BaghDAD Blogger: A peaceful Christmas in America, my new home

December 24, 2012 at 8:52am

Mazin Yahya's daughter Maha and his son Wisam pose next to the family Christmas tree in Springfield, Mass., on Dec. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Mazin Yahya) © 2012 AP

Mazin Yahya's daughter Maha and his son Wisam pose next to the family Christmas tree in Springfield, Mass., on Dec. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Mazin Yahya) © 2012 AP


Mazin Yahya worked for The Associated Press in Baghdad from 2005 until earlier this year, and for the last 18 months of that time he served as AP's BaghDAD Blogger, reflecting on the challenges of being a parent in Iraq. He and his family recently started a new life in Massachusetts, a place where they had never been and where they had no family. Now, they're preparing to celebrate Christmas in their new home.


Again the sun rises outside my window, but it’s a different world that I see since my family and I emigrated from Baghdad to the U.S., after getting refugee status and resettling in Springfield, Mass.


In the states, we have finally been freed from the fears and constant worries that had taken root in our hearts.


My youngest daughter, 12-year-old Maha, said it best. She’s a student in middle school and never thought she would be able to communicate with her classmates and teachers because of language difficulties, as she has learned very little English. But she is so happy.


“Dad, everybody’s so friendly and things are really going smoothly since we were saved from being afraid of the fighting in Iraq,” she said.


My oldest son, 19-year-old Ali, worries about those he left behind.


“When will the Iraqis be liberated from their fears?” he asked.


Ali was reminded of those fears when a car stopped near him and strangers approached. He stepped back, thinking at first that they might be kidnappers, who often snatched people in Baghdad for ransom or for political reasons.


But these strangers wanted to give him a small envelope that contained $20 in cash and the words, “Have a drink with the one you love in memory of Sept. 11.”


We’re all still getting used to our new-found sense of security. I’ll never forget the time my wife screamed last month after a thunderous explosion was heard in Springfield.


“Oh God, it’s a bombing,” she cried, remembering the sounds of car bombs and suicide attacks that are still a common occurrence in Baghdad. But after a while we saw on TV that it had been a gas explosion, and we all breathed a sigh of relief.


Even my little son Wisam, who is only 4 years old, has a new way of seeing things. He calls the cars here “happy cars” because they move around smoothly, without the concrete blocks and police checkpoints that created a maze in Baghdad.


As I was putting the lights on our Christmas tree last week, the whole family felt joyous because we hadn't been able to celebrate the holiday openly in Iraq since 2003. Like many minorities in Iraq, especially the Christians, we felt pressured to commemorate the death of Imam Hussein, the prophet Muhammad’s grandson, and we feared reprisals from Islamist militias that objected other religions and sects.


But this year we have the joy of lighting the Christmas tree and putting it on display for everybody to see, instead of having to hide it in a corner of the house, away from the windows!


You'll find more BaghDAD blog posts by Yahya on AP's Facebook page.