In Islam, the origin and meaning of a name is significant. It bears the burden of ushering the character of the individual and provides prophetic sense of what they can hope to be. Forat means “sweet water” and relates back to the river Al-Forat which goes by another name, the Euphrates. The ancient body of water weaves through Turkey, Syria, and Iraq and is regarded throughout history as a metaphor for life. Life tends to fluctuate in its gentleness and ferocity, and like the temperment of the Euphrates, Forat’s life, once filled with walks along the book markets in Babylon, was torn apart and devastated by war and violence in Iraq. With the same force of the Euphrates, Forat has experienced both immense life and devastating pain which she now balances with grace and dexterity as she navigates the waters of being a refugee in Texas.
Searching for Home
After the invasion of Iraq in 2004, the country was left in the throws of a sectarian civil war. Ten years later and the death toll was still rising. From 2014 to 2015, there were almost 19,000 civilian casualties. In the same year there were reported of 36,000 injuries and 3.2 million people were displaced. When asked about life in Iraq at this time, Forat said she felt like she wasn’t alive. She would stay home, because finding a job was nearly impossible while the country roiled by violence. After realizing they needed to find a safe place to live, Forat’s family began applying for refugee status and a visa for the United States in 2009. Three years of rigorous vetting passed before Forat and her husband, Liwaa, and their three children, finally embarked on a journey of resettling in the U.S., in 2012. Unfortunately, their stay wasn’t long. The heartache of leaving their home and everyone they knew in Iraq was unbearable. When Forat’s family arrived in the States, they felt plunged into the isolation of resettling into an unfamiliar culture and an unfamiliar language. Their hardships and the depleted health of Forat’s father drove them to return to Iraq. Back home, the devastation was more than they could bear and the homeland if their memories was too ravaged for them to remain. On November 18th 2014, Forat’s family officially resettled in Dallas, Texas. Forat says; “It’s a special day for me because I feel like I am back home.” She came to the U.S. without knowing any English, apart from a few phrases like: “Good Morning,” “How are you?,” and “No speak English.”
The transition to a new life proved to be challenging, especially to someone like Forat who seeps joyous energy and who’s natural disposition is nothing less than an extroverted powerhouse. She was caught in the limbo between having all of the bureaucracy (visa, social security, etc.) that says Texas is now her home, and the ability to engage with her new community that would make Texas feel like home. Forat remembers visiting White Rock Lake with her family when a woman approached her. The friendly stranger introduce herself in English but she spoke too quickly and Forat could not understand her. All that Forat knew to say was “no speak English” and even though she wanted to reach out, timidity and the language barrier barred her from connection.
The galvanizing moment for Forat’s journey with English was when she recognized the importance of being an advocate for her children. At the doctor’s office, in school, and during their transition into American life, Forat fought like a champ to break down the language barrier by reading children’s books at the library with her kids and engaging with new friends. Life slowly became more palatable. She also had the help of an older American friend, named Margaret, who lovingly told Forat’s children to call her Grandma. With a gentle, “Hey Forat…”, Margaret would correct and encourage Forat in her English and teach her how to read recipes for dishes she can easily make in the States. ESL classes became less daunting with English-speaking friends that could help her along the way.
Time at VTC
Through connections in her ESL class, Forat was lead to to doors of Vickery Trading Company, a local nonprofit with programs for refugee women to garner their skills in english, financial literacy, and sewing. Their goal is to equip resettled women with as many tools as they can, creating a flourishing existence and self-sufficiency. VTC hires refugees from all over the world and a way they create a community that is ties strangers together is by requiring everyone to speak one unifying language: English. Forat recounts how daunting her first two weeks were when she was new to VTC and unable to speak any English. “But I learned with Vickery Trading Company,” Forat recalls, and through her classes and friendships with the international community at VTC, she found a family. After two years, Forat graduated VTC and had the opportunity to dip her toes into a new vocational field with all of her newly attained skills.
The GAIA Family
Soon, Forat found her way to us! Her laugh radiates through our cottage and she is quick to welcome a new face with her transparency and encouragement. Forat fits seamlessly into our GAIA family and we are honored to welcome her! One take away from Forat’s story is that Humans. Carry. On. Even when denied the right to peace and security, there is a deep resilience settled in their soul. We often lose sight that refugees are normal people. They have family traditions and rush hour traffic and dreams of growing old with people they love. They work. They play. They go about their everyday life trying to make ends meet while they pick their kids up at school and wonder if the cat has been fed. Then war enters their narrative. The “everyday” is disrupted when peace splinters. Humans wrong humans. Decisions beyond their control catapult the everyday questions into those of survival.
In several of the conversations with Forat about common misconceptions of refugees, she has a recurring lament she wishes she could share; “We are normal. Refugees are people, just like everyone else.” It is a rather centering idea. Instead of reacting to a narrative like Forat’s with pity or disbelief or disassociation there is an opportunity to engage. An opportunity to acknowledge it isn’t our homelands, skin tone, or religion that binds us to each other, it’s the unity of humanity. As Mother Teresa puts it; “If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other-that man, that woman, that child is my brother or my sister.” It is our duty to enter into the unrest, to provide what is lacking, and love like we belong to each other.