“First Snow After Escaping Persecution” story transcript
Phillip Alghazawi: If you don’t mind just state your name, and how old you are, and your profession.
Karey Alghazawi: My name is Karey Alghazawi. I’m 56 years-old. I come to the United States in 1991.
PA: 1991, okay, sweet.
Woman (Phil’s aunt): So, why your dad, didn’t like, you know, want to be interviewed?
PA: I didn’t… because he’s my father. I technically can’t…
Woman: It would be biased? [Laughs.]
PA: Yeah, it would be biased, so that’s why…
KA: Okay, that’s the first question. What’s the next question?
PA: Okay. Where was your family from?
KA: My family from Iraq.
PA: Which city?
KA: A city called “Ur.”
KA: Yes. It’s part of the province of…
Woman: Llaughs] The new name for that city is An Nasiriyah.
KA: I know.
Woman: But the Ur is the traditional ancient name.
KA: No, that’s no…
Woman: It’s the historical ancient name – Ur.
KA: A long time ago, they called Ur.
Woman: Nobody lives in Ur because it’s sand – a historical place now.
KA: A long time ago the train, a train station…
Woman: Yeah, you know, you’re talking about 4,000 ago! [Laughs.] It was the first city of civilization – Ur.
KA: No, no. The British, first time with the railroad – the railroad go from Basrah, Ur, Samarra, and to Baghdad.
Woman: Look, we respect your heritage…
KA: No, that’s the…
Woman: … but since he’s a student he wants to hurry up and finish his interview. It’s going to take about 3,000 hours. [Laughs.]
PA: No, it’s all right. A good…
Woman: So the original city is An Nasiriyah.
PA: A good interview is just, you know good questions…
Woman: Yeah, me too. I’m from An Nasiriyah, but I never lived, in my life, in An Nasiriyah.
KA: I, no, lived over there too. So, I’m…
Woman: You lived, how long you lived in…
KA: I’m born in…
Woman: An Nasiriyah.
KA: An Nasiriyah, but…
Woman: Left to Al Basrah.
KA: Al Basrah.
PA: Okay. So can you tell me, what was your city like? Was it a small city or …?
Woman: He was born in ’64 so that was in the ’60S.
KA: Okay. City like, remind me – Detroit, the city and the river, the big river, the river go to the gulf…
KA: So, it’s like big, and where we live, it’s a huge port.
PA: So, it was a trading city.
KA: Yep, it was called Maqal Port.
Woman: In Basra.
KA: In Basra, yep.
Woman: That’s in Al Basrah.
KA: So, this is all…
Woman: But in An Nasiriyah, it was like a agriculture village. So it was different, yeah.
KA: So, all the merchandise from Iraq come from – to Iraq – come from this port, in Maqal Port. I mean, you see the cars – everything – from small things to big things.
PA: What did your parents do for work?
KA: My father, he’s a engineer for train.
PA: A train engineer?
KA: A train engineer, yeah.
Woman: Your grandpa.
PA: And your mother?
KA: My mom, she’s… house.
Woman: Home, home.
PA: Home mother?
PA: Okay. Brothers, sisters …?
KA: My big brother, he’s a pilot in the, like, captain, in sea – high-sea captain. And my sister, I don’t know if she’s into any work. I don’t know what she does.
Woman: She’s a student.
KA: And, I lost another brother. He’s bigger than me, like, a couple years. He died 10 years ago – about 15 years ago, so…
Woman: And then, and also…
KA: I also have one [unintelligible] He’s finishing junior, in like, what do you call…
Woman: Trade work.
KA: No, no.
Woman: Yeah, he traded from his college degree. He used to do science, he told us.
Woman: He did geology.
KA: Geology, yeah. He’s a graduate from geology.
Woman: And then he trade into auto… auto work.
PA: What were you doing before the days – or, not days, but let’s say, like, a couple months before you decided to leave?
KA: Where I’m at, I’m in the war. It’s like a dictator, so that was, he want to take another country.
KA: Kuwait. And thus, the whole country’s like upside down…
KA: Rage. It’s like, you don’t know what was going on. So, I left. I know it’s coming, like, very bad.
Woman: You weren’t married at that time.
PA: Was [sic!] there any key moments that stood out in your mind?
KA: A key moment is, yeah, dictatorship, and basically, that’s my view. I like to see Saddam Hussein is gone soon, so I’ll go back home.
