Chapter One: Meet Mumtaz
Mumtaz Suleman Younis was born in Musal in northern Iraq 8 years ago. He lived in a village with his mother, father, brother and sister, Farida. At the end of the Gulf War, his village rose in revolt against the regime of Sadam Hussain. The Kurds were defeated – American planes carried as many Kurds out of the country and away from the Iraqui army as possible. Mumtaz’s 21 year old sister, Farida, had served as an interpreter for the Americans – a sure death sentence under Sadam Hussain. She and her younger brother were allowed to come to America as refugees. They were settled in Houston, Texas where Taz is enrolled in elementary school. It is lunchtime.
Taz took a bite of his eggplant sandwich. The olive oil had soaked through the white bread so he held on with both hands to keep it together. With the taste of olive oil came the memories of back home – Iraq – Musal and mama. The yearly family gathering at the cemetery in old Musal where his grandpa lay under the ground and mama laid the brightly colored tapestries on the ground – tapestries covered with food – dolmas – cabbages and onions stuffed with lamb and rice, skewers of barbequed ground lamb and liver, libna and yogurt mixed with water and mint and ice. So cool on the hot summer days. Musal, mama…
But now, there was no mama – only Mumtaz and Farida. Taz said the word, “refugee” – he had heard the teacher talking about him, “The Kurdish refugee boy”. Taz knew what Kurdish meant but … refugee? That night he had asked Farida what refugee was. Farida explained that it meant they had had to run away because some bad men were coming to their village. She held him really tight that night and Taz felt her tears on his arms. He decided to try to not make her cry anymore. She was so tired now – she worked so hard. He wished he could help her more…
Taz looked up at his teacher who was shaking his shoulder. Mrs. Talbert’s clear blue eyes were looking at him intently.
Mumtaz – Come with me to the office.
She gently pulled on his shoulder. Mumtaz looked at his sandwich
Bring your sandwich along. You can finish it later.
She began to wrap his sandwich in the crumpled wax paper. Taz stood up.
Tazzi Wazzi had no hair Tazzi Wazzi had no hair
Taz looked at the two boys sitting across the cafeteria table who were laughing. He couldn’t understand what they were saying but he knew that they were playing with his name. And a pang of homesickness hit his stomach. He thought of Musal and mama as he put his hand in Mrs. Talbert’s.
Brian – Ramon you boys hush. Jenefer I like the way you are eating – quietly and politely.
The teacher and student entered the hallway and walked in silence to the office. As they went into the office, happiness spread through Taz and spilled out in a smile as Farida held out her arms to him. Farida had always been his favorite sister and last year when the family had told him that she had to leave and go to America, he had felt a terrible desolation inside. Later when Farida sat with him and asked him if he would like to come to America with her, he hadn’t thought about leaving Mama and Nazir and the cousins. He had just thought about not losing Farida. And now he and Farida and Faris lived in this big American city. He heard them talking about being refugees. Taz wasn’t sure what refugee was but he knew that some people looked at him kindly but others were angry when Farida said that.
Kneeling beside him, his sister spoke in Kurdish,
“Get your books and things – we’re going on a trip.”
Fear filled Taz’ face and Farida said,
Don’t worry. You’ll like this trip.
She stood up and turned to Mrs. Talbert,
So he should do chapter three in math and the worksheets in language arts?
Yes – that will see him through fine until Monday. Goodbye Mumtaz. Have a nice time.
(To be continued…)
For Your Information…
Taz was not alone in not understanding legal definitions of refugee, immigrant, asylee or alien. The average person on the street does not understand the myriad of types of foreign-born people living in the United States today. Let’s look at some of the different types of foreign-born Americans we encounter everyday. There are several main categories: REFUGEES, ASYLEES, IMMIGRANTS, PAROLEES