Miracles – Large and SmallWhen I first met Raheem Khalef in October or November 2003, we sat across from each other at a desk at Family House up the street from Children's Hospital in Oakland, California. Each of us had a phone and we were involved in a conference call with a Arabic/English translator. Raheem wanted to thank me for the gifts that I had delivered for his son, Saleh, who lay in the PICU as a result of the horrific injuries he received from a small bomb that he had inadvertently picked up while en route to school in southern Iraq. When the bomb exploded, it killed Saleh's older brother, Dia, Saleh, against all odds, survived and ultimately ended up in Oakland. But that's another blog entry.
I'd followed Saleh nearly from the start, from the days in PICU when we didn't know from one day to the next if he'd even be alive, to his transfer to the Rehab Unit, to the point when Saleh and his father moved to an apartment in Oakland, and ultimately were granted asylum.
I eagerly followed the news stories that came out periodically. The biggest was a three-day spread in the San Francisco Chronicle and on the corresponding late news in October 2004 of Saleh and Raheem one year later. The big news at that point was that Raheem and Saleh were being allowed to stay and Raheem had a job and a driver's license.
I hightailed it over to the apartment and was met by Raheem, whose first words to me were, "Why don't you ever phone??!!??" as we laughed and hugged each other. I promised not to be such a stranger. I marveled at how fluent Saleh had become in English. I congratulated Raheem on the job, the license, the car! Raheem showed me a photo of his wife, Hadia, and his 3-month-old son, Ali, who had been born while Raheem was here in California with Saleh.
A month later, I heard an update on Saleh's story: His mother, Hadia, his two younger sisters, Zahra and Marwa, and the baby, Ali, had been granted asylum and would be joining Raheem and Saleh in California within months.
This evening, I met Hadia, Zahra, Marwa and Ali!
Having caught the story on the evening news, I threw some holiday cookies onto a plate, called Raheem and immediately headed over to their apartment, eager to meet the woman for whom Raheem and Saleh had pined over the past 15 months. I got there about the same time as Raheem and his friend, Ahmed, returned from a trip to Wal-Mart for clothes and toys for the children.
After exchanging a big hug with Raheem, I was ushered into the apartment and welcomed by Hadia. The girls were a bit shy at first – wondering no doubt who that woman was, chattering away in a language that they could not yet comprehend.
I held baby Ali. A chubby 6-month-old with huge dark eyes and a captivating smile. The girls, Zahra, 5, and Marwa, 3, have the same luminous eyes as their brothers. They both have captivating smiles. After a while, as my strangeness began to wear off and the girls began to overcome their initial shyness, we began to get to know each other a bit. They showed me the new dolls they had gotten. I learned their names and told them mine. At one point, Zahra came over and we sat on the sofa together, she leaning against me and me with an arm around her. There's something special about having a small child cuddle up to you.
We didn't talk much. I watched Raheem hold his son. I watched Saleh chase and tease his sisters. I learned two more words of Arabic. I promised to return soon and often.
As I walked to my car in the pouring rain, I knew that the sun was still shining in a small apartment in Oakland.
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