Olive branch

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…

….Mumtaz Mumtaz

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
 WHAT IS A REFUGEE? Very simply, a refugee is someone who cannot return to his or her home country because he or she would be persecuted for political or religious reasons. To be a refugee, one must flee his/her home country to a second county where they are taken care of by the United Nations in refugee camps. From there they are “parceled out” by the United Nations to various nations who agree to take them. In the United States, this number is set on a yearly basis by Congress.
WHAT IS AN ASYLEE?  An asylee is a special type of refugee who has not gone to a second country but comes directly to the United States from his/her own country.  They have to have received special permission from Congress to be so designated.  The two groups of refugees who are in this category in the United States are Cubans and Kurds – both of whom came directly to the United States.  All other refugees have gone through – many times years – of residence in refugee camps.  The would be the case for anyone who comes to the United States and applies for refuge once they are here.
WHAT IS A PAROLEE? Parolee ( PIP) – paroled in public interest. This applies to a family member of a refugee who has not been granted refugee status but is allowed to come with the family. This category exists to try and prevent families from being broken up.
 WHAT IS AN IMMIGRANT? An immigrant is an individual who has applied through an American consulate in another country to come to the United States to live. The Congress decides how many people will be allowed to immigrate from each separate country each year. Once the quota is filled, no one else can immigrate from that country. Immigrants sometimes have to wait for years in order to come to the United States.
This is a list of agencies in the Houston area that provide a range of services for refugees.
 (1) Catholic Charities                                              Location: Central
29090 Louisiana                                                       Hours: M – F
Houston, Texas 77006                                             8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Languages: Chinese, French Spanish, Vietnamese
(2) Interfaith Ministries                                       Location: Central
3217 Montrose                                                          Hours: M-F
Houston, 77006                                                         8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
(713) 522-3955                                                                      
Languages: Arabic, Amharic, Spanish, Bosnian/Serbo-Croatian, Vietnamese, Somalian
(3) Jewish Family Service                           Location: Southwest
10101 Fondren, St. 244                                Hours: M-Wed
Houston, 77096                                                         8:30 a.m. – 5:15 p.m
(713) 777-2030                                                 Thurs, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 
Languages: Russian
(4) The Alliance for Multicultural             Location: Southwest
Community Services “The Alliance”       Hours: M-F
6440 Hillcroft Suite #411                            8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Houston,77081                                                                                                     Languages: Arabic, Amharic,
(713) 776  4700                                                                                                            Tigrinya, Bosnian/Serbo-Croatian, Cambodian, Farsi,
Chinese, French, Spanish, Vietnamese
(5) Research and Development                   Location: Northwest
10120 N.W. Freeway, Suite 227                  Hours: M-F
Houston, 77092                                                         9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
(713) 686-3717                                                                                               Languages: Cambodian, Vietnamese
(6) Y.M.C.A.                                                  Location: Southwest
6300 West park, Suite 600                     Hours: 8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Houston, 77057                                                                                             Languages: Arabic, Amharic, Bosnian/Serbo-Croatian, Cebuano, French, Somalian, Spanish, Vietnamese

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