Interview with Maitham (Part 2. If you missed part 1, skip down the page below the beautiful granola fan a.k.a Mary Louise Parker)
Maitham offered to show me where he got shot. I was interviewing him at table in the Wayland Square Starbucks. That place can be a little drafty in December. He said he’d shown his interviewer at the United Nations in Syria, a lawyer from California—“a nice guy.”
The bullet had gone in through the chest and out the back. Along the way it clipped his liver, and broke three ribs, which in turn damaged part of his diaphragm. But the lung was safe.
“That was the miracle from Jesus,” Maitham said.
I’m no expert in human anatomy, but assuming a straight line between entrance and exit, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for a bullet to miss a lung. Maybe he was exhaling.
Once again, I think this is all best in Maitham’s own words:
M: I was on the bridge. I was going to see my cousin. Suddenly I hear a shot. That’s what’s happening—I mean it’s still happening in my country. The terrorist people shooting the new army, because they say the new army, they are lying with the American military, so we have to shoot you. There was a checkpoint in the street to make safety. I was on the bridge. I don’t have any place to run away. The checkpoint started to shoot random. So I get one of the shots.
I think other people they got shot too. But my lung it was safe. If my lung has hole, then I was gonna die. The lung would fill with water and blood and…” (He grabbed his throat.)
K: You couldn’t breathe.”
M: Exactly. When I get shot. I recognized what happened to me. But I was still good. But I was trembling because I didn’t know what happened to me. And I didn’t tell my wife because she was pregnant.
This, I confess, was the point where I was most baffled. I mean how do you not tell your wife you’ve been shot when you’re driving. That would take more than a miracle for me. And it put the story in a broader context. Maitham’s daughter, Masara, now a kindergartener at the Resevoir Ave. school, is a joyful chatterbox. Everyone else in the house calls me “teacher.” Masara calls me “Keith.” And she adores books. I mean, seriously, if you need a home for your kids’ old picture books, Masara’s room is the place where they will be loved. I stopped in at their house last night and, by chance, interrupted Maitham’s birthday party. (He made me promise to tell people’s he’s 22.) I should know better than to ever try to visit an Iraqi home for 5 minutes. Masara blew out her dad’s candles and kissed her dad. Everybody kissed Maitham, myself included, though I needed a little instruction: it's those French-style alternating-sides air-kisses. Maitham explained that among friends everybody kisses everybody in Iraq, men and women alike. But the limit is four—they’re very strict about this. When I finally broke away and found Masara to say goodbye, she was in her room standing in front of the full length mirror, holding a picture book open so that the girl in the mirror could enjoy the pictures, while she “read” to her in English.)
M: My home, it was one kilometer. I get back to my home. My father was there and he get me to the hospital. And Zaid (Maitham’s brother) he was there. He come with me with the car. Because we know there were many, many cars. And Zaid he get out from the car and,” Maitham banged on the table to illustrate pounding on a car top “Please we need a way, please get out. We have accident.”
I was praying on the way. I was like praying on the way “Oh Jesus, forgive me. Maybe I will come to you. Forgive me. Maybe I’m gonna come to you.” I didn’t know I would survive. I didn’t know that my lung was safe until I get to the hospital.
It was a long day, teacher.
That shot spread Maitham’s family out across the world. Some went to Jordan, another Dubai. Most went to Syria because it had the lowest cost of living. Maitham along with his family and two million other Iraqis went to Syria. The planes had standing room only in the aisles. From there, over the years, the dispersion continued around the world. Maitham has a cousin in Sweden, one in Michigan, another in Australia, one in Canada—though most (along with about a million other Iraqis) are still Syria. Waiting. And Syria is no longer a safe place even for it’s own people. Maitham believes that the wound expedited their application. Another miracle in disguise.
Before we left, I asked: “So what do you like most about living in America.”
M: It was a dream for us. Oh! I am in America?! I used to just hear about living in America... It’s nice. Very nice country. I don’t know, everything is nice here. Especially the safety. You can live safely here.
K: What did you find the most surprising?
M: Here? Ah… let me think. I don’t know how to describe it. When we used to live in our country… here we get more respectness. I mean the people here respect each other. For example, if you go to the hospital in my country and you ask about something at the desk. They say, (shouting) “Hey. What do you need.” Here the people say “Hi, how are you. How can I help you.” I mean, the people here have more respectness between each other. The human being, he have rights. That’s a difference. We used to live in a very very big jail. It was a jail, my country. You have freedom here.
It’s a nice compliment. I know it’s not always true. Even I have been shouted at by one of Maitham’s neighbors. And I have met Iraqis who are afraid to take the bus in Providence because they’ve been harassed.
But hey. An earnest compliment. We can all savor that for a moment.
So happy holidays everyone. Merry Christmas. Happy Hannukkah. Prospero Año y Felicidad. Thanks for employing refugees and buying our granola. We had over 150 orders come in this month—including some today—and the web site is always open if you, like me, specialize in late Christmas or early New Year’s gifts. (Although if you’re ordering subscriptions, please make it clear in your notes if you prefer a December or January start. We’ll get it in the mail as soon as we can.) I'm off to Ohio, but Zaid is here manning the granola fort. For you locals, we're on the shelves that the University Heights Whole Foods, and the farmer's markets will be open on the 31st.