Friday, July 05, 2013

A dear, special Iraqi family comes to mind at this time.

When the consulate at Benghazi, Libya, got attacked, a new page was created on Facebook called Libyans And Americans United for Friendship & Peace, and via that rapidly growing community (virtual family at this point), I made a lot of new e-friends.  One of them asked me about the details of my own family, and I did have to beg out given the nature of the Internet...and so it came to pass that we did discuss extended families.  He even went so far as designating me his Mom online because I was helping him with his English (and I am honored, Tipa! Thank you).

This brought into our discussion the Iraqi family I mentioned in the header, one that I consider part of my own extended family although we're not related. I first met the head of that family during my time at Arizona State University when I was in my electronics engineering program. He was a civil engineer who had been to the UK before coming to the U.S. and ASU. This was in the 1990s, when Saddam was a problem even for Iraq citizens, and he was in the process of getting his family out of Iraq at the time.  He needed help with his English, and I benefited from his coaching on IBM PC machine code. He went by the name of Stuart.

It came to pass that I eventually met his brother Talal, and when Stuart was able to get his wife out of Iraq, I met her (adopted the name of Julie) and their 4 sons.  Julie could speak no English except for a single word here and there.  Two of the boys were fluent English speakers, the other two were a toddler and an infant.  We worked either on campus or at his house and I got treated to some really spectacular Iraqi dinners.  Yes, spectacular--especially the one that involved a whole baked lamb's head. Whoaaaaah.

I didn't see it coming at the time, exactly, but as time went on I was as good as a member of that family, chipping in with kitchen work and getting recipes translated and stuff--it was wonderful.  I wasn't an atheist at the time...more like agnostic...and they were Sunni Muslims.  And boy did I get a religious education, as well as a cultural one.  I even came around to seeing how a family with more than one wife could actually work very well indeed.  Things developed to where it was as if me and Julie were effectively sisters (hey--that was all. Don't get any other ideas, there).

Then Stuart brought his mother out of Iraq, and joined the clan in the U.S. She didn't speak a word of English either, but Julie was working on her English so that she could become a U.S. citizen.  I ended up helping out Stuart and Julie with English, but hey--that was a ton of fun. Don't get me wrong--Stuart was the most fluent in English and had been speaking it for a good number of years both here and in the UK, but hit rough spots with pronunciation and could use some refinements in sentence construction. For Julie I'd have to shift into what Voice of America calls "special English" (slow and simple). Apparently her classes and our conversations worked because she did successfully get her citizenship later. :)

Anyway, the big thing that happened was a family debate on Islam. I was drafted as the moderator.  YIKES!!  I didn't know a whole lot about Islam at the time outside of what I just observed via contact, and said so.  I was told that's exactly why I was appointed to be the moderator.  Yikes and a half!

The debate started out with establishing common ground on the interpretation of certain sura. Fine.  And then I started to see which people took what sides, and it was men against women at a few points.  When I was asked for my views, it was about the role of women in America.  When a mediator's decision was required, I was given sura, conflicting interpretations of the sura, and I'd render my opinion as if it were a judgment.

Wow. And that's putting it mildly. And yes, I was honored by the appointment to this lofty position, mainly because my judgment was trusted.

With the employment and family developments on my side, I had to move out of the Phoenix area and we lost touch with each other.  But my discussion with my new Libyan friends brings all that back to mind this evening.  Stuart, Julie, Talal, and family, you are sorely missed tonight. Stuart, just for you: Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. You guys know I'll always love ya. I sincerely hope you are well.


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