Where are you from?



Interpreting services coordinator

What was it like growing up?

I was born in Iraq, and I studied at a college of science and engineering. I started an electrical contracting company with a partner (we worked with diesel generators, which were in high demand because of the constant lack of power; as well as with electronic spare parts). So we ran it as a shop and a company.

I did this until 2006, which was the peak of sectarian war in Iraq. So my partner and I left Baghdad for Northern Iraq, which was safer. My partner had a lot of family there that we could stay with. After that, my family and I moved to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, where I got a job with a consultant company after two months. In 2012, my application for a visa was approved, and I was told I had to leave in 20 days. This was a very strict deadline for me; it was very stressful because of all the paperwork needed. I also was scared telling my boss, because in UAE you have to give 30 days’ notice to receive the termination benefits. However my boss was very understanding and told me he would work it out. And then, I left Dubai and arrived in Cleveland September 14th, four years ago!

After one year here, I could apply for a green card, but it was not possible to work.  The term “legal refugee” scares employers because they don’t know what it means – you’re a refugee?! I got a green card finally in 2014, so I could start looking for a job. At the end of that year, I heard about a job with a program connected to the Cleveland Clinic who needed interpreters because a lot of their clients were from the Middle East. 

Then, one year later, I got this job. I had actually arrived in US through USTogether, so I had been keeping contact with them. With my job at the Clinic, I went through training as an Interpreter, which qualified me for this job. Also, my wife works at US Together too, she had started as a contractor several months earlier. 

What brought you to Cleveland?

I have an older brother who has lived here since 1979 – he’s a physician. My other brother arrived in 1996; he is also a physician at Cleveland Clinic .My sister and mother also live together here, they’ve been in Cleveland since 2008. So you see, everyone all got green cards first, before me! Also, my wife’s parents are living in columbus.  Living in UAE was good, but unstable. You can get kicked out any time for not being a citizen. So I was always very nervous and wanted to leave.

What were your first thoughts about coming to the U.S.? Did those change?

Back in the Middle East, everything is close together. You walk out of your home and the grocery store is right there on the street. 

When I arrived in the USA, I was surprised because the houses are so far away from each other and the streets were empty. Where is grocery store?!  Also, the difficulty of finding a job. I had expected it to be hard, but not this hard. So I found the place very nice, but it was much harder job-wise.

What challenges did you face as an immigrant transitioning here?

I did not really have any, besides the job search and waiting for a green card. Maybe I am just a special case, because I had my own company in Iraq. So money was not a huge concern, and the termination benefits helped too. On top of that, I was lucky to have my brothers’ support too. 

How have other Clevelanders made you feel welcomed?

My daughter is in 7th grade now, and people are so friendly and helpful. When I first came to America in September, school had already started and I wanted to enroll my daughter. I met with the principal of the school close to my mother’s house and explained my family’s situation. You know what the principal said? “Wow, you and your daughter came from Iraq yesterday? You must have jetlag, go home and sleep!” So he was very understanding.  And my daughter loves it there now.  Also, it was great that I didn’t have to look for a new home, so that wasn’t as stressful.

What traditions or customs do you continue to practice?

I have so much family here, so we still practice all traditions from home in Iraq. And I am Muslim, so even the Muslim holidays. Like I still fast during Ramadan, even during work. Actually all of the people in the office prepare a huge feast for Eid! But it’s still different than how it was back home. In Iraq, work is off for eid so everyone can gather together and visit family together. 

What do you love about Cleveland?

The nature. This is one of the few places I’ve seen in America – I have visited only a few other states for job fairs – but I love that I can see the four seasons. Everything is fresh! In Dubai, we called it a “hot hell.” It’s too hot to live there. Everything is temporary.

Why is it so important to welcome immigrants and refugees?

Well, why are they refugees? They already suffered a lot in their home country, but they are still human so they deserve a simple welcome at least. And suffering is different among places – for me, leaving was putting my bags onto a plane, but some of my other family and friends had to literally run to escape violence and war. One of my friends is in Turkey right now and he tells me about the horrible things ISIS did.

Why is it important to travel abroad?

My daughter does many activities, so I drive her around, and I talk to the people there. And it’s so surprising. They don’t really know what’s going on in the world. I told someone I was from Iraq, and she said, “where’s Iraq?” I was shocked! You have so many of your people fighting there! When I was young, my friends and I knew everything that was going on in the world. We didn’t have internet because it was banned, but we listened to the radio and read the news. I am so surprised that most of the people I talk to do not know much about the world.