as a weekly practice I listen to npr and do a little sketch on one of the stories. take a look, you can click on the illustration to make it bigger!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Iraqi Refugee Finds Welcoming Home In The West.

Driving to work one dark morning in February, Rob Hunter caught an NPR story about an Iraqi refugee struggling to find work in Florida. The young man, identified as Bahjat, had endured death threats and a car bombing because of his work with U.S. contractors. He was an IT specialist with a degree in civil engineering, yet the only job he'd been offered was cleaning hotel rooms for $7 an hour, not enough to support his mother and sister. Hunter was far away, in Billings, Mont., but he felt pulled by a mixture of civic duty and religious faith.

Today, Bahjat has his own office at the Paradigm Group. A framed picture of a moose adorns one wall. At his desk is a U.S. map with his six-day driving route from Florida to Montana drawn across it, a welcome gift from his new colleagues. He says he loves his new job and his co-workers, and feels incredibly happy at the turn of events. The hardest part has been adjusting to small-town life after growing up in Baghdad, a sprawling metropolis of 7 million people.

When Bahjat researched Billings online, he saw a photo with two tall buildings — a promising sign, he thought — but when the GPS in his car told him he had arrived in the city, he thought it must be mistaken. He made Hunter drive several times around the central blocks of charming restaurants and shops before accepting that this was, indeed, "downtown."

Nonetheless, Bahjat has nothing but good things to say about the people here: "Billings is small by size, very big by heart."
One lingering frustration is the lack of an Arabic-speaking companion for Bahjat's mother, Rajha. There are only a few Arabs in town, most of them men. One day at Wal-Mart, the family was excited to see a woman wearing a veil, but the woman spoke only English. Rajha says she'd love English lessons but isn't sure where to find them; there is no agency that resettles refugees in the entire state of Montana.

Bahjat keeps in touch with other newly arrived Iraqis across the United States, including several who moved recently to the state capital, Helena, four hours away. Many are still struggling, either unemployed or in low-wage "survival jobs" not in their professional field. That makes Bahjat feel all the more lucky."I live here between Americans," he says. "I work with them; I do everything with them. So even though I love my country, I feel I belong to this country."

-excerpt from NPR

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