When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 I was eight years old, and I was safe at home. Across the sea, while I played on the swing with my younger sister, Noor who was born in Iraq and is now 26, had a completely different story.
Growing up in Baghdad, bombs, death and violence were no stranger to Noor, who was only 13 when the U.S. began its relentless fight against terrorism. Regardless of ones political orientation, all can agree that growing up on battle grounds is a tragedy. By 2004, he and his family lost most of their hard earned savings and were forced to move to Jordan. His father, a Shia Muslim, had to invest most of his remaining money on a passport to enter Jordan. When he arrived to Jordan he did what he could to provide for his wife and seven children, but his entire family was completely jaded by the Gulf War and many of their wounds were, because of Saddam Hussein and the U.S., too deep to mend.
Today, Noor lives with his family in Amman, Jordan where he works at at three-level shop in the Balad. Though he was not formally educated beyond middle school, his ability to pick up languages, among other things, reveals his intelligence and natural ability. Noor speaks Arabic, his native tongue, in addition to English, Turkish, Italian and Japanese.
Noor explained that he works as the shopkeeper everyday except Friday, at time working fourteen hour shifts. He also explained that he has worked since he was twelve. Though it was not necessary for him to work when growing up, he always had the desire to do so. He happily recounts working in a bakery and a sweet shop, during his early years. In addition to working, Noor loves to have fun. He is hesitant to thinking about his war-scarred past and wants everyone to live in peace and harmony and he often finds himself escaping from his memories through smoking and drinking.
Noor smokes shisha at a coffee shop nearby his shop, three times a day in place of meals. Often he only eats one meal per day pledging that he never seems to have an appetite. Though a professed Muslim, Noor does drink. He doesn’t seem to put much thought into the fact that the Qur’an clearly bans alcohol. He also does not attend daily prayer or enter a mosque. He recounted being a child and attending a mosque dressed in a white robe. He remembers tripping over his robe and falling to the floor in front of everyone, vowing to never enter a mosque again. And, he never has. Despite this, he does practice the ritual of fasting during Ramadan, which he takes very seriously. He loves the time past sunset when all Muslims gather in the street, after a day of fasting, and share a meal together. He really seems to treasure this aspect of his faith. In addition to this rather unconventional ways he practices Islam, he has also broken his familial norm by dating an Italian-English girl named Leah.
Leah, though Italian, was born and raised in England, where she attended college. She is passionate about social justice and aspires to one day work with the UN to help with the refugee crisis. Leah studied Arabic in college and speaks four other languages as well. She and Noor met last July when she inquired with him about a nearby hotel during her initial visit to Amman. Leah now lives and works in Amman planning tours for people but she is looking for a new outlet where she can get involved in helping others. She and Noor seem to come from different worlds yet their worlds collided and the rest is history.
Since our meeting Noor has talked freely about various interesting topics. He talked about his family’s marriage rituals with his sisters. He informed me that his father has chosen a husband for each of his daughters. And, once the husbands are chosen, his daughters are married off within the week. Noor also shared bits and pieces about the challenges he has faced in regards to his identity.
As an Iraqi, Shia immigrant in the Sunni majority Jordan, Noor has struggled to find his place. In a fairly conservative family Noor has struggled and he feels his views are more liberal than that of his family. In the eyes of the world, Noor would not seem to have many prospects either. For on paper, he is an Iraqi immigrant who did not receive an education past secondary school. He desires to meet his girlfriend Leah’s family in Italy, yet cannot get a visa to do so. Visiting America is an unattainable dream for him since he sees that obtaining a visa to enter America would be an impossible endeavor. And, in Noor’s case and many cases in this world, the world has it wrong.
Noor is, in reality, a bright, young, intelligent entrepreneur who has had a challenging life because of the geographic location in which he was born. Had he been born into a middle class, American family, like I was born into, his world would be different because the world would see him differently. The world would be at his finger tips. Yet, this is not the case for Noor and thousands of his peers.
While many of Noor’s childhood friends have responded to their war-scarred past with violence, Noor has chosen a different route as he tries to find peace and treats all people he meets with respect and kindness.
Noor and his family, who invited me into their home and shared with me so much love and hospitality have taught me about humility, love and reconciliation that, in my opinion, is unwarranted. I feel undeserving of the kind of love they have offered me. I have never experienced such genuine hospitality and kindness in America.
People like Noor remind me that people are more than their circumstances and that true heroes exist in the most unexpected of places. I have hope for this world because of people like Noor. Maybe someday the world will stop stereotyping people based upon how things appear on paper and will begin to see the beautiful, pure hearts that exist within people like my compassionate, Shia Muslim, Iraqi-Jordanian friend.
Stay true, live justly and always travel on.
Peace and love.
*The names of my friends mentioned above have been changed for their security and privacy. Thank you.