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New American Voices: Iraqi Couple Escapes Violence Of Baghdad In Columbus

Ahmed Al Qazzaz and Shahd Rdawi

Thousands of immigrants call Columbus home. In conjunction with WOSU-TV's documentary Columbus Neighborhoods: New Americans, 89-7 is profiling immigrants who have settled here. The latest installment of 89-7's New American Voices series profiles husband and wife Ahmed Al Qazzaz and ShahdRdawi who came here from Iraq.

Shahd Rdawi and her husband Ahmed Al Qazzaz both received college degrees from Iraqi universities.  Ahmed, with a computer science degree, worked for the government.  Shahd turned an archeology degree into working with ancient artifacts at the National Iraqi Museum.  The young couple was just starting married life when their world turned upside down.

“My wife called me and she was crying, she was screaming,” Ahmed says.  “I said, ‘What’s happened?’  She said, ‘There was a big explosion next to me in Baghdad. And the people are just shooting in the air.  It’s just a very bad situation.’  And I said, ‘That’s it, we are leaving.’”

“This is really the hard part because the situation in Iraq just forced us to leave our mother country which we really love and wish to keep in our culture no matter what,” adds Shahd. 

Ahmed had a relative in Columbus working to clear up immigration paperwork.  A little more than two years ago, they set foot on U.S. soil.  But they found the transition difficult.

“When I came here I have to start like someone who is 18; with no driver license, with no credit, with no job history.  Nothing.  So we have to start from zero,” Ahmed says.

So they did.  Ahmed went through a series of jobs before finally landing an IT job at the Wendy’s headquarters in Dublin.  Four months ago, Shahd took a position at the Columbus Museum of Art.  Shahd and Ahmed are grateful for a circle of friends who helped them make it through.

“Then I was lucky to have many great and good friends here who show love and help and support all the time for my husband and I,” Shahd says.

Now Shahd helps other immigrants make the transition she and her husband made.  She calls it her mission from God.

“God sent me here for a real mission for my community like I found myself involved in helping many women and children who really need help.  So why Columbus, Ohio?  There’s a mission in Columbus, Ohio, that’s why.

Shahd says life in Iraq and the U.S. are polar opposites.  Ahmed believes that without support, other immigrants won’t be able to make the same transition.

“Not all the people can handle that change.  It will be a big shock for them: culture shock, job shock, everything is shock for them,” Ahmed says.

Shahd is still dealing with shock of her own. She says the fast-paced American life is too hectic.  She’s tried to slow things down by abandoning TV and reading as much as possible. 

“Living here is so frustrating.  It’s so, push hard on your life.  Sometimes it ruins your valuable time like where you have to be where you have to do.  Sometimes I really feel that’s unfair but that’s how the system works here.

Even with the stresses Ahmed and Shahd enjoy Columbus.  Last year they participated in several cultural events teaching Ohioans about customs from other countries.

“I wear Iraqi culture costumes.  Women from my community, they cook Iraqi food and share it with people there.  It was really a great experience to make people know more about our food, our culture; what we look like, how we dress.

Despite her love of America, Shahd says she’s still Iraqi at heart.

“If I get a chance to live back in my country believe me I will do it.  I know United States is really a lovely country but you have to pay a lot for that thing, so some day I will choose to go back to my country just to have peace, I will really take that choice,” Shahd says.

Support for New American Voices comes from Ohio Humanities.