While on the rock, I called Sheila with a cell phone that was with me, and I told her about our location, so she can call the Office of the United Nations in Athens to help the families and the children. The weather was extremely cold, so my friend Muthanna who accompanied me on this journey and I changed into the clothes we brought with us. An hour after our arrival, the Greek coat guards found us, and shun bright lights on us and demanded to that we hand them the Turkish captain. “Where is the captain?” The officer shouted. He started kicking the people and shooting in the air to intimidate us. An Iraqi man, Abu Yousef, his name was, told the Greek authorities who the captain was. After they had captured the captain, the Greek officer lined us up by the boat and apologized for the mistreatment. Although Muthanna and I were the only Palestinians in the group everyone else calmed to be Palestinians as well so they won’t be sent back to Iraq.The Officer then told us to get on the small boar 4 people at a time to get to the ship. The Greek police was filming us, while the officers were still kicking the captain. The captain was crying and praying “ya allah, ya allah”. The ship took off to the Harbor of Mytilini Island.
At the harbor, the officer asked us if we spoke any English. My friend Muthanna and another person called Vivian known as Abu hamra, volunteered to translate. The officer took our names, birthdates and finger prints and then transported us to the hospital to screen us for diseases. At the hospital after taking x-rays we stayed until 3 in the morning where we were transported again to jail where illegal immigrants are kept. There were a lot of Iraqi, Palestinian, and Afghani prisoners as well. There was a separate prison for women and children in the floor above us. We stayed an entire month inside the camp, during our stay Iraqi young men played “il Mehebis” which is a popular game in Iraq, and there were victory dancing and singing. We had grown very close during our detention. The camp was unhealthy; there were no windows for the fresh air and sunlight to come in from. There were no doctors to check on the prisoners. The food that we were given had no salt, and the tea had no sugar. I was able to purchase a cell phone and a SIM card from inside the camp. The reason why I needed to do so is that I had thrown the phone that I had away on the rock. With those I was able to call Sheila and tell her again where I was in the camp and we kept in touch.
One night I had a dream that I was on a brown horse entering a white house with orange trees all around me, and I told her of the dream. And I called her about my life inside the camp.
Saed, from the united Kingdome contacted me and I told him about our situation inside the camp and told him that Afghanis stay in the camp for a period that does not exceed 10 days while Iraqis are kept for a month to 40 days. Then he sent our case file to the office of the United Nation.
At the camp I was paid a visit from a Greek Lawyer who works at the UN on refugee cases goes by the name Agaligi. Sheila had contacted her to cover my case. A month of her visit the UN came to the camp and set us free. Everyone was very ecstatic we showered and changed into new clothes. On our way out a casted a last glance at the camp. All of my friends from the camp had left the Island to Athens, I watched them get on the boat and that was our goodbye. I stayed on the Island all alone, and Agalili was keeping me informed regarding my case. I met 3 Arabs, and that was my company for the rest of my stay. I stayed in a white hotel with orange trees all around it. That was the place I had dreamt of in the camp. Sheila contacted me and gave me the great news of her visit to Greece; she gave me the flight number and the date of her arrival, I still have that piece of paper with the information written on it till this day.
I met her at Mytlini’s airport with flowers in my hand. I saw her, standing there before me. In that Palestinian dress I gave her. I was saddened by the way she looked. She was pale and exhausted. I wrapped my arms around her and I did not want to let go. I was on the verge of crying. We left the airport and got a taxi to the hotel. I had decorated the room with flowers, balloons with our names written on them, and some ornaments. Sheila still has these balloons from 2007. The hotel owner turned out to be a very kind gentleman; he was extremely nice to us and made our stay as comfortable.
