Ayat Albawi: A Painful Secret

When Ayat’s family left ISIS-controlled Baghdad to come to the U.S. in 2014, they couldn’t tell anybody of their plans.  Here, Ayat speaks about the pain and remorse that came with uprooting her life in Baghdad, as well as the fulfillment she has found in the U.S., where she has renewed her passion for learning and engaging with new perspectives. Ayat is also a recipient of MALA’s Scholarship Program for 2018.

In Baghdad, Iraq 2014, during ISIS control, the last year of my middle school was 9th grade. The final year of middle school is a very significant grade. We have examinations that determine the upcoming years in school. After the exams, I have to choose what I want to study: scientific classes or literary classes because theses two different courses should lead us to our major in college.

I clearly remember the day I took the math exam, and then I was hanging out with my friends after we took it. We were chatting about the examination, but on the inside I was hiding from them a very big secret. I wished to tell them about it, but I couldn’t and they might still not know until today what this secret was. They didn’t know what was going to happen tomorrow so they said to me “see you tomorrow” like they always do. They didn’t know that we were not going to meet again.

In April, one month before my examinations, the International Organization for Migration from Jordan had called my father and told him that now we can travel to U.S. After the phone rang, my father sat me, my mom, and my older sister down and said “We’re moving in one month, and you’re going to finish your studies in America where it’s the best place to study.” He was so happy and all of my family were happy for this news because they knew that they’re getting a new life that has lots of different opportunities. But I was the only sad person because I knew that was the date that my final exams were going to start, but my father told me that I’m going to continue in U.S and nothing will change, which means that I’m not going to lose the year.

At this moment, I felt little bit okay. I knew that nothing will affect my study as long as my father was supporting me. But it was still too hard. Whenever I think back to the exams that I left behind me, and the fact that no one in my school knew where I was or am today, it makes me feel so sad and depressed. No one is ever absent in the exams days, and I was the only student who was hidden during these days.

The most difficult part of my father’s news was that this information must be secret. The reason why it should be secret is the war that happened between Iraq and U.S. In the Iraqis’ perspective if someone goes and lives in the country that already had war with Iraq that means they are betraying their country, so they might prevent us in any possible way if they hear that we’re moving to America. As a result, we didn’t even say goodbye to anyone, which made me feel very miserable.

After the days passed, I accepted what my dad said but I was still so sad because I didn’t want to leave my country, my friends, and everything I knew. I had no other choice, I had to be with my family. I was crying and talking to my mom saying that I don’t want to leave. At the end, she laughed and started recording me on her phone while I was crying and said “When we arrive to America you are going to start school there I will show you this video and your going to laugh at yourself.” She said that because she knew that I would be okay here.

On June 8, 2014, we prepared ourselves to leave, nobody knew that we were leaving except my uncle because he and his family were very close to my family. At 9:00am, the airplane took off and my disappointment took off too. This was the very hour when my exam was starting. I realized that even if I return to Iraq, I would fail. Tears began to flow, it was the moment that I couldn’t describe my feelings where I cannot heal the deep of my sadness

The way I overcame all of what happened to me is having an instance and determination to push myself harder. I stood by myself, I learned a lot. I developed myself starting from my 10th grade. I started being more responsible. At my new school, Brooklyn International High School, a school for students from all over the world, I was translating to the Arabic students and helping them and other languages speakers in any way I could., I started joining various school activities like the Students Government and Peer Training. I joined those two activities because when I was seeing some students who are very responsible they motivate me to be an exemplary student as I was in Iraq and even more.

My new life in America is becoming greater over the passage of the days. I learned how to stand up for myself, and also one good way I can seize is that I have the right to defend on my religion as long as I know that I’m right and haven’t do something wrong. As well as when others think that Muslims are terrorist I can defend on our religion and also correct people’s thinking about this religion. I think this is a very important way for all of Muslims not only in the United States but in every country they can be brave and not be afraid of what people will think about them.

Some perspectives can be acceptable because there are lots of different points of views, but the important way is to teach others about our beliefs because some of them might judge due to the stereotype they’ve heard about Islam. Therefore, the most important way to stand up for yourself is to try to correct other’s point of which is one of the most important parts of freedom in the U.S. while they have a freedom of speech.  As for my future, I hope that I will achieve what I wanted by finishing my study, in order to be proud of myself if I return to my country one day. Also, I hope to meet my friends one day, I don’t know what destiny hides for me, but nothing is impossible. One day, I might see them again, and tell them about the secret that became a very important, big, and new life!