Saturday, April 24, 2010

Originally posted November 9, 2009

Two weeks have passed since Haiffaa was killed in Iraq. Some of the people who knew her have shared their memories and impressions here.

While Haiffaa was at Emily Griffith, she used to come and check in and out every day in the Special Programs office. The computer where she would key tag in and out is located in my office and I would see her daily, sometimes twice a day. Early on, she struggled some with the computer. Getting the mouse just right to key tag in was often a challenge for our refugee students. That is how Haiffaa and I first started getting to know each other. Every day I would help her keytag in and in the process ask her about her day or her family. As I came to know Haiffaa I always looked forward to seeing her smiling face. It was a joy to watch her language skills and her confidence blossom.

For a time in 2008, I was on a spiritual path that required me to wear all white. In accordance with the Ifa tradition, I also wore ilekes. Ilekes are colorful beaded necklaces that represent the different Orishas of the Ifa tradition. Haiffaa always noticed my ilekes when I wore them outside of my shirt. One day she asked me about them and we talked about their meaning. The next week she brought me a beautiful beaded necklace that she had handmade just for me. She was concerned that the colors might not be right, but she felt called to make it for me. I was so touched by her gift and generosity.

Generosity - that was the essence of Haiffaa. She would bring us flowers on her birthday. She shared her smile, her stories, and her peace loving spirit with all she came across. I remember her bringing me little treats of homemade desserts. And I remember the day she brought in her postcard for her art show at Stripe Gallery. She was so proud. It was such a joy and honor to witness. Shortly after, that show, she participated in the A little Something Show at Emily Griffith. I bought one of her necklaces to give my oldest niece as a holiday gift. I shared Haiffaa’s story with my niece and now a young teenage girl in Michigan carries a piece of Haiffaa with her also.

However, what I remember and miss the most is her calling me her son and placing her hand gently on my cheek. I don’t recall when she exactly began doing that, but I know that I can still feel the gentle weight of her hand on my face. She was and always will be my Iraqi mother in my heart. I am confident that despite my current pain and sadness, that her spirit will continue to touch and inspire both me and others for years to come.
~Nick Sarchet

I only had the pleasure of knowing Haiffa for a short time--less than two years. I can't say I knew her her well, either, but I can say that every time I saw her--every time--she would break into a smile and grab my hand or give me a big hug and ask me how I was doing, how was my family, how were the other women of A Little Something?

She was a strong woman who wanted other women to reach their potential. She was creative, resourceful, funny, and maybe a little stubborn, all of which served her well. She was a self-appointed recruiter and publicist for A Little Something, bringing new refugee women to Sharon's office to join ALS and helping us do presentations about the project at conferences.

Even if only for a short time, I am honored that I was able to work with her and the other amazing women to help A Little Something grow. I am so grateful for being a part of this wonderful organization and can't wait to watch it blossom just like the women that comprise it. More than a little piece of its success will be because of Haiffa.

May we all go forward and bring a little more peace to this world that so desperately needs it.

--Jaime Koehler

I would like to wallow in my own pain, the sadness of losing a mother figure in my life, but her words keep coming back to me and do not allow me to do so.

Haiffaa Ali was an unequivocally wise woman, a woman who acted with great humanity, strength and graceful acceptance of life's whims. She tried to instill the same in me.

"Be strong" is a Haiffa adage that has looped through my mind ever since the news of her passing.

I certainly am trying, Haiffaa.

Haiffa always made me feel very special and loved, wrote cards, mailed postcards, stayed in contact despite distance. Haiffaa so highly valued those in her life and always created the occasion to let them know.

I am left in awe by the most basic tenet of life, the certainty of death, and that someone like Haiffa can simply disappear one day. What once housed her spirit is gone, but her spirit and memory occupy my mind at this very moment. I will forever carry a piece of her loving and tenacious spirit.

