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Hear My Story: Hussein

Stories of tragedy, courage, and hope reborn: these are the voices of the refugees served by Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri.   Learn more about the refugee experience from those who have lived it first hand.

What is your name?


Can you tell us about where you’re from?

I’m from Iraq, Basra

Where were you living before you came to the United States?


What was life like before coming to the US?

When you’re a child in Iraq, it’ll be hard for you. From school it’s hard. It’s war. You’re a child, and it’s all war, so what are you going to think? From the school you learn more, but with just hate. You can’t focus because everytime when I walk to school, I’ll think that something can happen. Like in my city, there’s not a lot of war. The war is only like, from Baghdad to Mosul, but you still hear shots. You’ll think, “Oh, maybe it’s going to hit my head.” When you think that way, you will run to school fast because you’re scared you’ll get shot, so you have to get to school. 

Did you come to the US with family?

Yes, we are five boys, four girls, with my mom and dad, for a total of eleven. It’s a lot. With my siblings, sometimes we’re loud, sometimes we’re not. We’re cool with that. 

How old were you when you came to the US?

When I came to the US, I was 14 years old. 

What was your first impression of Columbia?

When I entered, it was cool, like there’s not a lot of stuff that I see in my country. When I entered, I didn’t know where I was. It was my first time, so I thought everything was cool, everything was good. I was good, just quiet. 

What surprised you most about life here?

The surprise is kind of fun. When we were in Iraq, we didn’t think we were going to come to Columbia, or we didn’t know what Columbia is, so we searched “America.” Google will just give you the best thing, the good, so we searched, and it’s all big buildings and this stuff. We entered Columbia, and at this time we hadn’t entered downtown. We entered, and I was like, “Is this America?” and they were like, “Yes, it’s America, they speak English, so of course.” So I said, “It’s not the same we see in Google.” So I was surprised it wasn’t the same thing, but Columbia is cool. 

What was the hardest thing to learn about life here?

Language. It’s the hardest. When we first came here, we lived far away from the market and store. So five miles from the market and we didn’t have a car yet. Me and my bigger brother, we would go walking to get bread, and my bigger brother loves cola, so we would go to get cola. We didn’t know English, and we don’t know our address, so we would bring our mail with us, because it comes to our mailbox and has our address on it, so if something happens and we don’t know where we go, we can ask somewhere where we should go. 

What do you think of Columbia now?

I don’t like to be in a large community. So first thing, there’s not a lot of people here. I love to be with friends, but not with a lot, a lot of people. Columbia is quiet, which is why I love it. You can learn easier here; Columbia’s not big, but when I first came here, it was big. Month by month, year by year, it’ll feel smaller. 

How do you feel about the community here?

It’s good. There’s good people, there’s nice people. If you need help, they are happy to help you. I entered Columbia, and I didn’t know any English, and they were talking. I didn’t know anything. There are people who know more English than I do, and they try to make me understand. Of course they got tired, how to make a new person understand English, so yeah. 

How has Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration Services helped during your transition to life in the US?

First, if you don’t know anyone here, you don’t know where you go. You’re new here, who are you going to ask? So Refugee and Immigration Services helped us with finding a house, showed us the roads, told us, “This is Walmart, this is something.” We didn’t know that. It’s cool. I want to say they save people’s lives, how they were and how they come here. Maybe they were living a bad life until they came here, but they can come here and grow and live life more. So it’s better. 

What is your greatest accomplishment?

Learning the language. I didn’t think I would be able to, but I’m proud. I haven’t learned it all, but I can let people understand what I need or what I want. It’s the best thing. 

What is your dream for the future?

I love the army or FBI. I’m not sure if I can go, so maybe no one. I don’t know, because I still don’t know a lot about the army or the FBI. I know a little bit from here and a little bit from there, but I know more about the army than the FBI. 

What is your favorite thing about your home country?

The people, they are too nice. They are more than too nice. Most of them, they are nice. Some people, kind of, if they’re in a good mood. But most of them are good. Whenever you need them, they’ll be there for you. Or whenever something happens to you, you’ll see they are the first ones helping you. In Basra, we’re all one and we help each other always. 

