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Baghdadee بغدادي

Farewell, Kam

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Farewell, Kam

Sixty-five years ago, a young, slim, dark-skinned immigrant in his twenties with a short stature disembarked in the port of New York from the ship that brought him from Beirut across seas and oceans, coming from Baghdad after a journey that lasted several months. He worked during the trip and slept on the ship's floor, enduring its hardships, with his only hope being the dream of reaching America, where he dreamed of completing his studies at one of its universities.

A sea journey that ultimately led him from beneath the Statue of Liberty, a symbol he had dreamt of for years, ever since he became aware of life and its difficulties after his parents' divorce, and he was left in the care of his strict father with his siblings. He lived a tough life filled with hardship and the absence of maternal affection, but it was not without moments of joy.

He remembers a humorous incident from his youth when he returned to Baghdad from Najaf after visiting his mother and didn't have the fare for the bus. He resorted to sneaking onto a wooden bus carrying an empty coffin after a burial, a common practice, to hide from the bus driver's eyes. He recalls this with a chuckle, describing the reaction of the passengers who sat next to the coffin on top of the bus to avoid paying a higher fare. He remembers them jumping in fright when they saw a hand reaching out from the coffin after the bus arrived in Baghdad.

That young man arrived in the port of New York, the city of dreams and immigrants, with only his university acceptance letter and enough money to pay for a bus ticket from New York to Los Angeles on the west coast of America. His overland journey across the American continent took three days, during which he endured hunger and seized the opportunity when a fellow passenger offered him the remnants of a meal. He arrived, hoping to find temporary refuge with a friend who had already made it there. However, his hope quickly evaporated when the friend refused to welcome him and threw his bag into the street, leaving him alone and a stranger, facing an unknown fate, to spend the night on the sidewalk.

But destiny, which had taken care of him and facilitated his impossible journey, did not fail to provide him with a job as a greeter at the door of a street  restaurant, where his appearance and skin color in a broad sombrero hat, cloak, and trousers helped him. However, this opportunity didn't last long and ended with another humorous incident.

After being promoted to work as a server inside the restaurant and while he was serving a bowl of bean soup, he noticed a mouse felling in the pot , which the chef coldly took out of the pot. But all the young man could do was continue serving the soup to the customers, despite his disgust. He recalls an incident when a mouse passed under a customer's table, startling the lady, and all he could do was hang in a playful and spontaneous manner, by saying,

"Strange, that this mouse is still alive. The chef just lifted it from the pot."

In a malicious comment, the chef threw him out into the street again, this time stripped down to his underwear after the restaurant owner took away his hat and cloak.

From that day on, he walked barefoot with nothing but a smile, hope, and self-confidence, which always guided him to achieve his dream of enrolling in university, completing his studies, and graduating with an engineering degree from Cal Poly. He also got married to his study partner and had four children with her. Eventually securing a job in nuclear reactor construction with one of the major American energy companies. He became a pioneer in this field and was promoted to become a member of the American Nuclear Energy Committee, overseeing specifications and designs.

But perhaps his dearest membership to his heart was with the Thursday group, where he faithfully attended the Iraqi friends group weekly meetings in San Francisco, California over about twenty years. He actively participated in their discussions and humor, always being honest and straightforward, wearing a smile on his face, talking about his adventures and dreams, leading a happy life, and his arduous struggle to find a life partner after divorcing his second wife, following a marriage that lasted for decades and brought him four more children. He was eager to arrive early, but illness and difficulty driving prevented him from attending those enjoyable gatherings.

A long and challenging journey came to an end on the fourth Saturday of November 2023, taking him away from his unfulfilled dream of contributing to the electricity shortage in Iraq by building a nuclear reactor in Iraq.

He left his friends without a farewell.

Farewell, my friend Kam. Your seat in the Thursday meeting will miss you.

Goodbye, Abu Samer.

Safaa Al-Hakim / Thursday Group

2023 California, the land of two springs.


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