Refugee Interview Transcripts

irc These interviews were conducted as part of our World Refugee Day Benefit for the IRC.

The interviews use a model for collecting oral histories developed by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. The idea is for the interviewer to help the people being interviewed to tell their own story rather than using them as source material for the interviewer’s concept of a story. It’s a new thing for us and we’re still learning the ropes, but we hope to do more in our upcoming 2014-2015 season! Thanks to the fabulous Story Corps for some of the ideas for questions.

Meanwhile even though the Benefit is over, you can still help out the International Rescue Committee by donating or volunteering. (BTW Big Blue Door has no affiliation with the IRC, and is entirely responsible for the content of these interviews. All money from the Benefit and anything you donate at the link goes directly to the IRC, not to Big Blue Door.)

For background on the regions identified in the interviews you can look here. Or do you’re own research! That’s what the internet is for!

INTERVIEW w G______ (Conducted by Elizabeth Derby in June 2014)

Where are you from?
I am originally from Bhutan. I’m from the southern part of the Bhutan. The name of the district I was born in is Samchi. Now they changed the name and called it Samtse. So I’m from there.

How did your family live there?/What was your occupation?
Basically Bhutan is a country based on agriculture so they have subsistence farming, our family had a farm and almost 13 acres of land we used to farm. My dad, he had some skills in dairy so we had a community dairy, and he was the secretary of the dairy so he was running the dairy basically. And my grandfather, he was a national assembly member, that means he was a government servant, basically compare it in the U.S. to a senator. So we had many different kinds of things.

What did you grow on the farm?
We grew all kinds of things, corn, rice, millet, all kinds of stuff. We do have a betel nut farm and a lychee farm, which is a nice fruit, and we do have a little tea garden. So many things in the same place.

Can you tell me your first memory or a very old memory of your home?
I always remember my country, though I left when I was just eight years old, I remember the days I spent with my grandfather who died in 1987 I guess. We left the country in 1992, but I still remember the days I spent with my grandfather until I was very little. I would go with him everywhere he goes so I still remember those days.

What do you remember doing with him?
Basically I used to go with him on several occaisons and there used to be meetings in the community and I used to accompany him and sit behind them. It was getting into other people. The assembly sued to meet in the capital so he would go by himself to those but I used to go to the community meetings with him just for fun.

Tell me how you came to leave your home.
At the time when we left the country I did not know what was the problem but when I grew up I realized the reason I left the country was ethnic because I am Nepali, my ancestors they moved from Nepal in 1624AD which was long ago. The king moved after that, the king of this country he moved after 1624, and our people moved before the king, and we became the victim after all. So that was the ethnic reason. One of the reasons was ethnic reason. They adopted the One people one nation policy which our people didn’t like, which basically means they wanted to make all the Nepali speak—they banned the Nepali language in the country, Nepali dresses, Nepali culture, whatever we used was totally banned in the country. They wanted us to become Drukpa, which has a different language similar to the Tibetan language, different dress, so that was the reason and we did not tolerate that. Our people did not like to dissolve into that kind of thing.

If you don’t mind I would like to add few more things about the reason for leaving the country. Royal government of Bhutan asked to sign the voluntary migration form at a gun point and forced us to leave the country within a week. So, in order to save our life we fled away from the country. Especially southern Bhutanese called Lhotshampa (People living in the south who were mostly Nepali speaking) raised the voice against this discrimination for which several women were raped and killed, men were killed, put in jail and several people became homeless.

(added after interview in conversation) Luckily my family was not gun pointed but forcefully asked to fill up the voluntary migration form but that happened with many other people in the south.

Where did you go next?
After that I went with my great-grandmother to Sikkim where her son used to live. I stayed there for one year and I studied there for like kindergarten, but I did not like being away from my parents, so I came to the refugee camp where my parents were already living in Nepal, in the Jhapa district of Nepal. I spent almost 20 years there and then came to the U.S.

Is there anything you can tell me about what it was like living there?
In Sikkim I was with my relative but the reason I did not like to stay there was because I was away from my parents and I wanted to be with my parents. since I was very small I did not like to be away. if I had been bigger I would have chosen that one because everything was fine there. I had a good time with relatives and I was going to school, everything was fine. The only reason I did not like was being away from my parents.

