An Iraqi Family Torn by Violence Settles Into an Apartment Complex That Needs Them Too

Rasmiya AlGhrawi greets guests with big hugs and a series of kisses from cheek to cheek and back again. She's a mother and grandmother to both her own family and to anyone who walks through her door and sinks into her comfy couches. She's also a refugee, having fled from Iraq in 2010, two years after her daughter, Israa Alchalach, came to the States.

Alchalach, who lives with her son down the street from her mother, worked as a translator until her work made her a target for Iraqi rebels. In 2008, an Iraqi militia kidnapped her for six hours, covering her eyes, tying her hands behind her and holding a gun to her head. Her mind flashed with questions of whether she would ever again see her mother or her teenage son.

She's still coping with that moment. She would have been the third of AlGhrawi's three daughters to die because of her work. In 2004, within a minute of each other, the first two were killed when they were targeted as translators for American troops.

"She never stopped crying," Alchalach says of her mother, for whom she translates. AlGhrawi brings out framed portraits of the two daughters. Quietly overcome with grief, she walks to the kitchen and rips off a piece of paper towel to wipe her nose.

AlGhrawi's husband was killed in 2009, in a hit-and-run by an unidentified driver that the family believes was tied to Iraqi rebels. After the deaths of his daughters, he was outspoken with grief and anger against his country. His death was another blow to AlGhrawi and Alchalach, who still struggle to cope.

But to those who visit with the mother and daughter, hospitality can be felt even stronger than grief. AlGhrawi picks up apricots from a plate and hands them to her guests, making sure that anyone who sits on her couch doesn't leave without eating a snack and having something to drink. Sweetened black tea, served in small gilded cups alongside tiny spoons, sit in front of every guest.

Like thousands of refugees from all over the world, this Vickery Meadow apartment complex became her home when she left the country she'd called home her entire life. Ornate rugs adorn carpeted floors; a basket of fake fruit tops her coffee table like a scene from a still-life; her TV is on for background noise, a soft and constant hum of Arabic. It feels like she's lived here since well before 2010.

As AlGhrawi serves her guests, the leasing office of her complex is a busy mix of refugees and Americans revolving in and out seeking apartments, paying rent and utilities bills, and resolving glitches in their units. It's been this way since the 1990s, and it continues now.

Sally Nur, the property manager, had stopped by AlGhrawi's apartment earlier but had to quickly get back to work. She works with non-profit resettlement agencies situating refugees at both Sunchase Square on Holly Hill Drive and the neighboring property, The Ivy. The neighborhood has long been one of Dallas's most troubled, but Nur finds refugees to be responsible and respectful tenants. The complex has focused its business in recent years on continuously housing more refugees.

The ethnicity of the families residing behind each apartment door largely depends on what's going on in the world. In the 1990s, Bosnians flooded Sunchase before dispersing with time. Most recently, it's been Iraqis, Burmese, Bhutanese, and others from a laundry list of African countries.

And save for a sudden unexpected blanket of world peace, it appears Nur will have a stream of business for a long time to come.

"I think my country will never be safe," Alchalach says. Four or five of her mother's neighbors are other Iraqi families with stories similar to her own. "Everybody's busy because the life here is very hard," Alchalach says. Some stop by to bring her mother food or to help her translate, but while they are a close community, they are also busy, working to establish something that feels just a little like home.

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Leslie Minora