We share in the hardship of those around us.
The Rezai Family on Sherman Street
It took Maryam Rezai three decades to get to America.
When she was a young girl in Kabul, Afghanistan, Maryam’s cousin wanted to marry her. But her family said no, and so did she. The rejection was so great that the boy killed himself. In traditional Afghan culture, if the husband dies, the wife must marry his brother; and while she and her cousin were not married, Maryam refused to marry the cousin’s brother and ran away from her family.
She traveled to Iran, where she met and married an Iranian. Maryam was 16 years old, having her first child at 18. But she became a victim of domestic violence, and after 13 years and two more children, she decided to leave her husband and Iran altogether.
Maryam and her children fled to Turkey on foot. Maryam’s middle daughter, Farkhonda, remembers slipping and falling down a mountainside at night, as they made their way. In Turkey, they had no passports and they slept many nights on the street. Maryam found a job, became fluent in Turkish, and met a Turkish man who wanted to take care of her and her children. They married—but then the nightmare started all over again, with beatings. Maryam finally escaped with her children and lived for awhile in a shelter for battered women.
During this time she applied to the UN for asylum as a victim of domestic violence. Her application was approved and she was given three choices of where she wanted to live: Canada, Australia, or America. She chose America, and on the eve of her departure, she took her children, and as many belongings they could stuff into suitcases, to the airport and camped out overnight, in fear that her husband would find them and force them to stay in Turkey.
They arrived in America in winter of 2016 as Turkish refugees, with nothing but their suitcases and each other.
The family now lives on Sherman Street in West Hill. Maryam works full time at Walmart, and is hoping to take some classes to improve her job skills. Daughter Farahnaz, who goes to Albany High School, is considering college in Texas. Son Faranarz goes to Giffen Elementary School, while daughter Farkhonda is the translator for the family, since she speaks fluent English (as well as Dari and Turkish).
Farkhonda is a chess whiz and won the first place award from the chess club at Giffen Elementary School. This year she’ll be in seventh grade at Myers Middle School. She loves music and math. Her ambition is to be a plastic surgeon.
"Farkhonda remembers slipping and falling down a mountainside at night, as they made their way.”
— Maryam Rezai
The Hemidan Family on Clinton Avenue
In 2013 the Hemidan Family (xx Hemidan, his wife Hawa Toum, and their six children) came to America from Egypt as U.N. refugees after applying for asylum. They are Libyan (Hawa is Sudanese), and they had moved to Egypt from Benghazi. They speak Arabic with a Libyan dialect.
The family lived in Pine Hills and xxx found good work as a heavy equipment operator; the four oldest children grew up and moved out of the area, finding jobs and marrying. Only the two youngest children remain at home with Hawa: Fatima, who will be going into 8th grade, and Ahmed, who will be going into 6th grade.
Then disaster struck.
Two years ago, xx went into the hospital for spinal surgery, after a career of heavy lifting and physical labor. He did not come out.
The surgery went terribly wrong, and as a result, xx is completely paralyzed. He can see, hear, and recognize people, but cannot breathe or move on his own. According to the doctors, his condition is permanent and he will need
constant care. He has been moved to a rehabilitation center that can manage and accommodate his large breathing machine.
The result for the family has been devastating. Besides the tragedy of xx’s condition, the Hemidan family lost its household income. Social Services then reduced the family’s benefits. The family has since moved to Clinton Avenue just on the edge of West Hill because of the lower rent.
A pro bono lawyer is shepherding the family’s lawsuit against the hospital, and daughter Majda, who still lives in the area, often comes over to help out her mother and her two youngest siblings.
Astonishingly, the family is in good spirits, and they have worked their daily visits to xx into their life routine. Fatima and Ahmed are the “techies” of the family (as with most youngsters), and Hawa exemplifies the Muslim generosity toward and welcome of guests: she makes sure that all have plenty to eat and drink—even the family’s cat.