Let me talk about life in the refugee camp. It was really horrible. The houses were made out of small bamboo and thatch, there was no electricity—the people of America, they don’t imagine a life without an electricity, but there we experienced a life without electricity. In Bhutan we had electricity and Bhutan is a really rich country in electricity, it has big hydro projects and sells to India. We had electricity in my house. But in the refugee camp I lived a life that was totally dark, I felt it was very difficult. There was no electricity, no proper sanitation, no proper food to eat. So life was very miserable.

How did you come to the United States?
In 2007 I guess United States initially accepted 60,000 refugees from Bhutan. And we were asked in coordination with the IOM, the International Organization for Migration, and UNHCR, United Nations High Commission of Refugees. They started the process for resettlement. I was a little hesitant in 2008. I did not like to come here because I wanted to go back to my country. But everybody started flying and then the life here was better than the camp so I decided to fill the form. The form was given by the ION and we decided to fill out the form for the resettlement. And through that process I came to the U.S. so we were—the United States accepted

Did you come with your family?
My parents are still back in the refugee camp because my brother is married to an Indian lady, so the process has been delayed because of that, but they are now doing the process and hopefully in three months or so they will be here. But it’s like—I came in 2011, it’s been three years and few months I have never seen them. I haven’t been able to go back. But here I am with my brother’s family and I married after I came to the U.S. so I have my wife and a little girl.

How old is your daughter?
She just turned one year old.

Who lives with you now?
My wife, my daughter, and my brother’s family, his wife and kids. We live together.

Who has been the most important person in your life? Can you tell me something about him or her?
My parents, obviously. Yeah. They are the most important person. Because of my parents I am here. Culturally, in our culture, we respect our parents as god. They are the living god. My parents are very helpful, they’ve been through so many obstacles in the life but they still give us education, they always encouraged us to go to school, always helped me in the time of need.

For your grandchildren or other people listening to this many years from now: is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
(laughs) This is a question I was asked by a student from Duke University when I was in the camp. They went for the research and I was interviewed. So I was asked the same question.

(laughs) I would like to say don’t get frustrated with any kind of difficulties or hindrances. Keep going and you’ll find a good place to settle down. I think because we came through many hindrances, we came through many obstacles and finally we got an opportunity to be the United States where we are safe and where we are enjoying our life.

I meant to ask you, what was it that made you change your mind or what made you want to come?
I did my own research on what is life here, I talked to my relatives who came here before me, actually my present wife she was then girlfriend, she was here before me and I used to ask how is life in U.S. that was, whatever I had in mind, the negative things and whatever rumors I was hearing from people, came to be like false, they were not true. So I finally decided to come.

INTERVIEW w F______ (Conducted by Elizabeth Derby in June 2014)

Where are you from?
I’m from Baghdad Iraq. I came down through Jordan, I lived in Jordan before I came to the United States. If you ask my daughter, she will say “I’m from Virginia.” She hardly say “I’m Iraqi.” She’s seven now, and was thirteen months when I came here, so this is her home.

How did your family live there?
I used to be a civil engineer working in the headquarters of the Al-Mustansiriya University. It’s one of the two big universities in Baghdad. And I used to work in construction, we have like an engineering department there and I used to work there with my husband. I’m not working now in the same thing as I used to, but I’m loving this more.

Why do you love it more?
It’s self-rewarding. It’s like…because I’ve been in that place I like to encourage people and tell them that this is just the beginning, you will get even further.

Your first memory or old memory of home?
I can see it right now. It used to be a two bedroom but they added an addition because we were three kids, two boys and a girl. It was always my home until I had to leave. After I got married I still wanted to live there, but it was what could be possibly the worst neighborhoods—it became one of the worst neighborhoods in Baghdad. It’s kind of a suburban side of Baghdad, near the airport.

What did you love about it?
It was on the main street, we were between two corners and I never knew anywhere else. I loved the neighborhood so I loved my home. I loved the feeling I would get every time I went there.

