MOHAMMED ARRAWI & DOUG SMITH at WVRC on March 25th
Before we begin, we just learned that JACK HARRIS died yesterday. There will be a Memorial Service on Monday, April 5th, at 11 am at Westwood United Methodist Church. Meanwhile, do be in touch with Pauline, please.
PP JOHN SINGLETON led the Pledge. VP ED JACKSON provided the Invocation. “With the rapidly changing events we are experiencing both in Westwood and the world, I find myself with thoughts flashing through my mind. Twenty years ago, we were meeting at the Hotel Bel Air, and PP RON LYSTER was leading a skit. One of his henchmen began mimicking watering the bushes, (of which we had a full view covering the hillside behind). My Dad and Deacon STEVE SCHERER, jumped to their feet and said, “That’s not right there are women in this room!” I never forgot that! (some laughter here) Which reminds me of another story, over fifty years ago. Kids were standing around a soon-to-be-available basketball court, and they began picking their teams. They didn’t pick me so I took my basketball and went home! (more laughter, of course).
This began to teach me the virtue of making friends. One of these guys was a city track champion at UniHi ten years later. And he was a man of few words so when he wanted to tell me something, I definitely listened. In Rotary and in the world, we must find agreement on which we can move forward I know I had to pray to God about this, and I know what I SHOULD do.” Well done, ED thanks for sharing.
LENNY again ventured forward, and we all learned that he is a big basketball fan. One of his favorite teams is Duke, which plays Purdue tomorrow night in the Sweet Sixteen. LENNY noticed the Duke students wearing strange blue and white garb when watching the games. So here is what he will wear when watching the game Take it away, LENNY. Thus appeared some sort of cover-up mask, which was quickly donned and returned to its hiding place. This led to America the Beautiful, one of our good numbers.
We had one Visiting Rotarian, Sally Pai from Santa Monica, and she brought her friend, JoAnne. SCOTT FITCH was with us glad to see you anytime! PP CHRIS BRADFORD brought Sharon, and PEGGY BLOOMFIELD was with her caregiver. DWIGHT HEIKKILA was accompanied by Sook. Prexy ED had three guests Sally, plus a high school classmate Ted Smith and his wife Isle, who live in Atlanta. And of course, Sunny was with LENNY. The Head Table seated ED JACKSON and MARCIA BROUS, while on the other side were CURT SMITH, his brother Doug, and Mohammed, our two speakers.
MARCIA BROUS reported on our WAPI assembly, which took place last Saturday at Marymount High School, with Debbie SCHERER as the Guru. Among those present were Roz and DON NELSON, Prexy ED, YOE, DWIGHT HEIKILLA and Sook, our newest member, COLBY SMITH, ED JACKSON, MARSHA HUNT, MARCIA and RICK BROUS, and a couple of Rotaractors with school out, this hurt their attendance, of course. We did make 350 WAPI’s, and it was a pleasant gathering.
As a reminder, there will be a Memorial Service at the home of DICK ROBINSON on Saturday April 24th, at 1:30. Space is quite limited, so please let Prexy ED know if you wish to be included.
The District Breakfast will be on Tuesday 13 April. It will be at the LAX Westin, 5400 W. Century Blvd. Please let Prexy ED or DON NELSON know if you plan to attend.
CHRIS BRADFORD announced that we have three Ambassadorial Scholarship candidates, and the final selection will be on April 16th. He will send out the details.
CURT SMITH introduced our two Speakers. CURT’s brother, Doug, met Mohammed Arrawi when the Los Angeles Times posted him to Baghdad early in the second Gulf War. The Times had hired Mohammed in 2003 as an Information Technology Consultant an important position because the Times needed computer support for its large bureau in Baghdad. Mohammed also acted as a translator and held the position of Assistant Office Manager for the Times.
CURT met Mohammed four weeks ago when he left Iraq with his wife and two children to live in the United States. He asked Mohammed if he would talk to our club about his experience in Iraq before and during the war but he was somewhat reluctant, as he didn’t think his English skills were good enough to present a talk. As you are about to find out, his English skills are excellent and in fact are better than millions of Americans who were born and raised here. So CURT worked out a compromise. Mohammed has agreed to be interviewed about his experiences by my brother as our program today. CURT is very pleased to present Mohammed Arrawi and Doug Smith.
They both remained seated during the presentation. Mohammed gave some brief background, reminding us that things started to get worse even before the Iran/Iraq war started in September of 1980.. His family was living in Baghdad. By getting worse, he meant shortages began to appear. Soon, houses were being bombed, on both sides. Eventually, perhaps one million people were killed in the fighting, which lasted for eight years. until August of 1988. Then on August 2nd, 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait. The US came in on 17 January 1991, reclaimed Kuwait, but stopped at the border without invading Iraq this was the First Gulf War. The Second Gulf War started on March 20th, 2003, and still goes on, more or less.
