By Abu Ahmad
I came to Minnesota a year and a half after I was approved to enter the United States as a refugee. My wife and I had been living in Turkey for 26 months, where we went after fleeing the war in Iraq. It was hard to stay in communication with our friends, even those who also went to Turkey, because there are only specific neighborhoods where refugees are allowed to be, and people I knew ended up in different areas than the one we were sent to. If I wanted to visit them, I needed special papers to leave my neighborhood – and those weren’t always provided.
Moving to Minnesota felt a lot like moving to Turkey. Both times, I felt very homesick. Both times, I left behind many things that were very important to me. You see, in Iraq, I earned a two-year degree in car mechanics and was very successful. Even after my injury, which left me paralyzed from the waist down, I continued to work. One time, I changed an entire transmission system by laying down on a mattress and having someone push me under the hoisted vehicle so that I could work on it. I also taught myself how to modify vehicles so I could control the gas and brakes by hand, and did this free of charge for my friends in Iraq who were also paralyzed.
When I found out my flight to Minnesota had been scheduled, I knew I could only bring the most important things with me. I wanted to bring my tools so I could keep working on cars, but they told me the tools were too heavy and that I could buy new ones here, so I left everything behind.
If I had been able to stay in Iraq, I would have become an even better mechanic. But since I had to leave, first for Turkey and then for Minnesota, I could not continue. Now, when I get picked up by Metro Mobility for my doctor appointments, I pay attention to the sounds the vehicles make, and I tell the driver exactly what’s wrong with them. I can tell just by listening.
Sometimes people ask me how I can still be kind given all I have experienced, but it is in my blood to help others and be generous. This has been my experience in Minnesota, too, because unlike other countries, people in America help without being asked. The government, the community, and everyone you meet will offer to do that. My self-esteem is higher here because I feel like I belong.
This story originally appeared in our March 2018 Newsletter.