It was a busy day. A stressful day. Whoever likes to car shop, they must have a screw loose in their head. On this cold, wet, and foggy day, I drove to the far west side of Germany to test drive a few vehicles. My second stop was to a garage with at least three vehicles that I wanted to look at. I was early. I contacted the salesman and let him know that I was free to meet whenever he was. He told me he was on his way and would be there shortly. A few minutes later, a car pulled into the garage drive way. A tall man with a smiling face emerged out of the vehicle and walked toward me. “Hello, my name is Sam,” he said, “Lyndsey,” I said in response. We shook hands, and he showed me to the vehicles I had picked out in advance. After looking over the first one for a few minutes, we decided to take it for a test drive. He rode with me in the passenger seat. Much of our conversation was filled with polite pleasantries and information about the car. When we returned back to the garage, we followed the same format: a brief walk around and examination of the interior and then a test drive. The second test drive was a bit more awkward. After talking briefly about the car’s features, the conversation fell silent. When it came to the third car, nothing seemed different. We repeated our pattern, and climbed in the car. Off we went…in silence. After a few minutes, I broke the silence and asked him where he was from. I had at least detected that he had an accent, which wasn’t from around these parts, and it wasn’t one with which I was immediately familiar.
“I am from Iraq,” he answered, “from Baghdad.” I shared with him that I was impressed with his English and asked him how many languages he spoke. Five. English, French, German, Arabic, and a language I didn’t initially recognize based on his pronunciation. Then he explained, “My family is a Christian tribe. We speak the language of Christ.” Then it clicked, “Oh! So, you speak Aramaic!” I exclaimed. I was immediately intrigued. As I turned the car around to return to the garage, he explained that he moved to this country during the Iran – Iraq War. He and his entire extended family fled. Some moved to California. Others went to Detroit. Whereas Sam and his parents chose instead to travel to Germany. When I asked him why he chose Germany over the U.S. he said, “because the same year I was trying to leave Iraq, my uncle was shot and killed in Detroit.” His uncle had owned a convenience store, which robbers raided one day, and after cleaning out his cash register, shot and killed him. “I just wanted to go some place where there was peace. I left Baghdad because I did not want to die. I wanted to go some place where I could have a family and not worry about people wanting to kill me.”
We pulled into the driveway outside Sam’s automotive garage, but I wasn’t ready for him to finish his story. So, I put the car in park and he continued, “When I left Baghdad, I was 30 years old. I was a mechanical engineer. I had graduated college. But I left everything behind. I didn’t bother selling my house. I left my money. I came here at zero. I heard that doctors who left Iraq could still practice medicine when they arrived in the U.S., but the Germans would not accept my mechanical engineering degree. They told me that if I wanted to be an engineer, I had to go to college again for four years and learn German for two years.” Sam felt he had no choice. With no money, no home, no means to start again, he abandoned his pursuit of engineering and found work in automotive sales. 25 years later, he now owns two automotive businesses. He married a beautiful woman and they had four children. While talking about his family, he pulled out his wallet and showed me a picture of the six of them. He introduced all their names to me, three girls and one boy, each one beginning with the letter “S.” “My whole family starts with the letter S!” He exclaimed, “Even my parents and siblings! It was just good fortune that my wife’s name also starts with an S.” We laughed.
He was clearly proud of his family. As he put his wallet back in his pocket, his face became stoic and his eyes lowered. “When you leave behind all you have, you learn that money is not the true value,” he shared, “I go to church every Sunday, and I thank God I can live here and not worry about my life. You see what is happening in Baghdad these days?” I nodded and he continued, “That is not the life I want. Family. Peace. That is what matters.”
Thank you for sharing, Sam.