Murtada Mahmood

KIPP Student Murtada Mahmood

I’m from Iraq. We moved to Syria in 2006 because of the war. It just wasn’t safe for us anymore. For almost six years, we lived in Damascus. But then the Arab Spring hit and it again became too dangerous for us to live. We moved back to Iraq. A year later, in November of 2012, we got a phone call—we had been accepted into the United States Immigration System.

I couldn’t believe it at first; we had applied in 2009 and had heard nothing. Not even a response. I had long since lost hope. But then, just like that, we were in. They told us our plane was to leave in two weeks. Those weeks went by so fast. Background checks, and interviews, and withdrawing from school, and saying goodbyes, and buying winter clothes—it felt like a single day.

My relatives came to the airport. All of my aunts and all of my uncles were there. I don’t know how to say this—I don’t know if there are the right words in any language—but I was just, I was very happy and very sad all at the same time.

I didn’t know if I would see my family again.

And I had never been on an airplane before! I didn’t even know there were seat belts. They had to tell me to put mine on. Everything was new for me. We lifted in the air. I remember looking out the window. I could see my city. First just a little bit, but as we got higher, I could see almost all of Baghdad.

And then I watched Baghdad disappear.

I knew where we were going. Boston was our destination. We had an address to the immigration office, but I didn’t know much else about my future. I can’t explain how it felt. I really can’t. It was…it was a kind of happiness.

So much was new to me. Tall buildings. Men in suits rushing to meetings. English.

When I got here, I knew only basic words and phrases.

At KIPP, I started in the ESL program. I had some classes where I just learned English. And at other times, I was in normal classes with native English speakers, but with ESL support. So I learned through classes, and through classroom conversation. My ESL teacher was with me all the time. I exited the ESL program during my sophomore year.

Now I’m a TA in the ESL class.

It’s strange looking back over the past four years. I didn’t expect to be here. There are times when I step back and just think, “This is my life now.” There are moments I can’t explain. I have been—I don’t know how to say it—I have been…awarded. Yes, there have been struggles.

My dad passed away in 2011. He always pushed me to be better. And like my mom does now, he always talked to me about college. Right now, I’m working with KIPP counselors on applying to college. I’m in the process of completing my parents’ dream for me. And there have been other struggles, too. I lived in countries of war. I came to another land.

But these things, these things in my past, they are not a barrier for me—they are me.

I look to the future.

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