Saddam's rule, before the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, we knew nothing about
the other side of the world. Internet, satellite television, and many other
things were banned. We knew nothing about America
beyond that it was the country that kept fighting Iraq and killing its people. But I
suspected there was something wrong with this equation, and I didn't like what
was said everywhere by Saddam's officials. The false news and Saddam's
propaganda only fed my curiosity about America, but I had few sources to
find out more. One source was my father, who told me that America was the best country on earth--a
statement that could have cost him his life had any of Saddam's followers heard
it. I still remember how badly he felt when he saw the news on that inauspicious
day of September 11.
the first days of the American invasion, while I was still living the ecstasy
of a new era of "freedom," I thought of America as a liberator. Everything
my dad had told me seemed to be true. But I still had a lot to learn about this
country, especially when I worked as an Army interpreter and as a journalist
with The New York Times.
first realized that life in America
was not as easy and smooth as it appeared in Hollywood
movies. I was thinking that if life were so great in America, then those young soldiers with whom I worked wouldn't have had to leave it and risk their lives on the
front lines. I was still confused about real life in America. I kept asking the soldiers
and officers, who came from different states and cities, what they thought; some liked it and some
I stepped off the airplane in Chicago in my
first moments in the U.S.,
I quickly discovered more about the reality of this country. O'Hare airport was so
big, but it was clean and there were no signs of disorder despite the hundreds
and maybe thousands of passengers. Flashing back to the Baghdad airport, I recalled about six hours
of waiting and searching in order to get to my waiting area for my flight. The
airport is one of the biggest bases for American forces in Iraq.
now live in Tucson, Arizona,
a quiet city and a good place to start over and get a wider view of America. I am
one of many Iraqis who have come to Tucson.
When I talk to fellow Iraqi immigrants, they are also surprised to find such a
quiet city in America,
but most say that this city is a good fit for them. There are others who are
not satisfied with it, and I think that is because they're jobless, which is the
same problem in many parts of the U.S. now.
was astonished by several things I never imagined about life in America. Life
is very serious and practical here, and people don't have much time to talk on
the street, in markets, or even in public places. It seems everyone is busy
with his or her own business and daily concerns. Sometimes I feel that it's
good this way, and other times I hate it because in Baghdad you would never feel alone or
neglected. People in Baghdad
would stay up late and forget about their long workday by hanging out with
friends or going out. The day would go until midnight, or even beyond. Many
things have changed since the invasion, and the deterioration of the security
situation has kept most Iraqis indoors.
was also surprised that most Americans know nothing about the reality of the
war in Iraq.
I sometimes find it hard to explain, because Iraq is a complicated place. I
think it's the history, the civilization, and the old sand of that country that
makes it harder than others to be understood. These aspects were not considered
at all before the war. You have to study Iraqi history well and get to know the
culture more before dealing with the people on a long-term basis.
Iraqis here in Tucson,
we talk about Iraqi issues and the war but we don't come to a consensus most
of the time. Everyone sees things from his point of view--some are against the
invasion and some support of it, some were against Saddam and some were for
him. I prefer not to talk about it, but on many occasions, I find myself the
only person who talks and convince the others that Saddam was wrong and the war
was also a mistake in some ways for both Iraqis and Americans. The war is now
an irretrievable part of history, but we all have the chance to do something
for our present and future. I always try to conclude my speeches and
discussions with this idea.
to my family or friends in Iraq
is another burden now, as I am on the other part of the war--the safest part.
It's strange sometimes when I hear them describe the situation there. I get a
mixed feeling: Sometimes I feel hopeless or torn apart. I was there, in the
middle of it, but now I'm just one of the bystanders. I'm now in a better
place, more secure and safe. I live an ordinary life that I never had lived
before coming to the States.
time I talk to my mother on the phone I hear her complain about the same simple
things. Such things are not considered huge issues in many countries because
they are simply the basics of life nowadays. "We haven't had water for three
days, and there's no electricity on our side of the neighborhood because the
transformers are old and they change them with older or worse ones every time,"
my mother says. Thinking about infrastructure in Iraq is really exhausting. People
always say, "How come America
can't fix such simple things?" The situation has made some people think it's
intentional. They think the Americans are doing it on purpose now!
thought that by coming to America
I could relax and have fewer worries than in Baghdad. It turned out that I have the same amount
of concerns, but they are different in nature. I now think about having a
stable life by finding a job. I think about my family and friends living in Iraq, while I
live in exile as a refugee. I have become part of the American mixture that is
beaten by the daily blender of life.
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 here. To read all his "Finding Refuge" entries, click here.