Did you raise your children in that house?
No. I went back and forth for less than one month and then I had to flee to Jordan, and I never went back. There was a lot related of things to why we had to leave, but I was pregnant when we lost my brother, so… My mother and other brother were already in Jordan getting treatment. I couldn’t go back to Baghdad because there was a curfew of 8PM. I was a pregnant woman, my husband was already relocated to Northern Iraq, where I had my baby. So it was…(?)  that was Baghdad in 2006, it was one of the worst years of sectarian violence. So I could not go back to my home to have the child, I couldn’t stay in Jordan because it was too expensive, so I went to Kirkuk where my husband’s family immigrated earlier. That’s another story.

Tell me how you came to leave your home.
When I got married in early 2005, the sectarian violence started to escalate. It started to kill my identity and the neighborhood, so these migration waves started to shift people from Shiite dominate neighborhoods and Sunni dominate neighborhoods in opposite directions. Which like if you take a look back you see it’s kind of like an organized thing but it started to be random. Random kidnappings happened a lot.

It happened to my husband’s family where I used to live, like, in the apartment in their home, that they kidnapped his father. One week later we found him in the medical center in the city morgue, beaten to death. He was 74 years old. Before that they were taken by like the police because every part of the police was controlled by a certain part of the militia that had conquered that part of the neighborhood that the police department had. They had tried to take the brothers before that, before they killed the father.

So they migrated to Kirkuk because they were Kurds and had family there. They were originally from there so they thought it’s safer. They could not stay anymore because they could not afford to lose more family members. So they migrated to the north. And then I went back to my parent’s home, and then my husband kept going back and forth.

In the middle of that my brother got diagnosed with a brain tumor and had to go to Jordan, because there was no medical treatment of any kind in 2005 in Iraq, everything had been stolen, a lot of hospitals had been brought down to the doors. Like everything was taken. So there was no reliable health system, so he had to go over there for surgery and go back and forth for MRIs.

It happened in 2006 that we were with my mother after one of the MRI check ups and we lost my brother. It happened actually this way. My husband’s family, they were living in a Shiite dominant—we really didn’t think about it until it actually started. They were Shia militia who took the Sunnis, the Kurds.

But my brother was the opposite. It was more like Al Qaeda related. They thought because of his name he was Shia, so they took his car and threatened him, and he got scared so he went to report his stolen car but when he stepped out of the police department they shot him dead. And he had a wife and three year old girl.

And now I was in Jordan with my mother and we didn’t know that we had lost him until my mother went down and came back like six weeks later scared that something might have happened to us.

But then I had to go back to have my baby in Kirkuk which was also—it was kind of violent but not as violent as Baghdad where you get killed. Basically when I went back after I had my baby, at 2pm, you don’t, especially in our neighborhood, you don’t see anybody. Because it also mutilation to that—what we’ve been living through the roadside bombs, conflict with the Iraqi troops or S.S. troops that was everything we were taking on as a regular life event, like “OK, we survived that, what’s next?” Because our proximity and location was very close to the Baghdad international Airport and that was one of the biggest locations for US Army especially there was the Saddam Palace. So there’s always been like a back and forth. We were in a war zone. We had our windows shattered within 2 years 7 times because of the roadside bombs. One of times which was the last time there was a car bomb that happened like 40 (?) yards away and if it wasn’t for the high fence—I thought I was dead. I couldn’t hear the voice of my Bibi (or baby?) because of how loud it is and seeing all this rain of like bricks and stuff I didn’t even realized I had survived it.

Before that you could go out into the street and see flying doors over your head for any reason, get shot by US troops for any reason, because they were always hearing of ambush. A lot of civilians also died because of that. But we could get used to all of that. Lack of electricity, that’s also something we got used to. But not losing one of your loved ones. Because then your lifestyle becomes “Who’s next? And you can always think that. And everything reminds you of the people, especially in Baghdad where you live, you grow up. My brother got married and lived right next to us in the same house. So everything reminds you of the people you just lost and you don’t know why. He wasn’t involved in any political or religion or anything related. So we had to leave.

