By Jason Margolis
Asmaa Albukaie was married at age 14. She had two children by the time she was 15. Then she took an unusual step for a stay-at-home Syrian mom: She signed up for a university degree in library science in Damascus.
“I noticed that women in movies, American women, decide whatever they want to decide. This is not acceptable in Syria. So I made my own decision to learn and study, but I hid in the bathroom because my husband didn’t allow me to study,” said Albukaie, laughing about that now.
Albukaie told me her story in a coffee shop in downtown Boise, where we spoke for about 90 minutes. The city of Boise, Idaho, is taking in a lot of Syrian refugees: 122 so far this year. That’s more than twice as many as Los Angeles, Boston and New York combined.
Albukaie and her two teenage sons — who arrived in November 2014 — were the first Syrian refugees in Idaho.
Boise has been resettling a lot of refugees, from many nations, because of the affordable housing and need for workers in sparsely populated Idaho.
Albukaie told me a lot of details about her life in Syria, then would ask me to please not share certain parts of our discussion. She wants to protect her family that’s still in the war-torn country — it’s a learned survival defense, not to criticize anybody.
“If I spoke in a bad way, you would not see me alive here,” she said.
Here’s what she said I can share: Albukaie’s husband and her two young boys were kidnapped. She never saw her husband again. But she got her boys back then immediately left for Jordan, then Egypt, where she applied for refugee status through the United Nations.
The UN focuses on resettling its most vulnerable cases first, and she qualified as a single mother. After two years of interviews and background checks, she got a ticket for the United States.
“And then on my flight it’s written: ‘Boise, ID,’ which is Idaho, now I know. But before I didn’t know. And I Googled that,” she says.
Naturally, it was a difficult transition being the very first Syrian refugee in the entire state of Idaho.
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