During this time, the family moved first to Babylon (editorial ho hum, just another biblical neighborhood…) However, the security forces suspected them of being spies from Iran. So they were locked in their house, and after perhaps a week they verified that the family was indeed Iraqi, not Iranian. Luckily, their aunt lived nearby, and she was able to bring them fruit, which was passed over the wall they were not allowed to leave the house during that first week.
However, his mother in particular felt this wasn’t a good place to settle, and they were allowed to move to Baghdad. They had to move so quickly that they tried to sell everything, and got practically nothing for it. And this was taking place while they invaded Kuwait, but the public knew nothing about the Kuwait conflict because it was totally censored! (editorial, again can you imagine not knowing ANYTHING about what was happening beyond your own local neighborhood? ) In other words, the few newspapers and TV channels were completely restricted to what they were allowed to publish.
When the First Gulf War took place, everyone expected it would last eight years, as the previous one with Iran did. Saddam Hussein said the Americans would certainly use WMD, and everyone rushed to get Chemical Suits, which were expensive. He remembers busily sealing the windows with plastic protection from the expected fallout from nuclear bombs! Things seemed to get better and then the sanctions hit. There were shortages of everything as a kid at the time, he remembers there was no candy anywhere, for example. They became quite inventive there was no gas for the stove, so they used kerosene, or just coals. And then the sanctions were partially lifted in 2001, and things got slightly better, or so it seemed. He gave an example of a friend who filled his car with sodas he was sure they would soon run out again - but then he was stuck with all those sodas!
The TV programs usually started at noon. First would be the drill on the Koran, and then the cartoons and Mohammed remembers complaining to his mother that he didn’t want to wade through the Koran first. She pointed out to him that this was their book, and he simmered down. Then they began showing pictures from the battles of the Iraq-Iran War. There were dead bodies and he didn’t like it. But again, his mother pointed out that you couldn’t be sure who else might be watching, and thus he had to be careful in his public reactions. This was because people feared Saddam more than anything else not God, not hell, nothing was worse than Saddam. She pointed out that if “they” heard he was saying bad things about Saddam, “they” could simply kill everybody! So this is how they grew up forced to join the BAATH party, for instance, before he could go to high school.
When he applied to come to the U.S., the Homeland Security people asked him why he joined the BAATH party. You simply could not live in Iraq without joining the party. There are a great many Palaces in Iraq built by Saddam. Yet the people are starving, but he kept building, and if you stared at them, it was possible you would be arrested and questioned. After that time, he began working at a hotel that had an internet café. He installed computers in the café, which was somewhat occupied by journalists. This was in 2001, when they first got the internet. He had heard of Microsoft, but had never seen it, so he was asking people who were going to Jordan to bring him something about Microsoft or Yahoo.
He began his own internet café, which was a gathering place for Journalists, once it became known. But all messages began with your own name first, and it would take maybe 24 hours to go though, due to security checking, etc. This was not useful in Journalism, since they were all on deadlines, so Mohammed figured a way to avoid the 24-hour delay. So all the journalists and all the photographers were coming to him. But at first he had to read everything, to be sure what they were sending wasn’t going to get him in trouble. Once he found he could trust someone, he then no longer needed to read their material first.
But a new photographer came to him and asked him to quickly send some photos. Mohammed explained his problem, but was assured that there was nothing wrong with the material... So he sent it. Four days later he was adjusting his illegal satellite dish at his home - and he solved the problem of having his neighbors tell on him by giving them access to the dish! But he saw a program that day that showed what he had just sent, and he knew he was in trouble. And trouble in these cases, meant he might be dead! So he called the Hotel and told them he was dead he went to the countryside. Several months later the War started, and he knew he could come back to the hotel since the security services would have other things to do. Early on, he was watching CNN, and learned that the US Army was just hours away. No one else knew this and he had trouble proving it but the next morning they entered Baghdad from his neighborhood! This convinced his neighbor, who then accused him of being a spy. He argued with his father, who claimed that the Americans would ruin Iraq since they have no idea of how it works and his father was right, of course. The Americans had no orders they simply stood and watched as stores and government offices were looted.
At this point, my recorder ended. I do recall a couple of questions which were asked, one by me: What will happen to the many people who have worked as translators or in other areas for the Americans, once they leave? They are in terrible danger, since they are considered as working for the Occupiers. They are likely to be killed, once their ‘protectors’ are gone. I also recall that Mohammed spent TWO YEARS getting permission to leave and emigrate legally. It’s a very scary future for a large number of Iraqi citizens.
Thank you, Mohammed, and Doug, for providing this interview.
There was, of course, the usual raffle of a bottle Estancia Merlot. The only problem here is that it was “won” by a slightly questionable recipient name of DAVID, last initial F who just HAPPENED TO HAVE WON the last RAFFLE! You decide, OK?
Closing comment, from Confucius:
Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.