I’ve heard from the news that it’s started to happen now in the same way, the ID killing and Al Qaeda conquering neighborhoods and militia’s conquering others and kidnapping and everything has started to escalate again.

Do you still have family there?
What I did, I left my mother and brother who could not go back because he was relying on medication, so I had my baby. I stayed for four months but it was also hard because my husband got a job in rural (?), in the middle of nothing and I didn’t understand all the language because it was Kurdish and I couldn’t feel that this was going anywhere or that we had any hope of going back where we came from so I went back to Jordan and from there applied with my mother and brother to the UNCR. My husband joined us later. I came here in 2008, and after I applied for family reunification he was able to come in 2010.

My father whom I had left behind because he stayed with my brother’s widow, he didn’t want to leave, died a couple of years ago of lung cancer. I couldn’t go to see him because by that point we didn’t have the passports. It was so quick and brutal. He was with my brother, he was the last one with him when he was shot. So I cant even imagine how hard it was on him to take.

For now my husband is with me and my mother and brother.

Is your brother doing okay?
My brother is on medication and he is controlled and has follow-ups and everything. UVA is a great place. He’s trying to get his education, his license. He used to be a dentist so, I mean, with him—here they see with his medical problems he was able to take longer tests, so he passed the first part of the dental board and is trying to apply for school. Which is really hard because he hasn’t been working since he had his surgery but he is still helpful that he will get training here and can practice.

I have so much respect for doctors. And engineers.
You don’t choose what you do when you go to a college. My brothers both liked what they did but I didn’t like it. I don’t think that I will be able to do all these big math and calculus books again, like, thank you. (laughs)

Where did you go next?
We went to Jordan and then we applied to the United Nation Human Rights Council, thenwe were referred to US Refugee program and then we were referred here. I was supposed to be sent to Fargo if it wasn’t for my mother who in that time petitioned to bring me here instead. I knew that I’m travelling to the States in two weeks but I thought I would be going to North Dakota. She went to the case worker here and requested for my case to be transferred here. So I still haven’t been to Fargo but I want to go someday, to see how my life path would take. I want to see what I missed. I’m curious to know.

How long did the process take?
I applied as soon as I got it, which was in March 2007, and it took for my case to be processed until January of the following year. Some people it takes much longer.

Did your brother come at the same time?
My mother and brother came six weeks earlier.

I like it here. I always tell clients that. A lot of the applicants, especially Africans, they keep telling me California is better, but I can’t speak about anywhere else in the States. I’ve spent 7 years here, I think it’s a great place to raise your family and also it’s safe. But I can’t tell you what else is out there, but I can’t imagine there are much better places to be, from what I hear.

Sorry, I’ve just been talking a lot. Typical Middle Easterner.

Who do you live with?

My husband and I live with our daughter in an apartment. We live in the same apartment complex as my mother in law lives. They lately, a few months ago, moved even closer, into a place across the hall. It’s convenient.

That must be nice for your daughter, to run across and say hi to grandma.
For sweet stuff, for candy. (laughs)

Who has been the most important person in your life?
My daughter. Always. I hope she never goes through what I’ve been through. There are a lot of things are taken for granted, and growing up in a place or a country with parents is one of them. I consider myself lucky to have had the parents I had. I was raised in a more liberal environment that helped me be more confident starting my life here. I hope I will be the same for my child. I hope that she won’t go through—or that anybody would go through what children are now going through, lacking, being worried that you child leaves and never comes back home, to lose them to a roadside bomb or a kidnapping or… I could see it in my mother, who never stopped crying. She tried to go and see his child, but still it is not the same. My late brother was the oldest, so he was special and different.

Any details you could share about your daughter?
She’d like to be a rock star, but I’m not crazy about this idea.

Does she sing?
A lot. Of course you probably heard the Frozen song? It’s probably a phase. She’s reached out, first she wanted to be a princess, now she wants to be a different kind of princess. She is very confident, and that kind of concerns me sometimes, but I love that she is confident, that I feel that I would not be able to give her that freedom if I was over there, because I would be more scared and concerned. I am happy that she is growing up in this place, especially as a child.