What do you miss the most from your home country?

People and my family, like my grandma and grandpa. It’s hard when you are here and you lose someone.

Are there any family or cultural traditions you keep?

There are special days, we have a lot of special days but I don’t know how to explain it, but we still celebrate them. We’re still Iraqi. The culture, in Iraq, there’s more than one culture and more than one religion. There are things we still do here. We don’t do them often, but it’s in our blood. 

Something that we still do is dance; we dance whenever we want. There’s a traditional dance, even if you translate, you can’t find the name. It’s an Iraq accent, so it’s hard to find. It’s Arabic, but it’s hard to make people understand. 

What does being American mean to you?

I’m not a citizen yet, so being an American…what people think⁠—so not in America but outside of America, the other countries⁠—it’s all different. Some people think ill, some people think good. Some people will say bad things about you being an American, or some people will say good about being an American. 

What does being a refugee mean to you?

Some people think being a refugee means bad, but if you think where I was before, if you think where I’ve been, you’ll understand why I’m a refugee. So to be a refugee, you start a new life in another country, so you grow yourself and your family. So for me, it’s not bad to be a refugee. It’s life. 

What does World Refugee Day mean to you?

Peace for people who were in war to start a new life and live a happy life. I wish that. 

Do you feel like there are misconceptions about being a refugee?

Some are good, some are bad. Most are good. When you think about being a refugee, think about it. Don’t be shy when you say you’re a refugee. Some people are shy because they’ll think people will laugh when you say you’re a refugee. We can’t control what people think; what they think, they think that way. There’s nothing I have in my hand to tell them not to think that way. I can tell them it’s not what you think, but maybe some people, they hear me, some people don’t. You can’t control their brain, you can’t control their thinking. 

Do you feel like there are misconceptions about your home country?

The most is about culture. They think what’s going on in Iraq is an Iraqi people problem, but it’s not. In Iraq, all they need is peace, and they need small things. These things are what I’m supposed to have as a person, as an Iraqi person but I don’t have it. You see, Iraqi people, they don’t do anything bad, but people still think badly. If you look at social media, what’s going on in Iraq is not the people’s fault, most of it is the government. Like in Syria, the government fights people. Like in Iran, the government fights people. In Iraq, all people stand together, so last December, I think, the president was ousted from his own Iraqi government because he can’t control it. I’m Iraqi and what I’m supposed to have, he didn’t give it. Now, there’s a new president, so I hope, I hope, it’s going to be better. 

What do you want the community to know about your home country or culture?

There’s a lot of history in Iraq if you go. You have Najaf, Karbala, Baghdad, Basra, everywhere. It’s all Iraqi history. The Code of Hammurabi, he made it, and it was in Iraq. 

If you talk about how Iraq was, there was war still, but it’s better than it is now.

What do you want the community to know about refugees?

To give peace and love. Refugees are given peace; that’s why it’s called refugees, because you are a refugee and we give you peace in this country.

What would you tell yourself when you first arrived in Columbia?

Just three words, “Don’t give up.” About anything. Every time something happens, I tell myself, “Don’t give up,” because some things, you can fix it, so don’t stop and don’t give up. If it’s your dream, just keep walking. Don’t look back. Leave everything bad in the back, go straight where you want to go. 

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I love to talk a lot, and I love to talk with people. If people feel bad or something, if they’re thinking through something, I don’t want them to feel bad. With me and talking, some people just want someone to talk to. Most of the time, I like to talk with people, and give them what I think about life. 

I think we’re all going to die, so if you feel bad now, try to be happy. We don’t know when we’re going to die, so just live life. Do whatever you want. Do what you dream, even if it’s hard, but try. The best thing is to try. Don’t stop in the same area, like if you’re in a circle, “I feel bad, I feel bad, I feel bad.” Break the circle, go straight, and you will see you will not feel bad. It’s like what I say to myself, “Don’t give up. Believe in yourself.” Most of the time, you’ll be proud of yourself.

I am very proud of myself, because I went from bad to good. It’s the best thing.