Woman: But it’s lacks of civil rights. Lacks of civil, human, you know, rights.
KA: Yeah, and then take him almost from ’91 to 2003, that’s almost, what, 20 years?
Woman: Yeah, but it’s because you couldn’t find a good job unless you joined the Ba’ath party. There were lack of employment, health…
Woman: … civil rights, everything. Even the food was in sanction. They didn’t have enough food.
PA: Okay, yeah.
Woman: Yeah. It was like a, basically, it’s a going down a hill, you know?
PA: So, were there any important experiences in the process that you were leaving? So, were there any key moments in the fact of – or when you were packing and leaving…
PA: … or something like that?
KA: No, it’s not packing, no, nothing to do with packing. When you leave, you leave by yourself, just whatever you have in your body…
Woman: Cause you’re running away.
KA: You cannot pick up your suitcase and put everything and leave, no. [Laughs.]
Woman: [Laughs.] Like you’re traveling tourism.
KA: It doesn’t work like that.
PA: What did you take with you?
KA: Nothing, just nothing. The only thing I took with me…
KA: No passport, either. Just my… I mean, nothing, really [unintelligible] money is like, maybe, less than five bucks, it’s six bucks.
PA: So, can you walk me through the story of how you got here, applying …?
KA: Applying. Okay, we are in Saudi Arabia, it’s like thousand and thousand people…
PA: Can you go back before that, a couple days before that?
Woman: When you walked the desert, left the border.
PA Tell me everything, please.
KA: Okay, the border between Iraq and another country, any country…
Woman: In the South.
KA: It’s not like border – it’s like you see it. It’s like, just, open land.
PA: It’s just a border on a map.
KA: The map, yeah. So, it’s open land. Some people, they know. Some people…
Woman: The ways.
KA: They know the way, and those people, they go back and forth to different countries.
Woman: Because they are hunters – animal hunters.
KA: And then, some of them, yeah, I mean, they get money…
KA: Tribes. They live half in this country, another half in this country. They marry, they, you know, they have relationship between there. So, some of them, they took money to take you from this point, this country, another country – want you to be safe.
Woman: Around the border.
KA: Around the… you know.
KA: So, really, the land is open. I mean, it’s like now, between United States and Mexico. You cannot control this border. Or between United States and Canada. It’s like, long, long… so you can…
PA: So you paid somebody to take you across the border?
KA: Not really, no, we don’t pay somebody. We like group of…
Woman: Young gentlemen.
Karey: From college. It’s like… so we cross the border.
PA: Who were you with?
KA: With a lot of friends – with me. Now some of them in another country now…
PA: Go ahead.
KA: So we cross the border to Saudi Arabia. We stay in Saudi Arabia, like, maybe, one year. But, that’s the bad thing. It’s very bad over there.
PA: What was your time like there?
KA: Well, it’s like, they put tents in open land – desert – and it was very hot… very, very hot, like 90 degrees…
KA: And then, after that, the United Nations come over, and they ask people to get silent, move in other country. And some of them got relatives, friends, in other countries…
PA: Mm hmm.
KA: … and they apply for them, and they won’t.
KA: One of the United Nations come over, and they ask questions, and they divide people. You go, for example, every country takes some people, and that time, I’m like 20-25 years old. Well, I was still a freshman – 26 years old.
PA: So, you were 26 years old when you were in Saudi Arabia?
KA: Yeah, so I’m really, really young.
PA: Okay, and that’s when you applied?
KA: Yeah, and then the United States took major people over there – all of them young, all the educated people over there. So, we come here, to the United States. First time, we come to New York…
KA: And then…
PA: What was it like?
KA: Oh, I only stayed in New York just one day, in the hotel, and then – they get us hotel – and then they move us to Detroit.
PA: So were they, were there people sponsoring you?
Woman: It’s a Christian organization.
KA: Yeah, Christian – Catholic. But, after we settle in Detroit, and I pay everything. I mean, the ticket – airplane ticket – everything I pay for from my own pocket, so…
PA: Oh, okay.
KA: So whenever they spend money, they send me receipt after, like, maybe, seven-eight years. And I’m surprised about this… I pay it, but that’s fair enough. Most of the people… so that’s fair enough that I pay everything, like a couple thousand dollars.