For grandchildren or other people listening many years from now, is there any wisdom you’d like to pass on?
Always be hopeful. Because it could be darkest days that you’re going to see—you believe in yourself that you are stronger than you imagine, that you can survive.

You’ve done it.
I didn’t believe that I would—I didn’t even think I would be in this kind of situation, especially coming here as a single mother. ______? Survival, that’s basically it.

INTERVIEW w A______ (Conducted by Yousaf Sajid in June 2014)

Where are you from?
Mazar-i-sharif, Afghanistan. The northern part of Afghanistan, I came to the US 4 months ago. I came directly to Charlottesville, and I like it a lot. It’s been completely interesting to see everything, everything that’s different…during my last 4 months I’ve learned a lot, you have to live to see and learn these things. You have to live it here and to see everything. The IRC has been very suportitive for us. I came with my wife and 3 kids. The IRC has been supporting us for everything and that makes our life very easy.

What did you do in Afghanistan?
I was an interpreter for an American company. There were training the Afghan police, and I was helping them translate to the officers. That was also fun, good job. But that was only 4 years program that they had. Then there programs finished, then I did nothing. During that time I had choice to apply for SIV, Special Immigrant Visa, so yeah, luckily I got my application approved. Finally, we got our VISAS and everything set up and left the country for a better and safer place.

How did your family live in Afghanistan?
There we had been living, not quite safe you know? Because there were always some explosions or some bad things happening in the town, it was unsecure, that’s why we decide to leave the country because it was not safe for us.

Do you have lots of family still in Afghanistan?
Yeah, I have lots of brother and my parents. We Skype them.

Who lives with you here in Charlottesville now?
My wife, a three kids, 1, 5, 7 years old. Oldest is going to school, the youngest is going no where, the middle one is going to day care. The oldest one likes school, he’s going to summer camp, he’s excited about going to swimming tomorrow. He has learned a lot of English, more than his mom!

Who has been the most important person in your life?
I can say my parents; mainly my father. He has been the most important person, shaped my personality, taught us good things about life.

Thinking for your grandchildren; what is something you’d want them to know, or wisdom to pass along to them.
I would like my children and grandchildren know that they have to travel around the world and choose the best place to earn knowledge and wisdom, and then transfer that to the next generation and then you know to use that knowledge for the good of the people.

What’s been the most challenging part about moving to Charlottesville?
I have to struggle with financial kind of things. Back in my country everything was cheap, here it’s expensive. It’s a big challenge here to maintain the same quality of life that you use to live back in your country. You have to work hard, so this was one of the challenging things, you got to find a good job, beside that you have to study so that you can get a better job. That was the challenging thing, it’s an expensive place.

Did you know about that change of pace before you got to the United States?
We were aware of the western part, that Europe and the US was more expensive, triple or 4x more. But we didn’t practice that, so when you practice that you feel it.

What’s been the most rewarding part about moving to Charlottesville?
The rewarding part is that you, you and your family, feel that you will be treated as other people. The humanity, the rights, are equal and this is a good privilege, this is a good sign of democratic and good civilization. This is a really good privilege that has been given by the society. Especially for my wife; now she understands that she has right to learn, to go to school, to learn English, and to learn other skills. That is something that I enjoy, that it’s more of a change for her than for me.

Have you found a good community here?
There is a quite a good community, the IRC community, IRC is the point that ties us with the other Afghan and Iraqi families. We meet each other through the classes at the beginning. Later on we see each other outside. There’s also a Muslim community in Charlottesville that I like, I like to go to the Friday prayers and join them. I try to get hold of different communities and be a member of them.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add? Or any questions that you have?
No, no questions. I’m happy to come here and have a chat with you.

INTERVIEW w N______ (Conducted by Stephanie Lind in June 2014. Location: IRC offices in Charlottesville)

Can you tell me your favorite food or favorite song?
My favorite food is Thai food, specifically Pad Thai.

Okay, spicy or not spicy?
Very, very spicy. The spicier the better. As for my favorite song, I like pop music but no specific song. I listen to Lincoln Park and station 101.9.

