The Man Behind the Bun

“Wahoo!” Screaming and dancing, then 25-year-old Abdulrahman rejoiced with outstanding joy. Turning on the light and throwing open his bedroom window he shouted at the top of his lungs, his voice echoing throughout the dark, tightly-stacked apartment complex in Sakarya, Turkey. Silenced by an unexpected knock at the door, he answered it apprehensively. There stood two policemen. When asked what all the noise was about, he answered, “I am going to Seattle, Washington with World Relief!”

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For two years Abdulrahman, his wife Zeena and their baby daughter waited for this phone call: the news that after fleeing their home country of Iraq they would finally be coming to the United States to start their new lives. For Abdulrahman, this is the ticket he was waiting for to get started on all of his dreams he had spent the last two years thinking up.

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Fast forward eight months to the present, Abdulrahman is a certified nursing assistant, a full-time student at Everest College, security guard at Star Protection Agency, husband, father and friend to many. With the help of World Relief’s federal Matching Grant program, he was able to fund his CNA certification and find a security job that would accommodate his school schedule and cover his living expenses. At first glance, he may appear to be like any other Seattle hipster, his hair tied into a “man-bun”, finely groomed beard, skinny jeans and a flannel shirt. What many people don’t know is “the man behind the bun.”

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From the time he was young, Abdulrahman idolized the American soldier as his childhood hero. He began hanging around Americans from the time U.S. troops started patrolling the streets of Baghdad. By the time he was 17, he applied to work as an interpreter for the U.S. military. Ultimately rejected for the age requirement, he applied again and was accepted on his 18th birthday. He spent the next four pivotal years of his life working alongside Americans in combat situations, learning U.S. military culture and ethics. In his words, “They taught me so many things. They helped make me who I am today.” Following his years of service to the U.S. Abdulrahman pursued a degree in Law. Integrating his experience of American culture with his Iraqi community was difficult. Finally, on the day of his final exams to complete his degree, his family was threatened, and forced to flee to Turkey for safety.

He could not finish his Law degree after nearly four years of investment. His undeniable intelligence and refusal to give up on making something of his life motivated him to search for new dreams. He capitalized on the opportunity to work in a pharmacy, teaching himself medical terminology by reading the labels on pill boxes. When granted passage to the U.S. he came with the intention of pursuing education and a career in the medical field.

While Abdulrahman can jive with the best of them in American slang and lingo, medical vocabulary is a different story. And yet, immediately after his arrival he began a certification class as a CNA and less than two months later had enrolled full time as a Medical Assistant student at Everest College in Renton. He now utilizes his phone and Google translator to interpret unknown words and concepts from English to Arabic during class lectures. He spends extra time at home memorizing words and definitions in English while simultaneously learning the concept in Arabic. When asked about his studies he notes, “Demonstrations and clinicals are easy for me.” Textbook assignments are twice the work.

Abdulrahman came with a clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish when he came to the United States. He was not naïve in thinking it would be easy. Like anyone else new to the country, he has faced definite challenges that come along with confronting a new culture and place so different from your own. As Abdulrahman says, from a lesson he learned while working with the U.S. military, “Put yourself in the hurricane and be a part of it. Stay calm and don’t freak out.” In the midst of a whole new world that is swirling around you, Abdulrahman advises all newcomers to the U.S. to have a dream. Stay motivated! It’s not easy, but not impossible. Unforgettable moments of joy await!

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