I had no problem assessing Americans since I was already familiar with them in Iraq and since I speak English. They are nice and well-mannered. The most beautiful thing is that they look at you with a smile even if they are not intending to smile. Many times it’s just a smile as if to say: “Leave me alone,” or, “It’s none of your business.” Most of the time, I see people walking around like robots—no emotions, no facial expressions (other than the smile, of course)—mainly walking around as if no one else were there. This doesn’t exist in Baghdad; nobody will leave you alone if you are a stranger or if you are in need of something. Everyone tries to help.
I thought that once I was in America, and coming from Iraq, that I would be involved in many speeches and discussions about the situation there. I was mistaken. I meet people who know nothing about Iraq or where Iraq is. I find that many Americans think Iraqis are not that educated and come from the Dark Ages.
I find it weird sometimes that this big country is composed of people from different cultures but the Americans don’t bother to learn about all those cultures. You still find people who think that Iraq is Iran. Sometimes, I wonder if I could ever be like that: spending my day working after just a snack in the morning while driving to work, a quick lunch from a drive-through restaurant, and a DVD movie with a heavy meal after a long day of work so I can go to bed thinking about nothing but my next day at work!
It’s not that bad sometimes, because one of the best things here in America—which most young people ignore—is that you can be whoever you want to be. I sense, if I’m not mistaken, that Americans don’t like studying but that there will always be regret for what they’ve missed. It’s no wonder that my younger brother, who lives with me now and just turned 17, wants to become a doctor one day—most of the employees who worked at a hospital I visited last month were not originally Americans.
It’s been a year and I still don’t have a favorite American food simply because I still don’t know anything about the American kitchen or whether there are famous American dishes. I still have Iraqi food every day, especially with my mom around. I can see that Mexican food, so plentiful in Tucson, is similar to our food, especially when it comes to rice. Iraqis love rice and it’s on their plates almost every day. Lamb is something Iraqis can’t give up; it’s like pork here but we Muslims don’t eat pork because it’s prohibited in our religion. Pork is as common here as lamb in Iraq.
It’s obvious after one year of living here in America that this country is not heaven, and its people are not the happiest in the world, as most people on the other side of the world think. But satisfaction is the key to happiness, and that’s what most Americans have. My most valuable lesson I have learned in this year is never to complain, because there are always people who suffer more than you do.
Mudhafar al-Husseini worked at The New York TimesinBaghdadfor 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 theU.S. Army inIraq. He graduated fromBaghdadUniversityin 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 here. To read all his “Finding Refuge” entries, click here.