PA: What was… can you take me what was going through your mind, when you came off, when you first stepped foot in New York?
KA: Oh, big – huge deal… I mean, you leave, like, everything behind. Nothing, really. You be like, where am I going? You leave your family, your friends, place where you were born, and you go another country, another culture, another… you know, everything new. So, you look like little child – start learning – step by steps, step by steps, and still. But sometimes, I’m lucky because, really, after one year, I found a job and I start working, so that’s 26 years.
PA: What brought you to Detroit?
KA: Not me, they.
PA: Who’s they?
KA: The organization.
PA: Oh, they brought you to Detroit?
KA: I mean, we like, maybe 20 people. So, divide people, like, some people go different state, you know, every – I mean, like, Arizona, I think Kentucky – some states were where they need people. But, every five or four they put in different state. And then in the state, different city too, not all of them in same city. I mean, I’m lucky they put me in Detroit, so. First time, I live in Eight Mile. What is the…
KA: No. Light Guard Armory, that’s front of the house. They’re in the house for us. And we live three people – me, and my brother, and other guy. And other guy – I don’t know where he went.
PA: What are their names?
KA: [Unintelligible]. And the other guy – I don’t know what his name, I forgot his name. But he never stay, like one week, and he left.
PA: Oh, okay.
KA: Yeah, so…
PA: Were there any big key moments or important experiences during your move from New York to Detroit? Were there any key moments that…
KA: Not really, because I never see New York. I been from the airport to the hotel, we stay one day, basically – oh, go back. Oh, the problem is they put us in New York because they don’t have the airplane ready to go to Detroit. So, we have to wait for second…
KA: So next day – and the next day – they have to put us some place to, I mean to live. So, they put us in a hotel. I never see New York until now.
PA: So, what was your first night like?
KA: Oh, night, is like…
PA: What was going through your mind?
KA: So tired, so tired – so I slept like [laughs] snored and slept really good. ‘Cause, like 16-17 hours fly, and they fly us really direct from Saudi Arabia…
KA: We stay in Paris, like, maybe couple days. And then fly here.
Woman: You don’t remember the flight?
KA: Oh no, that’s army, no that’s army fly.
PA: Oh, you flew on an army plane?
KA: The army.
KA: Yeah, they call it – what’s the… AT… it’s army airplane, but it’s like regular airplane, but that’s for army. So, the army, back and forth.
Woman: What about the passengers?
KA: The whole airplane working for the army, so they bring the immigrants – they bring the people… yeah. So, it’s an experience too. It’s big airplane, like 700 people – 500 people, double decked, up and down, yeah.
PA: Okay. What were your first few days like in Detroit?
KA: First is like, just sit at home. It’s like, winter, start snowing, that’s the first time I see snow.
KA: I woke up in the morning, it’s up to here, so I’m like, all right…
Woman: When was that? December or January?
KA: December. December. It’s in… November, basically. November…
Woman: Snow in November?
KA: Yeah, November snow. So, and then over in the street, I’m like, “What’s going on?” Thanksgiving. I don’t know about Thanksgiving. And then we learn later, Thanksgiving is like holiday in United States. Se we see the whole – watching the snow – that’s all day. Yeah, it’s a experience, too.
KA: Yeah… watching the [unintelligible] in front of us, they play games.
PA: What was the biggest culture shock to you?
PA: What was the biggest culture shock to you? [pause] Or, if you’d like that rephrased, what were some different things to get used to from American culture, or to American Culture?
KA: Basically, look, work is a little bit different. I mean, the work, the United States do the work – I’m talking about real work, not…
PA: Elaborate on that.
KA: Yeah, that’s one thing. I mean, the United States, you go to work like from morning, and you never come back until night – that’s long hours. School…
KA: School is really, that’s something, really… I mean, I like it because you go from 7-8 o’clock in the morning, to 3 o’clock – that’s eight hours.
PA: In Iraq?
KA: No, here.
KA: Yeah, that’s two things.
KA: Another thing is like, the freedom. People get a lot of freedom here. People can do whatever they want, but, not really, you know, you can do anything you want, but sometimes have to be stopped somehow.
PA: What were the hardest things to get used to?
KA: I don’t know… like what? Like what?
PA: Just the way things are here – driving is different, people are different …?
KA: No, no, driving is not really different, people is not different…
PA: The places are different?
