Iraqi student finds welcome in Eugene
By Gordi Albi
American missiles bombed his home town, and brought war to his country, yet Awab Alrawe, an Iraqi student, was eager to come to the U.S. His goal was to begin his study of political science at the UO here in Eugene.
For a full year Alrawe studied in Syria with the Iraqi Student Project. ISP is a nonprofit organization that seeks to fill the void in the lives of young Iraqis caused by the war.
Theresa Kubachek and her husband, Gabe Huck, sought universities that would waive tuition for Iraqi students who would then spend a year in preparation at the ISP in Damascus. Once in the U.S., in addition to their studies, the students have part-time jobs and do 80 hours of cultural exchanges. They are aided by a local support group that raises money to cover expenses.
Gordie Albi, a Eugenean, and Kubachek are co-members of the Loretto Community, a Catholic institution dedicated to social justice. When Albi heard Alrawe was coming to Eugene, she began to talk to him via email, and their friendship continues now that he is in Eugene.
What were your impressions when you arrived in the U.S.?
All the passengers [on the plane] were from Mideast conflicted areas. When we landed in Chicago, everyone started laughing. I was mostly worried I’d miss the plane to Eugene because we were late. Fortunately, the ISP had us practice what U.S. customs might be like, so they were helpful, and I caught the plane.
My Eugene “family,” Jacque Travis and Mark Siemens, were there to meet me. Their daughter Emma was with them. She is a UO sophomore. They really looked good.
Did the Iraqis believe the U.S. had a good reason for attacking them?
It was generally understood that Bush was coming for our oil, not to liberate us from Saddam Hussein.
How did you feel about Saddam Hussein and how was it living under him?
He was despised; people saw him as a devil in the shape of a human, not only because of the people he murdered, but he robbed and corrupted the people. People, like my father, who was a geologist, couldn’t earn more than $300 a month. People were set against each other.
We had an Iraqi journalist come to Eugene. She was asked the difference between the Sunni and the Shi’a. She said it was not a real problem; that most Sunni families had a Shi’a intermarriage, and vice versa. They had lived together for ages and could again if they were left alone. That it was a manipulation by people wanting to create dissension. Was that right?
Absolutely. We are an old civilization — going back to 1380.
There was one Iraqi man, maybe he should be nameless, who seemed to have influence in Washington regarding the war.
Oh yes. He is despised but has power now, including his own militia.
We can only imagine how horrible the bombing attacks must have been. Every day …
Almost all cars were moving targets to the U.S. airplanes before they entered the capital, and then by snipers starting a week after they captured the city.
On Book TV, a U. S. author was talking about the danger, but he was in the “pink hotel.” Did you just try to hide at home?
Our houses are not made of strong material. Our house had two stories; we’d gather together in one room. My aunt’s house, near ours, was bombed, and yes, it was terrifying. And why? Such precise targeting left so many questions: Where should we go or stay? Where would they bomb next? Will the U.S. forces capture the city?
Did you flee your home in Baghdad?
Yes, all families were in trouble. My sister Danya is only 16 now. We all used cell phones to keep in touch with each other all the time. We finally left due to death threats. They came by telephone. It was a story of threats. A neighbor man was shot and put in the trunk of a car; dogs barking, people screaming. It is indescribable to say more. The U.S. forces came to investigate. Then the phone calls came. We fled to Syria. I went back for two weeks and then returned to work with ISP.
What about Osama bin Laden?
Iraqis were not familiar with him or al Qaeda. They were not in Iraq, and we only heard of them from the U.S. We heard fiction stories by others — source always from the U.S. We became nervous about them. Some stories were coming from diplomats.
I know that you were the captain of a soccer team in Syria. Is it possible that has been a release of tension for you as well as a way to put the fear behind you? I know soccer is your passion. Am I right?
Yes, that’s probably right.
If you had one thing you could say to Barack Obama now, what would you say?
I’d ask, “Was al Qaeda well-known and feared in Iraq before the U.S.? Was the Taliban?” The whole Mideast is old and complicated. I don’t see how Afghanistan is winnable.
If you have questions to ask Awab Alrawe, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
How to Help
Part of the ISP is a support group for each student. Some members of Mary’s Episcopal Church Group have the job of raising the money for this year’s expenses. They have only raised one quarter of the budget so far. If you are able to donate, checks should be make out to the Iraqi Student Project and mailed to Len Hockley, 220 Adams, #2, Eugene 97402, or deposit at the Pacific Continental Bank. Donations are tax deductible.