This is my friend, Salih (or 'Chris' as he is known by his military counterparts).
An interesting story of how I met Salih, I may tell or not. What I will tell you is that he has had a rough life. When we met, he was in Jordan.
But he was born in Kuwait, a bedoun (or Bedouin as we know the term). After the Gulf War in 91, Kuwait turned its back on its citizens and forced them to flee the country.
Salih and his parents and siblings fled to Iraq. He left there, alone, before we went to war with Iraq, for Jordan.
Well, Salih finally returned to Iraq, to his family, and he has found a new career it seems. He is well educated and speaks (and writes) English better than most Americans I know.
He is my friend and this is his story......
Freedom is found in translation
Submitted by: 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing
Story Identification #: 2005414122728
Story by Cpl. Rocco DeFilippis
AL ASAD, Iraq (April 14, 2005) -- When the American led coalition force liberated the country of Kuwait from the Iraqi invasion during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Salih Farhan Rhem found himself between a rock and hard place.
As a Bedoun, a race of people from Kuwait, but not Kuwaiti citizens, Rhem found his own country turn its back on his people. Forced to leave the country of his birth, he and his family took refuge in southern Iraq.
Enduring a lifetime of hardship and oppression under the regime of Saddam Hussein, Rhem has become one of the millions of people in Iraq to taste the precious treasure that is freedom.
Today he is fulfilling his lifelong goal to be a translator. Working with Marines and American law enforcement specialists here, he is helping train Iraqi policemen and border patrolmen to defend their newfound freedom.
“I began interpreting in the refuge camp after the liberation of Kuwait,” he said. “The United Nations tent was in-between our tents, and I began to interact with some Americans and civilian media.”
His interaction with the media nearly cost him his life. After pleading the case of Bedouns to international news outlets, he was chased from the camp by Kuwaiti security forces.
Fleeing the persecution of a government that considered his people to be traitors, Chris, as he is referred to, faced a new obstacle as he began to settle in the Iraqi city of Basra.
Coming to their country from Kuwait, the Iraqis wouldn’t accept him for citizenship. Determined to finish his education, he worked for six months to purchase an identification card that would allow him to take classes.
“As a Bedoun in Kuwait I was not allowed to attend university,” he recalled. “It was depressing, but these types of things were a way of life for the Bedouns.”
In an ironic twist, the Iraqi teachers didn’t consider him either Iraqi or Bedoun, but Kuwaiti. They placed him under the stereotype that all Kuwaitis were rich and could afford to engage in ‘extracurricular activities’ to earn passing grades.
“I kept failing my classes, and I couldn’t understand why,” he said. “I would watch as the students I helped study and tutor would earn high marks, while I was struggling to pass.”
By his second year, Chris figured out that he, as a ‘rich Kuwaiti,’ was to pay for his grades.
“This is against my principles and the principals of Islam,” he explained. “I can not do this, it is corruption. I won’t pay a dime,” he told the Baath Party teachers.
Chris said he saw this period of his life as a test. He stayed true to his morals and in seven years finished with a degree in English, a degree that should have only taken four.
“I never yielded to their corruption,” he said. “Without the prayer I made to my God, I think I would have gone mad and lost my mind.”
After his schooling, he was again pressured by the corruption of the Baath Party. He could not find employment because he was not a member. He spent the next several years moving from town to town, working hard labor for less than 50 cents a day, forced to pick up and flee when the local Baath Party heard about his non-member status.
“For years I had to yield my destiny and remain patient with my God,” he explained. “But I would never yield my beliefs and convictions to the evil of the Baath Party.”
Although he never became a member, he couldn’t escape the oppression of the Baath Party’s heavy monthly tax. He fled to Jordan in May of 2002.
“In Jordan I was able to continue in my love of translation,” he said. “I still, however, felt the effects of living and working in a foreign country.”
His work as a legal translator gave him a good background in the literal and specific translation of Arabic to English, skills he would soon put to a noble cause.
Watching from Jordan as another American-led coalition began the effort to liberate Iraq, Chris knew his years of patience and long suffering would begin to see fruitful return.
As Saddam’s army was destroyed along with his repressive and corrupt regime, he knew his dream was not far from becoming a reality. When he found out there was a great need for Arabic translators he left Jordan to return to a new Iraq.
“I remember thinking to myself, ‘it’s a miracle, Saddam is no more,’” he recalled. “This change, this new democracy, has again allowed me to work with the Americans and now the Marine Corps. It’s like my dreams are coming true.”
Language is, by far, the most fundamental component of communication. Breaking the language barrier is vital to the American effort to train Iraqi Security Forces to defend their new freedoms.
“With the Marines I am helping my country defeat the terrorists who, in the name of Islam, are murdering innocent people,” he said. “We are training the Iraqi Police and Border Patrol to fight the terrorists.”
Each day Chris works to mirror the intensity and professionalism of the Marine instructors.
“When I am out there I give the same high spirit as the Marines, because it conveys the importance of the training and knowledge,” he explained. “I give a literal translation and specific details of the training so that nothing is lost in translation.”
With each graduating class, Chris said he knows he is contributing to the security and stability of Iraq.
“We are moving forward together,” he said. “We are moving away from the burden of oppression and toward peace and democracy.”
As he continues to work with the Marines and law enforcement specialists each day, Chris said he is moving closer to accomplishing the goals he has been working toward for many years.
He is currently applying for a scholarship to continue his education in America, and hopes to earn a degree in law one day. He attributes his hard work and dedication to his father, and sees his achievements as an extension of what he couldn’t have.
“I’m not isolated from my father,” he said. “I’m a continuation of him, only in a better atmosphere. I thank God that I am able to achieve the things he wanted for me.”
Until that day comes, he said he is going to focus on his task at hand and continue his part in helping make a brighter Iraq.
“When we see what is happening in our country, with the new freedoms and democratic elections, it gives us hope and a renewed optimism,” he said. “We can lift our heads toward the future, something we did not do in the past. We are giving hope to the generation to come.”
AL ASAD, Iraq (April 14, 2005) – Chris, as he is called by his Marine coworkers, helps an Iraqi Border Patrol student learn the fundamentals of the rear leg kick. Chris is serving as a translator for the Marine instructors at the Regional Iraqi Police and Border Patrol Academy here. Prior to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991, Chris was a member of the Kuwaiti National Karate Team. Photo by: Cpl. Rocco DeFilippis
AL ASAD, Iraq (April 14, 2005) – Serving as translator for the Marine and civilian law enforcement instructors at the Regional Iraqi Police and Border Patrol Academy here, Chris, as his coworkers call him, has overcome years of trials and tribulations to be at the point he is today. Fleeing the persecution of his homeland, he then struggled under the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein for a decade before seeking refuge in Jordan. Now he has returned to help ensure the freedom of the Iraqi people. Photo by: Cpl. Rocco DeFilippis
AL ASAD, Iraq (April 14, 2005) – Chris shouts instruction to an Iraqi border patrol student during a training session on pressure points. Chris serves an interpreter for the Marine and civilian law enforcement instructors at the Regional Iraqi Police and Border Patrol Academy here. Photo by: Cpl. Rocco DeFilippis
I am glad you made it safely back home, my friend.....