"Where are you from?" "Seven." "How old are you?" "Iraq." (Just clarifying, you're interchanging the two answers for comedic relief right? Even so it might be slightly better to move the pair with 'Iraq' in it to the very beginning. It helps to catch the attention of the reader as early as possible, and in your case it can be done without substantial changes) I was hunched down on the floor of a cramped, decrepit, two-room apartment in the housing projects, endeavoring to converse with two Arabic-speaking boys who had recently been granted political asylum in the United States. Their father, who arrived in the United States two years prior and gained proficiency in English shortly thereafter, looked on with a smile. (You could lose a few words in the preceding sentence, if you really needed to. eg.'Their father, a two-year old Immigrant...') One never would have guessed that he was ('had been' would be better, to give a sense of relative time) forced by militants to abandon two thriving businesses in Iraq and was now struggling to provide for his family on a part-time, minimum wage income. "Ig-gayyaat ahsan min ir-rayhhaat," he declared. "What is coming is better than what is gone." (Just an idea, perhaps you could reveal the meaning of the proverb only at the end; might be an interesting wraparound ending that makes the reader come back to the top...)
The father's Old World wisdom was remarkably prescient; within six months of meeting his boys, I had them speaking conversational, albeit broken English. ('With me') Serving as their tour guide, the father and his boys explored the Amish countryside, an amusement park, and a local zoo. The mother, a hijab-clad woman who had(Once again, relative time) never failed to welcome me into her home with a kind "asalaamu alaikum" and a hot cup of coffee, was noticeably absent from our far-flung adventures. While her family thrived, the soft-spoken, hazel-eyed woman suffered in silence.
Several years prior, Jamaat Ansar al-Sunna guerrillas used the threat of execution to force her family to leave Iraq. By the time I was introduced to her at a tutoring program for immigrants, she was disillusioned and depressed, having spent the past two years in refugee camps across the Middle East. She felt that although learning the American language would allow her to communicate with her doctors and ensure her safety in the event of an emergency, it would be the final nail in the coffin of her former life. Her indignant refusal to learn the American language and become accustomed to the area were manifestations of her futile belief that her husband would soon "come to his senses" and allow the family to return to their native land.
The inner-humanity in me prompted me to challenge the mother's belief that life in "Amreeka" entailed letting go of Iraq. To quote Mother Teresa, "Love is not patronizing and charity isn't about pity. It is just about love."
My first target was the family's taste buds, which had been seriously deprived of Iraq's decadent fare (if their cereal-and-soda diet served as any indication). Their response was nothing short of hysterical when I arrived at their apartment bearing gifts of fresh Kanafeh and Kleicha, Mesopotamian treats that I purchased from an international food market. For the mother's birthday, I arranged for a local Imam's wife to prepare the family an exquisite Middle-Eastern meal consisting of hummus and lamb Kebabs. Their gratitude was marked by ear-to-ear smiles that transcended any cultural and linguistic barriers that existed between us.
From then on, I reminded the family that in the United States, Iraq was never far away. In the following weeks, I delivered old Arabic CDs from Amazon, Iraq's new flag, and coffee beans from Baghdad to their home. I then accompanied the family to two cultural festivals - one Arab, one Greek - to show them that the United States' greatest? strength is its plurality of cultures. Equipped with the belief that being American and Iraqi are perfectly compatible, the mother finally agreed to learn English. She mastered vocabulary with the same vitality and spirit that I saw in her boys many months prior.
My experiences with the family have left me with much more than a plethora of Arabic words and phrases hammered into my head. I've learned that the smallest doses of kindness and thoughtfulness can bring the greatest spells of fear and insecurity to an end. It is with this knowledge that the aforementioned adage, a remnant of a noble culture relayed to me, truly comes to life: What is coming is better than what is gone!
Extremely well written essay, good topic. I'd say you're already there, but no reason to stop polishing right?
Oh and take a look at mine too, deadline's almost here!