We left to Athens to finish the visa procedures. Sheila walked into the United States embassy while I waited outside for about an hour and half because they would not let me in. Sheila ran out of the embassy overjoyed, she just got us an appointment with the consul a week from the date. We got a room in a small hotel in Athens called……. We had all the necessary medical tests that the embassy asked us to take for the visa taken care of. We met with the consul with a Lebanese translator called Joyce. She helped us a lot but the consul was afraid because of 9/11 events. Therefore she was reluctant to speak to Washington. They asked me to get my birth certificate which I did not have because all the documents were burnt during the war on Iraq. They also asked me to get a letter from the Syrian embassy of why I was in a political prison in Syria. The consul was kind enough to accept my travel documents and personal ID as an equivalent to the birth certificate under the condition that we have them certified by the Iraqi embassy in Athens. We went to the Iraqi embassy however we came back empty handed. The new went to the Syrian embassy to get that letter however the Syrian embassy refused to provide us with the document because I am not Syrian. We stepped out of the US embassy disappointed; we walked for a while then sat down at nearby café. I had my drawing note book with me so I drew the moon and I told Sheila that I wish if we could live on the moon. I still have the drawing. It was time for Sheila to go back to the States. We headed to the bus station around 4 in the morning. And so Sheila left.
I tried getting that document through my family and relatives in Syrian in vain. Then I contacted a lawyer in Il Hasake. Sheila contacted 10 other lawyers but they all were to afraid to even try. The last lawyer we contacted was called Fadi, he was able to get the letter within a week and sent it to me. Now the next step after getting the letter, was translating it into Greek and certify it from the ministry of external affairs. I waited 6 months in Greece until I was finally able to get my visa. During that time, Sheila had 3people send recommendation letters to the embassy, those were Justin who worked for a human rights organization in Baghdad, Saed who worked for……… and Sheila’s father. The office of Senator Kennedy was of tremendous help in the process as well. During my interview with the cosul, I felt her happiness. I ahd the interview and passed it, then the consul agreed to grant me the visa. They asked me to leave my passport with them and the next day I will get the visa. I left the embassy and started singing and dancing on the sidewalk. I was signing that song that Sheila had taught me, and she had learnt from her mother. I called Sheila that I got the visa and I was able to sense the joy in her voice. The next morning I got a call from Joyce telling me that my visa is going to be delayed for few weeks. I waited for a week, two, three, then four weeks on the last day I my heart started hurting from all the waiting. I called Sheila and she sensed that I was ill. After that her father called me to comfort me. And I told him that I am still strong and will not give up. After a month of waiting I got another call from Joyce and she told me that I had gotten the visa and I should pick it up first thing in the morning. My brother Tariq was with me. He was kidnapped and brought to Athens. I saved my brother and he stayed with me in my apartment with my friends Muthanna, Fawaz, and Ahmad Selem.
I told Sheila that I got the visa so she decided to come to Athens and take me to the states. I had booked another hotel room for me and Sheila and indeed the next day she was there again with me in Athens. We went to Athens airport in which we were delayed because I had a Palestinian passport. We got on the plane and felt an overwhelming happiness. It was all over, we were together at last. 10 hours later we landed in New York. Right before landing, I started crying while looking through the small airplane window. I felt saddened because of the face that im so far a way from my family. I felt like I was removed from my roots. I will live in this place. When we got to passport control, we were asked to go to a different room. That was the hardest half an hour of my life. It felt like 3 years. I had done everything that they asked me to do. What do they want right now. Sheila and I were singing for one another as an attempt to comfort ourselves. I had my eye on the officer, when is he going to pick up my passport and stamp it. He had stamped the passport I told Sheila. We tool it and went through I held Sheila in my arms again, we made it. Sheila’s father was waiting for us, he hugged us both. We left the airport with our bags. Sheila’s friend called me to congratulate me on the arrival. Once we got to the house, Sheila’s mother Mary stepped out in a hurry running bare foot. “Finally you got here” she said to me.
