See images below of their recent activities in Minneapolis:
This Friday I had the pleasure of visiting Shayma and her beautiful family: Mohammed, her husband, Hussein, 17, Ayat, 16, Moustafa, 12, Ali and Doha, 8, and Malik, 6. Though we were only able to spend a few hours together, my time spent the family was easily the happiest day I’ve had since returning to the United States.
Shayma opened the door to the house even before I could knock. Greeting me with hugs and kisses, she eagerly introduced me to her husband, Mohammed, and oldest daughter, Ayat. After exchanging a few pleasantries, she brought me next door to the adjoining house, where a Somali family lived. Packed inside were a host of children. Despite playing a video game, as soon as I came in through the door the children turned to beam at me and offered their hands to say hello. Moustafa’s entire face lit up when he saw me; having tutored him an entire two years ago, I didn’t know if he would remember me. But upon seeing his wide smile and huge eyes, he certainly did. Two of the girls, Doha and Malik, stood up to return to Shayma’s house with us. As we walked the ten feet back, Malik ran in front, then turned to run back and hug me. Throughout my time there, I would learn Malik’s random signs of affection were just as spontaneous as her soft smile. This smile turned to a screech of joy when, in response to her hug, I threw her up into the air and carried her back inside.
Upon our return, Shayma proudly showed me the house, and Doha and Malik showed me their letter books and homework. Malik also brought me a small pumpkin, then placed it in the fridge, explaining to me in specific detail about exactly how she was going to cook it later. Her determined rant was incredibly charming. Eventually, Shayma, Mohammad, and the oldest brother Hussein sat with me to drink tea and discuss various topics. I learned that in addition to speaking Arabic, Hussein had picked up Turkish in the two years his family was in Turkey and learned French in Iraq. And now he was learning English at school! He complained about English being more difficult to learn than the others; Shayma reminded him that it had only been three weeks.
I must confess that during this time I was rather distracted by Malik. During our discussion, Malik ran around or just stared at me curiously. Ayat turned on the TV to distract her with an episode of Scooby-Doo, but the film barely held Malik’s attention for five minutes before she was at my side again. Playing with my hair, particularly my bangs, was a favorite pastime of Malik’s; she enjoyed sweeping them exactly perfect, then telling me how beautiful I was. She also fidgeted with my necklace, which she liked to much she kissed it, and then me.
After a short trip to help Shayma and Mohammed buy a few items of food, we returned to a household at which the younger children had discovered a bag of Twix, and were running around with chocolate. Though I managed to excuse myself from the first few candy bars offered, I gave in at Moustafa’s concerned face and his serious comment of, “It’s good for you.” He wouldn’t take no for an answer, and the absurdity was too charming to resist, so I succumbed to eating one candy.
Malik then made me promise to play cards. She and Doha were good at explaining the rules, so soon I got the hang of the new game. Everyone helped everyone else play so that nobody missed an opportunity for a move. The girls also constantly tried to give me extra turns and made me the dealer, a coveted position. Doha also good-naturedly allowed Malik to cheat, though not against me. During the game, Malik also took time to point out the important parts of Scooby-Doo, such as telling me when whose hair was going to stand up when. At the end of the game, I tried to cheat so that another one of the girls would win, but they were both too smart; they told me I was playing wrong and that I won.
After the game ended the Twix must have kicked in, because both girls started to do various acrobatics across the floor, including splits, rolls, and cartwheels. (My attempted cartwheel resulted with me lying on the floor laughing and Malik extending a concerned hand to help me up and ask if I was alright.)
Shayma then decided that was a good time to show me various Arabic music videos, and called me over to the couch. The children crowded in too, with Moustafa and Doha on one side of their mother and with me, Ali, and Ayat on the other side, all squished together. As we watched the music videos, Shayma also talked to me about how much she loved Avatar, which was playing on the TV. As we turned to discussing other movies, the children grew bored and ran away to return with books, which they begged me to read. Responding to Shayma, reading an ABC book for Ali, and getting read to from a second book by Malik had the wonderfully crazy feel of family. Talking to Shayma was like talking to any student about the cool new movies coming out; Ali inspired me by knowing the word “crocodile” as I read to him; Malik’s “reading” to me of an English book in Arabic was adorable. After our books ended, I warmed the children’s hands by rubbing them between my own, which they thought was hilarious, then proceeded to fight over who was going to rub my hands. I solved the problem by giving Ali one hand and Malik the other; but then Doha wanted to join in too and I didn’t have a third hand. At this point Shayma scolded the children away from crawling over me with, “In America, you don’t crowd people!” but I enjoyed every moment.
When I tell people I visited a household of Iraqi refugees, most have an image that arises of difference. Yet this family wasn’t foreign to me; they were familiar. The familiar chaos of family life was unmistakably the feeling of a home. Shayma constantly tried the impossible task of wrangling the children. Mohammed was looking for a job as a mechanic. Hussein was worried about learning a new language in school. Ayat constantly watched over the little ones. Ali wanted to impress everyone with new words he had learned. Doha made sure everything was in order and done properly. Malik bounced around crazily and loved extra attention. This family shared the constant joy of the triumphs and trials of daily life.