Where are you from?
I am originally from the refugee camp in Thailand. My parents are originally from Burma. They had to flee the country because of the persecutions so they came to Thailand, where there was a refugee camp. That’s where I was born.

How long were you at the refugee camp?
I was at the refugee camp from the time I was born until I came here to the US in 2007. I was born and raised in the refugee camp.

Did you have a job while you were at the refugee camp?
I was a teacher, I taught for two years after I graduated from high school. And then I came to the United States.

What did you teach?
I taught English.

When did your family move into the refugee camp?
They went to Thailand sometime in the 1980s. That’s when the refugee camp was open. First, they lived in a small refugee camp called Sho Klo. It was burnt down by the Burmese military. The Thai government determined that it wasn’t safe to live there anymore so they moved the camp to another city called Mae La. Mae La camp is the largest refugee camp in Thailand right now. We lived there until we could come to the US.

So your parents live in Charlottesville as well right now?
Yes, so I came first and then a month later, they came too.

Do you have siblings?
I have one younger brother. He’s still in school and goes to Charlottesville High School.

Can you tell me your first memory or a very old memory of your home in the camp?
Well, I remember everything in vivid detail. In the refugee camp you live in a small hut made of bamboo and leaves make up the roof. I remember one time when we were in Sho Klo refugee camp, the Burmese military came to the camp and they randomly shot fire in the village. They yelled at us not to run, not to flee. Later they came back close to our house and told us that if we do not go back to Burma, then next time they come they will burn down our village, our refugee camp.

How old were you when this happened?
I was six or seven.

And did they come back?
Yes, they did and burned down the camp. Usually the camp security will secure the camp every night, but that night I don’t know what happened… there was no security and so they came and burned down the camp. That’s when we moved to the other camp.

Did the army ever attack the other camp?
No, but they dropped bombs on the camp one time.

Did you have a shelter or a bunker for safety?
Well, we had to dig some big holes and put something on top to stay under. That’s how we stayed safe.

Can you tell me how you came to leave the refugee camp to come to the US?
The UN opened the resettlement process several years ago, so for those who were interested in coming to the US or Australia, or even Canada, Norway, Sweden, they can apply and if accepted, they can go. We had the opportunity, luckily, and so we applied to go to the US.

Were there other countries that you and your family could or wanted to apply to?
We could apply to Australia, but that’s a long process and they only allow you to go if you have a relative living there. It’s not easy to apply to Australia so we decided to apply for the United States

How long did it take for the application process to go through?
I don’t remember… roughly 1 year or if not, then 6-8 months.

So from the time you applied to the time you actually moved was that a year-long process?
Yes, it was year-long because you have to do all the medical checkups, orientations, etc. It’s a long process but it’s worth it.

Good. Who lives with you now in the United States?
Right now, I live with my wife and our 5-year-old daughter. She was born here. It is just the three of us in a two bedroom apartment.

What is your daughter’s name?
Natalie. She’s very excited to go to school next year. She’ll be going into Kindergarten.

Who has been the most important person in your life?
I would say my parents, but also my wife and daughter and all of my other family.

Is there something specific about your parents in particular that has made them so important in your life?
They care for us, raise us since we were born. Even though they have been through such hardship and tough times, they still raised us in a good way. So, we have to respect them and definitely love them.

How do you think your daughter’s childhood here in America will differ from yours in the refugee camp in Thailand?
They are so different. Our daughter here will get everything she wants, unlike when we were children. When we wanted something, we could not have it because we had no money to buy it. It’s a different life. Also, here there is a very good school system and opportunities, whereas in Thailand after graduation, there weren’t any opportunities in terms of employment or university since you are not allowed to go outside of the camp. And as a refugee, you are not recognized as a Thai citizen. The citizen are the ones who have job opportunities and education opportunities.

If you don’t mind me asking, do you feel as though you were treated differently because you were not specifically Thai or as a refugee?
Yes, definitely you are treated differently because you are not citizens of their country. You do not have any of the opportunities that the citizens do.