Sheila’s mother was watching TV. The Red Sox were playing. It’s her favorite team. She served some Middle Eastern food like Dmolma, Grape leaves, and tabule. I barely spoke any English at the time. Sheila was translating the entire conversation for us. We went, Sheila and I upstairs to sleep. We woke up in the morning; we had breakfast and then went for a walk. We bought some ice-cream and came back. It happened that that day was also Mary-Allen’s birthday_ Sheila’s mother. So we all went to a restaurant and met the entire family, her brother David, her sister Anne and her fiancé Tommy. They were all talking about marriage. The next morning we went to Sheila’s studio apartment in Summerville. We went through all the legal documents that same morning Shaikh Emam Eid lead the ceremony in a mosque. During the ceremony I had her hand in mine and we were watching the beginning of a new life being drawn right before our eyes. She had al hijab on and the witnesses were the shaikh’s sons. Both of her parents, her brother and her sister and fiancé were all present as well. After the ceremony ended I prayed to thank God for granting me what I have been fighting for. We took some pictures and went to Sheila’s parents house and had a small party. We danced together then went back to Summerville. Next we went through all the legal procedures to make me a legal immigrant in the United States. Later we went to the YMCA, so I can enroll in some English courses. I asked Sheila’s father to accompany me on the first day because I was slightly shy and scared. I met the teacher, his name was david I also met the other students and they were all international. After class we tried to find a place to eat. Across the street from YMCA there was a shawarma place, I thought it was owned by middle easterners and indeed the minute we stepped in I heard someone speak in an Iraqi dialect on the phone. I was delighted to mean a Middle Eastern person, especially from Iraq. So I met the owner, he was Iraqi and his name was Faez. After finishing our food we were getting ready to pay the bill, however the restaurant owner refused to take anything from us. After 4 months of studying in the YMCA,I realized how difficult being away from home is. The language was different, the weather was different, and everything was new to me. I felt somewhat lost; I was looking like a crazy man for anything that can give me a feeling of home. I have that feeling every day and night, I even dream of my family and friends at night. I had those same dreams for about 40 days. We lived for 4 months in Summerville, we spent beautiful days together Sheila and I. I met Ricardo, he knew my entire story, and Sheila had told him about it. 4 months later we got married in a church in Norwood Emam Abd and Brother Ryan were present. It was a nice ceremony. We danced to a song called Hello, Is It me? By……. Sheila put up pictures of my family as an expression of their presence. A friend of ours called Dorothy suggested that we put a news add of our marriage. We spent our honey moon in Sheila’s parents’ beach house near …. During my sat in the United States I conducted 3 lectures about Palestinians in Iraq, one in MGH Hospital and the other 2 in churches. And I had 3 art galleries. Sheila stood with me while taking each step and she helped me with the invitations and the organization of the events. I managed to sell some paintings. I got the green card and went to Canada with Sheila and her father. We saw the families that had left Baghdad. We visited Mahir’s family in Ontario, my cousin Ahmad Saleem in Hamilton, Abu Ali in Toronto and Sabri in Ottawa. We were so happy to see the children finally in a safe environment with a home studying English and playing on computers. Our visit to them in Canada was like a dream.
I am still studying English in the YMCA, I feel like the people there are my family. I met Tall David, Short David, Shereen, Deborah, Elaine, Jude, Amy the secretary, Beatrice, and Arianna. Arianna taught us about the driving law in Massachusetts. I took the driving exam and passed it. Faeq and Iraqi brother was with me and encouraged me to take the exam; he helped me with filling out the forms and such. I met Hillary who encouraged me and told me what the steps that I need to take to write my book.
Dorothy is a very nice lady that I used to visit every day to teach her Arabic and she teaches me English. She also helped me in translating the meaning of my paintings into English. Rana was also very helpful in translating.
I got the Norwegian visa and went to visit my brother with Sheila’s father. We spent 2 weeks in Norway then came back. My sister Khitam is teaching me how to cook. Every Sunday she would call and teaches me a new recipe. I am still learning how to drive with help from Sheila’s father and looking for a job.