And yet despite the commonalities between this family and my own, I also felt the nuanced difficulties of everyday life. Children struggling in school, parents working to understand supermarkets, and other small aspects of life I often took for granted I saw as struggles in the eyes of this family. Upon my departure Shayma made me promise I would return largely out of kindness and caring, but I also sensed in her a small desperation. Shayma had mentioned earlier that being a refugee in the U.S. was difficult, and I empathized. Living in a new country can often be lonely and overwhelming, and so I promised to return as soon as I could. It will be my pleasure to spend more time with this family and feel the love and sense of belonging they share with me.
For the past several months, filmmaker Nathan Fisher and IARP have worked with Iraqi refugees in Minnesota to help them produce videos telling their stories. The guiding principle has been to allow the Iraqis to tell their own stories and to focus on what they want to tell Americans.
The films will be featured at the upcoming Mizna Arab Film Festival in Minnesota. Watch for more information to come.
Excerpt from story, “Iraqi refugees cope with horrors of war in Minnesota filmmaker’s new project” by Nikki Tundel / MPR News (full story available here):
IARP endorses the following event…. TRACKS IN THE SNOW. Read more here via Star Tribune.
From the Islamic Resource Group:
It’s not often that we get to learn about the journeys of people from diverse backgrounds. It’s not often that we get to walk in the shoes of our neighbors, and reflect about the growth of our community in a meaningful way.
Tracks in the Snow provides a glimpse into the lives of one of the least known and rapidly expanding populations in America and in Minnesota – the Muslim community. Join us to gain a deeper insight into the true lives of Muslims Minnesotans as narrated by themselves.
Most importantly, join us to create a conversation. Let the exhibit inform your perceptions and tell us what you think! Tracks in the Snow is a way for us to come together and redefine the narrative about Minnesota Muslims by beginning an authentic dialogue and continuing the journey.
Carondelet Event and Retreat Center
1890 Randolph Ave, St Paul, MN 55105
The show runs from August 25 to September 22 at the Carondelet Center in St. Paul.
Free to visitors. For hours and more information, click here.
September 18, 7:00 – 8:00 PM
Every year we look forward to the annual Sister Cities Day! Mark your calendar, save the date and bring the family to Sister Cities Day on Sunday, July 20th, at the Nicollet Island Pavilion.
Free ice cream social, youth international performers Songs of Hope, multicultural performances by the Sister Cities and kids activities. All for free as part of the Minneapolis Aquatennial Celebration.
All 10 Sister City Groups will be in attendance, including IARP! Come say hi at our booth.
Thank you to everyone who joined us for the annual celebration cruise! The rain held off and mist came off the river at sunset, we danced on the upper deck to Arabic music… a wonderful time was had by all. Nine film makers and their families were introduced to the sold out crowd of 85 guests and Suaad Allami spoke for a few minutes about her work promoting woman’s rights in Iraq. Until next year!
IARP would like to share the following link, information via The New York Times of interest: non-partisan, informative pictures/maps.
By Tricia Khutoretsky, IARP Curator
In early May, I took an overnight trip to Kimballton, Iowa on behalf of the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project to install a special exhibit for the New Century Art Guild. NCAG is a 501c(3) non-profit organization that promotes the growth of artistic culture and development of art-related careers in the Midwest, especially those of military veterans wishing to make new careers in visual art. The organization supports three buildings that feature over 4000 square feet of studio and gallery space located on the Main Street of Kimballton, Iowa.
From IARP Executive Director Kathy McKay’s article in the May 2014 Reconciliation Report newsletter:
The work of reconciliation takes many forms. Fostering connections between civilians in the US and civilians in Iraq is one of the ways at IARP that we work toward better understanding between the people of our two countries.
It is through the collective effort of volunteers, interns, contract employees, Board members, donors and email readers from both countries that opinions change, new ideas form, positive curiosities are aroused, and friends are made.
“Prophets, Patriarchs, and People of Promise: Jesus”
On Sunday, April 27, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. the Muslim Christian Dialogue Series will discuss the life of Jesus as situated in both Islam and Christianity. Local leaders presenting and moderating are Owais Bayunus, interfaith program director for the Islamic Center of Minnesota, and Dan Collison, Senior Pastor of First Covenant Church, Minneapolis. Both have extensive experience and involvement in their local and religious communities. RSVP here.
Date: April 27, 2014
Time: 2:00 p.m.
Location: Islamic Center of Minnesota, Fridley, MN
The Muslim Christian Dialogue series has provided a peaceful space for various faiths to participate in monthly discussions in the Twin Cities for 25 years. For more information about this event and others, please visit their site or call 612-870-3600.