Ask Bushra Haroun what she needs, and her answer will instead pertain to her gratitude for what the family already has: “Alhamdulillah.” Praise be to God.
Enter their small but cozy apartment and, despite all her responsibilities as the main caretaker for her four children and husband, who has a disability, Haroun will tend to you and insist you partake in a home-cooked meal of shawarma wraps and falafel.
She won’t mention, until prodded, that the family van has had its engine light on for months because they can’t afford the repairs.
No hardship in America, Haroun says, compares to the racism and constant threat of danger the family faced in their former home in war-torn Iraq where they went to bed with their paperwork ready to grab at a moment’s notice just in case militias knocked on their door in the dead of night and demanded proof of legal status.
“They don’t always get what they want,” Haroun says of her children, through a translator. “But we tell them all the time, ‘How lucky you are that you have a good life here and that you have what you need.’”
Bushra Haroun and her husband, Idris, a native of Sudan, met in Iraq in 1998. Soon after they married and had three children, Mohamed, 16, Hajar, 14, and Ahmed, 8.
Idris' medical troubles first began when he tripped and fell while running from a bombing nearby his workplace in the 1980s and fractured his knee. The limited care he received for years after the injury led to the leg healing improperly and caused permanent damage, he says. It also put a strain on his other leg.
Those injuries were exacerbated after he was attacked by a renegade group of al-Qaida in the early 2000s when he was working as a cook for the U.S. military. The terrorists beat Idris and the others who were riding in his military truck with the barrels of their guns and stomped on his injured leg. Idris says he only survived because an American military convoy drove by, causing the terrorists to flee.
In 2014, the family was approved by the U.S. government for a refugee visa. Here, the couple had their fourth child, Sara, who was diagnosed with autism. Though she doesn’t speak much, she bursts with energy and loves to dance to the music of her favorite children’s TV shows and play with her siblings.
The family still has thousands of dollars in travel loans to repay, among other expenses, and until Sara is old enough to go to school for the full day, Bushra Haroun can’t work, and nor can Idris because of his injuries. Idris has had four major surgeries in the past four years for his knees, gall bladder and thyroid, and he still has trouble walking. Still, they say, they mostly feel grateful.
“Nobody ever gave me a house in Iraq, nobody ever gave me a place to live or helped me fix my medical problems, but here I’ve found that,” Idris says. “I have a place to live, and my children are OK, so I’m thankful.”
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