For your grandchildren or other people listening to this many years from now: is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know? Even your daughter, if you’d like to give her advice.
I’d like to tell them that here, the future generations will not have to go through what I have been through. But I just want to let my daughter know that she should never forget where her family is originally from as far as ethnic groups and culture. Even though she lives in the United States and is American, I just want her to remember her culture.

Do you think that your daughter has any understanding of what your family has been through thus far to get to America?
No, she’s only five and we have not told her about it in depth. She knows we came from Thailand. When she’s a little bit older, we might explain it to her. Maybe someday we can take her back to Thailand and show her the refugee camp, so that would give her a better idea about our history.

You talked about culture- when you were living in the refugee camp, did your parents try to maintain their culture? Was that ever an issue at the camp? Did they integrate into Thai culture at all?
No, they still maintained a Burmese identity. But Burmese culture is different than our Karen culture even though we share the same ethnicity from Burma. We have our own distinct culture.

Did you find that culture hard to hold on to in the refugee camp?
No, it’s not hard because the other refugees were Karen and it was easy to practice our religion and culture there.

INTERVIEW w Y______ (Conducted by Andrea Rowland in June 2014)

Where are you from?

What did you do there? What did your family do?
I didn’t do nothing. I was still a child. My family were farmers. Livestock.

Can you tell me about an early memory from Somalia?
I don’t remember much about Somalia except that I went to an Islamic school there, and then in 1992 the civil war broke out and we went to a refugee camp in Kenya.

How did you come to the United States?
I came here to the United States in March of 2004. In 2004, my wife, my uncle, his family and I got permission to come over here.

Do you all live together?
Yes, we all live together here now.

Who has been the most important person in your life?
The most important person in my life was my father. He encouraged me to do the right thing all the time. My parents live in Kenya now. My father plans to visit me here.

What do you do here in the United States?
I work for the I.R.C. as a translator in hospitals, schools, and in the Virginia courts, sometimes traveling to Richmond. I also work in maintenance at Monticello.

How did you learn to speak such good English?
In Kenya they speak English, so I learned to speak English there.

For your grandchildren or other people listening to this, what wisdom would you like to pass on?
If I could speak to my grandchildren, I would encourage them to get an education and to do the right thing, as I was taught by my father. Keep the legacy going.

Do you practice Islam here?
Yes, there is a Mosque with a lot of members—over one hundred, I think.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

INTERVIEW w A______ (Conducted by Maggie Thornton in June 2014)

Where are you from?
Iraq Baghdad

How did your family live there?/What was your occupation?
I was an assistant manager for one of the government companies – the ministry for industry and minerals. We owned a house.

Can you tell me your first memory or a very old memory of your home?
We used to see Baghdad as a very special place a wonderful place all of my memories in Baghdad are wonderful but it’s only before the war and one of my best memories was when we go out in the evening and walk around my favorite place in downtown of Bagdad we go there and buy and ice cream and just walk through the downtown having fun and that’s before the war. It was a wonderful place.

Tell me how you came to leave your home.
That was a story because I wasn’t planning like my whole life before the war I wasn’t imaging I was going to leave Baghdad or leave my country. After the war it became hard to stay there and live there so the story started after the war and especially after I lost my husband. The security situation became very bad. It was unsecured. It was not safe for me and my kids to live there so we decided to move to the United States. My brother he was the one who applied for me, and he brought me here to start my life and my kids’ life here.

Who lives with you now?
It’s me and my four kids. And the oldest is seventeen, then I got his birthday is next week and he will be fifteen and then Hassan he is ten and my youngest Salma seven.

Who has been the most important person in your life? Can you tell me something about him or her?
My kids — all of my kids. They are the reason to survive they are my reason to survive and fight through life.

For your grandchildren or other people listening to this many years from now is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
Well, it’s something that I keep saying to myself don’t put a limit. You will be the only limit for yourself. If you ever think that there is a limit for what you can do, you will limit yourself. Anything is not impossible if you try it. If you’re willing to try it, you’ll find there is nothing impossible for you to do.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
Not really.

We can also put a copy online so other people can read or listen to the whole interview. Would you like that?
The  notes are good … not the voice.


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