KA: Yeah, the places.
PA: How people act are different, how people interact and say hello are different?
KA: Taxes is different.
PA: Taxis are different?
PA: Taxes? Oh, taxes.
KA: Yeah, that’s big, huge.
KA: I mean, you work and you pay, somehow, to get some service…
PA: So, what was it like… so would you say it was easy for you to adapt to American culture?
KA: No, no, not easy, but if you’re open mind – you know, it’s like, “Hey, that’s your new home. So, you have to deal with it.”
KA: I mean, if you’re somebody is closed mind, you know, I mean, it should be difficult for him.
PA: Okay, yeah.
KA: But thank God, I mean, that time I’m not married and I have no kids. You know, basically, I think, a kid’s life, if they’re 8-9 years old, or 6 years old… between, you know, when they come from culture to culture, that’s different for them. But, if you’re a grown man, you have to open his mind, and you know, deal with the situation.
PA: Okay, yeah. So what was, did you… did you have any places that you’ve gone in your life that have influenced you at all?
KA: No. I mean, the only thing, when I came here – my family back there. So, I worried about them. And then – that’s the only thing – and then they pass away. My mom, basically, she pass away.
PA: What was… was that the hardest part?
KA: Yeah, that was very hard part. ‘Cause I’m here, and I can’t go over there, so that’s the hardest part.
PA: Mm hmm.
KA: [To someone in the room] You want me to go get the kids? … Okay, so any more questions?
PA: What was your first job?
KA: Oh, first job, I work in the – what do you call – company dealing with GM parts. And I work like, maybe one year.
PA: One year?
KA: Yeah, one year. And then, I start with Ford.
PA: What was it like when you got your first house – when you bought your first house?
KA: Oh, it’s like big deal, really.
PA: How did it feel?
KA: It feel good, but, you know, you put a lot of money, and then you be like responsible for the rest of your life for mortgage, so that’s big deal, yeah.
PA: Oh, yeah.
KA: And taxes, and mortgage, and you know, and fixing here and there – so it be like working 24 hours, seven days a week, no stop. Each time you have, like, weekends, you have to, “This one’s broke, this one, you have to be paid, this one… so, yeah.” Cut the grass, water the flowers, yeah, that’s a lot of work.
PA: Yeah, were there any other key moments that you want to share with me, other… any other key stories that really pop to mind that… you know, something special?
PA: Something special, from the heart.
KA: From the heart, yeah. Like to me, I lived by myself all those years. And I mean, nobody really visited, nobody, you know, it’s like me and just my wife and the kids. Our first time, nobody visit me. I mean, really. My kids now, see, their age now, always they ask about relatives, friends, especially Sara, she asked me, “Do we have have relatives, did we have …?” I’m like, “Yeah, we do.” “Tell me about your parents.” That’s where we put her to sleep at night, so I have to tell her a story, so I talk to her, and she’s like, “Okay.” So, that’s [unintelligible]. I mean I hope – I wish – I got some like, brothers and sisters, here, so. People, when they have big family here, I don’t think they have bad, you know…[unintelligible], so they go from house to house, until they, you know, sometime like Thanksgiving, Christmas, they get together, union together, right? [In foreign language] And she’s my wife, she’s by herself, too – nobody, no sisters, no brothers… So, we are like, [unintelligible], you know, so that’s big deal.
Pa: Are you proud, are you proud to be an immigrant?
KA: Oh yeah. Yeah, really.
Pa: Are you proud to be…
Pa: Are you proud to be a, you know, a United States citizen?
KA: Oh, yeah, yes. [unintelligible] And sometimes, I mean, you a part of this, and you spent, all your – the best time of your life. You work, and… it’s a lot of bad things in this… I mean, we try to, you know, vote together, to get something right, you know what I’m saying?
PA: Mm hmm.
KA: ‘Cause like, the only thing, now, your… your – what do you call it – your weapon to fix the stuff, to get…
PA: [to someone else] I need to move my car, so…
Woman: No, I’m going walking.
KA: …to change things here, you vote, you talk, you know, press your idea or your thought…
PA: So, you have a lot more of that freedoms here then you did at…
KA: Oh, yeah, yeah. I mean the only thing here, if you don’t like somebody, just don’t vote for it, basically, that’s what it is.
