MULTIMEDIA: Iraqi mother adapts to raising her family in a place far from home

Sunday, May 13, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — It’s easy to forget that we all have things in common. Sure, we are all unique, but we are all also human beings with some inalienable links. One of them is, we all have mothers.


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As part of my master’s project, I had the opportunity to get to know several Iraqi families living right here in Columbia. One of them was the Mahir family, comprised of Shehla Mahir, her husband, Zaid, and their three lovely daughters, Maha, Ghada and Layla.

They moved here in 2006 after war broke out in their homeland. At that time, Maha was four and Ghada was two. In 2009, Shehla found herself raising two small children and pregnant with a third child in a place far from her family, friends and home.

"I always wanted to have kids and then they would be growing up in the middle of the family with my mother, my father, my brother, my sister, even my friends," Shehla said. "How nice would it be to have all that around you? They would even be taking care of the kids with me; it's not like all by myself. Telling them what's right and what's wrong. I don't know if I am doing a good job … I feel I am stressed all the time because I have no one here to help me."

Shehla is a mother to three, but she is also their peer in discovering a new country. This year was full of many firsts for the whole family. Maha and Ghada moved from the Islamic School of Columbia to Paxton Keeley Elementary School, though they still attend the Islamic School on Sundays for religious and cultural studies. They participated in their first Halloween, and Ghada began taking ballet classes. Each day brings news struggles but also joys. Their parents are with them through it all, but who is with their parents?

Shehla worries about when she, and especially her children, will be able to see her family again. Zaid comforts her.

"They will one day," Zaid said. "Where there is a will, there is a way. Let’s not lose sight of, I don't even want to call it a dream, because it is realistic enough ... to see family again."

Michelle Kanaar graduated Saturday with her master's degree in photojournalism from the Missouri School of Journalism. She served as an assistant director of photography at the Missourian.

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Adnan Kanan May 16, 2012 | 5:06 p.m.

As an expatriate myself, I was touched to hear the Iraqi mother's story. On the other hand, her closeness to her daughters is admirable. I wish I could do the same for my children!

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