Here I Can Make My Own Future
Here I can make my own life
In 2007, we were living in Iraq, where my father was helping the US Army as a translator. I was 13 years old. That year, my house got bombed. My neighborhood was targeted by a militia group because they were trying to find the man who was working as a translator for the US. We were inside the house and saw fire out in the garden. We ran to the other side of the house, where there were no windows, and there was a huge explosion. There was a fire in the garden, everywhere.
My grandmother died that day.
After that, we moved to Basra to live with our extended family. In 2009, we applied for a visa to come to the US. When it was approved, they said we had six months to use this visa, otherwise, we would miss it. But when it got approved, it did not include my brother, Mohammed, so my mother would not leave Iraq. She said no, he has to be with us. So we waited for another visa. From 2009 to 2015, we waited.
My father then applied for an SIV (Special Immigrant Visa), and at that time everything went very fast. My other brother was already living in the US, and we worked hard to send him money to get us the plane tickets to come. My mother sold her jewelry, and she asked her aunts for money. It costs us $5000 for the 4 of us to go to the US.
We arrived in the US on August 21, 2016. I still remember the night we flew into LAX airport. We saw the lights, and I thought, wow, that's the United States. It's not the same as in the movies.
We didn't have anything to start with. It's very hard, to start with nothing.
We went to the Social Security office the next day to finish all the paperwork. We had a little money that we brought with us to just live for a couple of months. We got some food stamps and some cash just to survive. But then they told us that “we will cut off your food stamps and your cash so you need to start working and make some money.”
There are many things I miss from my country. I miss my room. I had a dream bedroom. Here in America, the 5 of us live in a 2 bedroom apartment. So I sleep in the living room. I miss my friends and my home. When we first arrived, I was very homesick. I asked my family, “Why did you bring me here? I have no future.” I could not see my future.
But now, I see that I had no future over there.
Here, I can make my own future.
I started work first as a nanny and was so proud when I earned my first paycheck. I learned some English letters from the kids. I liked it, so after that, I started taking English classes with my family.
When the lady I was nannying for moved, I started taking college classes at Irvine Valley College (IVC). I did not get to graduate from school in Iraq. My friends all got to graduate, get married, and have kids. But I did not. So I am excited to finish as soon as possible to then go to a university. I am a Human Services major. I also applied to work at the college, as part of a financial aid option they give students. I work in the counseling center.
The school here is totally different from the school in my country. Here I see people from all over the world, who speak many different languages. It is not as strict. I don't have to wear a badge or a uniform or ID, I just need a parking sticker and that's it!
After our English got better, and we all made resumes and we applied for jobs, I got a job at Walmart. I had to learn a lot, like how to treat a customer. I also had co-workers who spoke Farsi and Spanish. So I learned a little Spanish and a little Farsi and made jokes with them in their language. I found that to learn a language, it is good to talk to people. That's hard for me because I am shy, but I started talking to the customers. When I didn't understand them, some of the customers would show me a picture of the item that they were looking for, and I would help them find that item. Later, I would look up the word in Google Translate so I would know what to call it in Arabic, and English too. So I learned fast how to communicate with others. But it took me a while to learn to type a nice email, or how to write an essay for school, for example. Writing and speaking, they are different.
Working here is totally different. Here I can wear anything I like, I don't have to go to work in a uniform. In my country, they say you need to have some makeup, you need to have different clothes every day. I thought, oh my god, this is easy, I can just go to work, I don't have to take an hour to get ready. All they care about at Walmart is a person who shows up on time. I can be myself.
And I'm thankful for this job because now, at this time [during Covid], people have to stay at home but I'm able to go to work. If the police stop me, I have permission to go to work.
I also feel safe here.
I like to help people. My first dream was to be a nurse but then I took some bio courses and thought, No, that's not for me! But the college said to me, We have no counselor who speaks Arabic. I could still work at the college even after I graduate, doing that. So I thought, Yeah, why not? It's the same path. I can still help people.
When I look at myself, I was a girl who came from another country, another culture, with no English and no experience, no resume. But now I have two or three jobs. I have a good resume, and I'm still working on it. I bought a car. I am saving money to help my mother go to Mecca someday.
I thought I had no future. But after three years, I see my future.
I'm working really really hard, and I'm making my own future.
Rawah has been interning with TSOS since 2020. Click here to learn more about her journey through her photo journal.
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