PA: Okay, yeah. Is there anything that you wanna say about how the process was?
KA: Still, I mean look, my kids born here in the city, both of them – Johad and Sara. And they… but you know, sometimes you feel like, lot of things, a few people discriminated against them. And I just talk to them like, “Don’t worry. Just ignore them.” You know? I mean, because they care, and how they are now.
PA: Yeah, okay.
KA: All right?
PA: Yeah. If you could do it differently, would you?
KA: Like how different?
PA: I guess a different country.
KA: Look, when you leave your country, that’s my opening – if you leave your country. Wherever you go, you have to be respecting other countries because they take… you know what I’m saying? So, but some people, they try to, you know, they like to have more freedom against the rule, the regulation of the country they move to, but, you know, I think that’s a really big deal. But now, I mean, for example, I live here, really, before September 11. I mean, all of them are really good, especially the Middle Eastern. But, after September 11, everything got upside down. I don’t know. Look like they were gonna blame us hard, you know. You don’t blame people too, because they are innocent. [unintelligible]
PA: What was it like?
KA: Oh, it was bad. It was very bad, very bad. Very bad, very bad. You be like, I mean, you be like, you want to just leave from here to go some place. Or sit home, don’t go nowhere…
KA: Until people, yeah, calm down a little bit. And thank God, you know.
PA: Was that hard?
KA: That was very hard. To me, that’s, the United States, the only problem, I think that’s, like, culture. If the government got something to do with another government, so the immigrant people in here, they pay a price. They look to them, alright, what these people to do with something happen overseas? You know, you follow me?
KA: You know, what happened in first, second World War II, against the Germans, the Japanese, and, you know, Middle East… the Mexican now, so that’s really bothered me a lot. Like, country like United States and people, like – I’m not saying all the people in the United States – but, the people I think noneducated, and the people educated, I think they know better. But, otherwise, everything good here. That’s the only point, it’s like, really bother.
PA: Is there anything about – how do you feel about the new issues that are coming up about immigration? How do you feel about that?
KA: Look, this country, and a lot of countries, like United States, for example, started building in the immigration. I mean, nobody, the only here people, the Indian people. But, immigrants, you talking about from British, to German, whatever, that’s who build this country, step by steps and… Now, people look for, to come down here now, we have to open the door for them, because there’s a lot of land in the United States. A lot of land is empty. A lot of city is empty, nobody live over there. But again, when those people, they come down here, they have to support them for job, and good living. You know, so that’s, it’s a process, and you have to go through the process step by step. [unintelligible] So, my kids now, are born here and they enjoy it. But, I don’t think they forgot how their dad come down here.
PA: Is that important to you – heritage?
KA: Oh yeah.
PA: Heritage and preserving your culture?
KA: Yes, yes. That’s what make United States beautiful country, cause different cultures, different heritage, and… You go from country to country, I mean it’s the same city here. You go to Detroit now, you see the Polish people, they got their heritage, the Middle Eastern people, the Mexican people… you know, so, everybody got some heritage. And people enjoy it, just look, and watch, and enjoy the food, and different culture, and African, and all that.
PA: Okay, so my closing question, I guess is gonna be, is there anything that you miss about back home that you wish you could have here?
KA: Oh, miss… Yeah, I mean the childhood and friends. I mean, sometimes, family, if you want to see them, it’s hard for them to come down here. So you have to go down there to see them, that’s really…
PA: Is there anything, culture-wise, that you miss?
PA: Specifically, something about Iraq that made it so special for you, that you don’t get here?
KA: No, we got everything now. Look, now, the whole country, the whole world, is like, global. It’s like, small city, small village city, because the Internet, and you can go from place to place like this [snaps fingers]. You don’t have to ask, really. You can talk with anybody with no passport. Just click with somebody, and same language, and you don’t have to talk either, just type, wherever you like to type. So, I think that’s big thing now. Long time ago, we don’t have this. I mean, you have the phone, and the phone sometime, you know, so, yeah, it’s like… technology moving so fast, you cannot catch up with it, really, you don’t.
PA: Well, is there anything else you would like to say, or if you have any questions for me?
KA: I’ll say, for you, at least you come visit time to time, so you know the house now.
PA: Is there anything else you’d like to say regarding your story?
KA: No, nothing. That was good enough.
PA: Well, thank you very much.
KA: No problem.