School: Fargo South High School, Fargo ND
Educator: Leah Juelke
AWARD: Honorable Mention, Personal Essay/Memoir
“Boom!” We heard that sound everyday. In 2003, the U.S. military took over Iraq, and people started moving from the South to the North. Hundreds of people were killed everyday, and thousands of people were missing. We were scared. We couldn’t go out, we couldn’t walk in the street, and we couldn’t go to the store. After a few years, things started getting better. The U.S military started to hire people to be interpreters.
“I'm going to apply there,” my dad excitedly said to my mom.
“Do you think that will be safe for us?” my mom asked him with a look of worry on her face.
“There’s nothing to worry about,” my dad responded.
“بعد ماأعرف اني” my mom said.
Soon, my brave dad started working with the U.S. military. Our life was pretty good until a year later when we received a threat from terrorists. It was a small sheet of paper with a bullet taped to it. They told my dad to either quit his job or his family would be killed.
“سوف اقدم لجوء الى امريكا” my dad told my mom.
“OK, that sounds better for us,” my mom said.
In 2010, we started filling out the application for the International Organization for
Migration (IOM). It was my dad, my uncle, and I who completed the documents carefully. We waited and waited, for four years. Finally in January of 2014 we received a call from the IOM. “Hello, موعد سفركم بعد 14 يوم,” they told my dad.
We were so excited that we were going to the United States. We started packing up our clothes. We sold almost all of our belongings, and we sadly said goodbye to our friends.
The guy from the IOM office was supposed to call us one day before our airplane was scheduled to leave time and tell us what we should do. We waited and they didn’t call. We were so sad. My dad called them to ask them about the details, but they said we were not on the travel list yet. Later on, we called my helpful cousin who lived in the United States. He said the travel was canceled because of a big snowstorm in Fargo.
We had sold everything, our house and furniture. I quit school because we thought we were leaving. We stayed at my grandma’s house for three months. Finally, they called us to let us know that they rescheduled the travel date. We were so excited and scared at the same time. Although we were happy when they called us, we were also worried because we thought they might cancel it again.
The day before the travel, they called us to let us know that our airplane’s departure was at 6am. They provided us with all the important details. I said my goodbyes to my best friends and family. They all started crying.
By 4am, we were on our way to the airport. My dad’s friend drove us there. I started looking at all the stores and roads, because I couldn’t believe that I was leaving such a beautiful country. It was real. I was going to the United States, where everyone wants to go. We got on the airplane. I had never seen an airplane before, so I was so scared.
“Ladies & Gentlemen, we are about to fly so please wear your seat belt. We are heading to Jordan,” the pilot said on the speakers. In this moment, my heart started pumping fast.
It took us one hour to get there. We arrived in Jordan at around noon, and we stayed in a hotel for the rest of the day. The next morning, we went to the airplane that would take us to Chicago. This time, the airplane was so huge there were around 1,000 people from different countries. On the 9th of April, we arrived in Chicago. I was so tired because sitting in the airplane for 14 hours was really mentally exhausting.
We found a few guys standing by the exit holding the IOM bag in their hands. We knew that they were the IOM guys that we were supposed to meet there. They told us to hurry because our next airplane to Fargo flew out in an hour. My family and I were quickly running to catch the airplane. Finally, we found the airplane. This time the airplane was so small, there were less than 100 people.
I was looking down from the window, and I saw the lights and the roads. It was really awesome! I started remembering my friends and other things from Iraq and I got sad. Soon, we arrived in Fargo. The plane ride went quick because I was heavily sleeping most of the time.
Finally we left the airplane, we found my oldest cousin waiting for us. There were a couple of guys with him who were with the IOM. My cousin helped us by translating.
We went to get our bags, and when we went outside we saw my other two cousins. It was April and it was so cold! I was wearing a t-shirt, sweatshirt and a jacket, but I was still freezing. My cousins were only wearing shirts and they were not cold because they were use to it.
My cousin drove us to our apartment. When I found out that the apartments are made from wood, I was confused. What would happen if it rained? Wouldn’t we get wet? My cousin told me that it's a special wood, so it won't get us wet if it rained.
My biological clock was soon affected. Because of the time difference between Iraq and the United States, I started sleeping in the afternoon and waking up at night.
The first few months were so difficult, but I didn’t give up. We got our social security cards, and I went to get my driver’s license. I knew how to drive, so it wasn’t hard for me. Then I started looking for job.
I started school at Fargo South High, and soon started adjusting to the life in a new place. I didn’t speak English when I came, but by talking classmates at school, I learned a little more English.
One night I heard it was going to snow so I didn’t sleep. I had never seen a snow storm before. Around 3 a.m. it started snowing and it was so beautiful. Everything started to turn white.
The next morning we went outside and we started playing in the snow, it was so fun.
“Are you guys new here?” my neighbor asked my dad.
“Yeah, are you asking because you saw my kids playing with the snow,” my dad asked.
“Yes, because they were so excited about it,” my neighbor said.
Moving was a really big change for me, from a terrible and war filled life to a beautiful life. Here, when you go outside for a walk everyone says hi to you. In Iraq if you go outside for a walk, you are not sure if you will come back alive. It was my dream to come to the United States and have a better life. I finally made it.
Arabic Language Glossary
"بعد ماأعرف اني."
“I don’t know, it’s up to you.”
"سوف اقدم لجوء الى امريكا."
“I will apply to go to America.”
"موعد سفركم الى امريكا بعد 14 يوم."
“There’s 14 days left until you fly to America.”