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Crossing borders, overcoming obstacles, starting life over again in a new country. WYSO's radio series The Bind That Ties brings you the stories of immigrants from around the Miami Valley.

The Bind That Ties: Mohamed Al-Hamdani And Ali Al-Hamdani

Mohamed and Ali Al-Hamdani
courtesy of Mohamed and Ali Al-Hamdani
Mohamed and Ali Al-Hamdani

Mohamed Al-Hamdani is an immigration attorney in Dayton and serves on the Dayton school board. His brother Ali Al-Hamdani is a resident of Dayton and works as a consultant for the Department of Defense. Mohamed and Ali came to the U.S. as refugees with their parents from Iraq, and they have hair raising stories about their experiences during the Iraq war 30 years ago, when they were just little boys.


Mohamed: We came here as refugees back in 1992 after, my parents were part of the uprisings in Iraq, after the Gulf War.

Ali: After spending 18 months in a refugee camp in Rafha, which is in Saudi Arabia. And I believe it's still standing until this day.

Mohamed: Well, that refugee camp closed actually after the last war, most of the refugees that were left there now, they're back in Iraq or in another countries.

Ellis: Ali and Mohamed were 8 and 6 years old when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, and starting the first Gulf War. Their father took part in the Shia uprising against Saddam, in the city of Samawah, where the al-hamdanis lived. When Saddam’s Army retaliated and attacked Samawah, their mother took the little boys and fled to the countryside, looking for safety.

Mohamed: You know, a lot of people don't understand like the strength of a Middle Eastern woman. My mom, I don't know how she did it, by herself, got us out, dragged us through five days of shelling by the Iraqi military. It was hell.

She was, you know, guiding us through these farmlands and going from one shelter house to another. We were at this last shelter house. It was probably the last two days of the bombings. And you can see the shelling is getting closer to the shelter house. And so, you know, what we thought was a safe, you know, safe zone was not, the shelling’s getting closer and closer. But there's this river that you have to cross and none of us could swim.

Ali: And it's not a, it wasn't like a shallow river. This is a real river. You're talking Tigris, Euphrates. It was the Euphrates. It was not just a river.

Mohamed: Right. So, we had to cross it on a little canoe. My mom went in the canoe before us with our sister, and I think our little brother Karar, and then me and you were stuck with our older cousin who was 16 and he didn't know how to swim. And none of us knew how to paddle this boat. And we got stuck in the current. And I can, I don't know if you remember, our mom was across as we were trying to cross it. And she was just crying and screaming, like, “Please just come and figure it out.” Like, “Just cross before you die.” I mean, you're like, you're seeing shells falling everywhere and you…

Ali: I don't remember how we got across.

Mohamed: I think it was by the grace of God, somehow we made it across.

Ali: My memory stops with us being stuck in the middle of the river.

Mohamed: You probably just were in shock.

Ali: No, I, I, yeah.

Mohamed: It was spinning.

Ali: So the boat was literally spinning in the currents…

Mohamed: Yeah. Yeah. Then I think…

Ali: I don't remember anything after that

Mohamed: It was our cousin Masan and me, and we start using our hands and we started paddling with our hands, ‘cause we didn't know how to use a paddle and we made it across…

Ali: I don't know how.

Mohamed: I think the hard part for us was, as hard as that was, like going through that experience, five days of shelling by your own military that's supposed to protect your country, right? I think what happened after it was even harder, because now, you know, the war is over, Saddam Hussein’s military has won. We don’t know where…

Ali: Hold on, hold on, before you go on. Is this where you remember walking back through the cities, and going through the schools and seeing all the bodies and the coyotes?

Mohamed: Now you're walking back to your house, now you're walking back to your house, and I think, I remember thinking, “Is my dad part of these bodies that are everywhere, you know, is my dad dead?” You know, like, I don't know.

I'm a daddy's boy, if you can't tell, I’ve always been a daddy’s boy. So, I was very worried about my dad. And then as, as we were walking back, I remember my mom saw one of our neighbors. One of the bodies was a friend of hers and she had been--in the Middle East, you don't leave a body uncovered, especially a woman. And my mom too, I don't know where she got it, the courage to do this. She went and took off her headscarf, which is, you know, you don't do that in the Middle East , that abaya, which is the full scarf that Iraqi women wear. And she covered her neighbor's body with it. And I remember the Iraqi soldiers who were there, like came towards my mother and tried to like, pretty much came at her with, you know, AK-47s and saying, “Don't you dare cover the body of a traitor.” And my mom chided them and said, “Have you no shame? This is an Iraqi woman. How could you leave her body out in the streets like this? She could be your mother.” That's what she said to them. And she shamed them, and they left her, they didn't touch her.

This story was created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO and was edited by Jocelyn Robinson. The project producer is Mojgan Samardar.

Mojgan started her full-time work after completing a Ph.D. in Artificial Intelligence. After a very successful 28 year career as a technical geek, she retired in 2017. While working she attended community voices weekend classes in 2014 and graduated as a Community Voice producer for WYSO Public Radio in Yellow Springs, Ohio. After retirement, Mojgan’s turned to the arts and volunteering activities. She proposed creating community voices stories to highlight immigrants’ voices and contributions in the Miami valley. Her first season production of “The Bind that Ties” in 2020 won first prize in the Radio Documentary of the Associated Press. Season two of the series was broadcast in 2022.
Jocelyn Robinson is a Yellow Springs, Ohio-based educator, media producer, and radio preservationist. As an educator, Robinson has taught transdisciplinary literature courses incorporating critical cultural theory and her scholarship in self-definition and identity. She also teaches community-based and college-level classes in digital storytelling and narrative journalism.