Thursday, December 30, 2004

Miracles – Large and Small

When 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.

Click here to read the story and see the pictures

8 comment(s):

  • This article as beautiful as it is, brings up difficult questions.

    On the one hand one might just dismiss this as just another US propaganda public relations case - they picked a few children out of Iraq, but the war has killed so many, unknown.

    The link to the newspaper article tries to make this into an "All American - we saved Iraqi children story."

    Yet, there is such beauty in how the author (Bobbe) relates to the family, the faces of the parents and the children.

    Sometimes we need to just live in the moment, enjoy the large and small miracles. Before we return to our "normal" lives.

    Thank you! Bobbe, for this story.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/31/2004 03:12:00 AM  

  • Just an aside: providing the link was just if people wanted to read the article for themselves. I wish to hell we weren't destroying Iraq. Barring that, I wish I could save all the innocent victims there. I grappled with that long and hard when I first got involved with Saleh and Raheem and came to the realization that just because I can't save all the victims of the Iraq war, it doesn't mean that I should turn my back on one.

    Sometimes all we can do is grasp for the small miracles.

    By Blogger Bobbe, at 12/31/2004 10:26:00 AM  

  • Thanx Bobbe for this artice - it is so good to read bits about our Muslim community here in Oakland. Happy New Years!

    By Blogger redwood, at 12/31/2004 05:12:00 PM  

  • Hello Bobbe,

    Thank you for this beautiful entry. I read the recent article on SF Chronicle from the beginning to the end, then found your article on this blog. I was very happy that the family got reunited. It is also very good to know that the family is connected to a good Muslim community here in Oakland. I know there are problems with this type of media coverage (which was already mentioned by 'the anonymous' person), but I do wish there were more personal story like this that shows Muslims as who we are--I mean not as 'terrorists' or 'fundamentalists' but as ordinary human beings who feels all the same feelings and has all the life's struggles like anybody else (or more because of being a Muslim in this time and age.) Of course, the media doesn't want to portray Muslims as someone just like you, then you can't justify killing them. But in Japan (as pro-U.S. as they are), I see a lot more effort in the media and among journalists to get to know Muslims and Iraqis (since the war) on a personal level as 'people' and human beings, and there are many stories, articles and even books published about the lives of ordinary Iraqi people and families.

    By Blogger sayoko, at 1/01/2005 12:28:00 PM  

  • Thanks for this article, Bobby. It is so nice to encounter you in another - somewhat more pleasant - space where I can hear more about your insights.

    farid esack

    By Blogger farid esack, at 1/02/2005 12:41:00 AM  

  • Salaam, Sayoko:

    I know exactly what you mean. I began to get involved with Muslims following the events of 9/11 -- I have Muslim neighbors; I live in an area that has a large and diverse Muslim community. As soon as I made that effort, the "strangeness" began to fall away. Some of my closest friends now are Muslims. I am so enriched by my Muslim friends and I thank Allah (swt) continually for allowing me this enrichment. What a diverse group we are!

    There will always be those who see articles such as the one on Saleh and his family as pro-U.S. propaganda and there will always be those who create articles such as these as pro-U.S. propaganda.

    Anyone who has had contact with Saleh knows that there is no way he could ever return to Iraq. He still needs surgeries (and will for years) and may well need life-long medical care; care that would not be available to him in his native country. Because of the length of time he has been here, he has acclimated to American life as only one of his youth can. To send them back now would be a cruelty. When one becomes personally involved, the outlook changes. I've become part of that family, so what happens to them is personal now.

    But the bottom line, as I see it, is that there is a little boy in Oakland whose greatest wish has been granted -- to have his mother and siblings here with him!

    By Blogger Bobbe, at 1/02/2005 02:19:00 PM  

  • Salaams Bobbe,

    Just reading your last comment, I came to think of two things--First, there is a perspective of the mind, of logics and of being rational, and then there is another; a perspective of the heart which has no sensible logics but can just be felt and experienced--your article seems to have brought up both aspects in one story and I think it is great that we struggle with that. Also you talked about getting personally involved and I just thought that maybe that's what we need more--to be more 'personally' involved and engaged--then our views change, understanding deepens, judgement falls--just a thought. Thank you for your comment. Sayoko

    By Blogger sayoko, at 1/04/2005 11:20:00 AM  

  • Salaam, Sayoko:

    This is what angers and upsets me so much about the situation in Iraq -- how we as a nation speak of "them" and refer to the victims in Iraq as "collateral damage". I often hear the argument from others that "we freed them from a horrible dictator." And I can't help but think, At what cost????

    So much of how I interact with Islam and Allah (swt) come from listening to Dr. Mavani each Friday and hearing him talk about how we have a responsibility to our fellow creatures -- from the humans on down. My own belief about what pleases God, by whatever name we choose to call Him, is when we reach out to our fellows -- in whatever way we can. To me, at least, this is the essence of what worship is about.

    The concept of "paying it forward" is so central to my belief system. I have been helped so many times by friends and by strangers and to me, helping others is the legacy that I gladly shoulder.

    I think if we stay in tune with our feelings, our heart tells us instinctively what is the right thing to do. How I initially got involved with Saleh will be with me always: I remember first reading about Saleh in The Oakland Trib and immediately emailing Dr. Mavani. It was a short email. It read: Have you seen this? Are we doing anything about it? Shouldn't we be?

    What had gone through my head was "here is a man who is Shi'i and here we are, a large Shi'i community and we should be there for him."

    Anyway, that was basically how I ended up as unofficial liaison between Raheem and the ICCNC.

    There are a lot of memories associated with that period of time, including my apprehension when I first went to visit Saleh and wondering if I would be able to keep the horror off my face when I saw him. But you know, that never became an issue. Sayoko, you are so right -- when the heart guides, the judgment fades and you don't really see the outer trappings.

    Also you talked about getting personally involved and I just thought that maybe that's what we need more--to be more 'personally' involved and engaged--then our views change, understanding deepens, judgement falls--just a thought. Thank you for your comment. Sayoko

    By Blogger Bobbe, at 1/04/2005 11:13:00 PM  

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