The light of Haiffa Ali can never be extinguished; it is now our duty and great honor to carry on her legacy, her message of hope, her sincere wish for peace, her compassion for others.

I will never forget you, Haiffaa Ali.

Alexandra Sisk

This was written in response to an article that was being sent around on the Internet about the Muslims that were immigrating to France. It was a really nasty article about how they were refusing to adapt to the French culture and were a real problem.

I spent an hour today talking with my friend/student Haiffaa Ali about Geert’s article. Haiffaa came to the U.S. about a year and a half ago as a refugee from Iraq. She has a son in Germany and visited there this past summer for a couple of months, and from there she went to Syria, Jordan, and Egypt so she has recently been around the areas that Geert talked about.

When she first found out that she was going to be sent to the U.S. as a refugee, she was really upset. From her point of view we were the enemy who had come in and turned her life completely upside down. She was an only child of a wealthy family and now she was a refugee coming to the U. S. with a suitcase that couldn’t weigh more than 48 Kilos.

She felt that way for about 2 weeks. Once she got to know a couple of Americans and found out that we were basically good people who really cared about her and were going to support her and help her to get through this transition, she had fallen in love with Americans. She doesn’t plan to return to Iraq now even when it is safe.

She contends with, in my opinion, some validity, that where Geert describes the massive immigration into the European countries, most Californians and Texans could substitute Hispanics for Muslims without changing many of the words. Even the numbers are very similar. Both populations are growing at a much more rapid pace because of a cultural value on fertility and a high birth rate. Both are bound to change the culture of the country because of their huge numbers.

She also mentioned that immigrants are, for the most part, very fearful. They don’t understand the new culture, the language, the religion, or have the money to fully participate. Therefore, they tend to cling to what they know and feed their resentment of the “others” by fiercely maintaining their old culture. The difference between Haiffaa and most of these immigrants is that they actually chose to come to the country and had high expectations of how their lives would change. Imagine their dismay that they have made, what was to them, a major effort to improve their lives only to find that they are still at the bottom of the social scale. This brings out anger with both populations as well as criminal behavior as they are willing to do anything to survive and to get a piece of the wealth they see all around them.

She quoted to me several passages from the Quran that admonish Muslims to love one another, to treat others as they want to be treated and to search for peace. She also corrected me about the Muslim view of Christ. They recognize Christ as the Son of God--more than the Jews will do. She agreed that Mohammed was a warrior who was fighting against fundamentalist Jews who were tormenting them and trying to either convert or kill them. (Sound familiar?) However, Mohammed was admonished by Allah to search for and embrace peace.

In the conversation we also talked about 9/11. She said that immediately after it happened--before the Iraqi war--people would come by her father’s house and be very happy. Her father, however, would tell them that the Quran tells them not to kill others. How could they be happy that people--any people--were killed? She thinks that in some part it was in response to America’s support of Israel, not any real hostility to the U.S. She said that the Israel deal was all about power and land. She reminded me that most of the Arab countries are less than 100 years from tribal domination. She also talked about the legacy of the past that has for hundreds of years dealt with tribal wars. War has always been a part of their history and traditions. In this, you always hate the most powerful, and this time it was the U.S.

Dana Harper

Hello, Ali family.
You don't know me, but I was a friend of Haiffaa's in Denver and I even had the privilege of helping to teach her English a few years ago.

I am very sorry for what happened and please know that I thought she was a beautiful, friendly, joyous, amazing and strong woman.

Rob Pattison

My memories of Haiffaa include:
  • Her zest for life
  • Her wonderful sense of humor
  • Her friendship
  • Her calls and visits
  • Her graciousness and generosity
  • Her ability to make others feel welcomed and valued
  • Her courage
  • Her willingness to share her story to help others understand
I will miss her very much.

Submitted by Marilyn Eaton, Colorado Refugee Services Program

It is a shame to lose Haiffa. She understood the importance of educating others about refugees. She was not only willing to be an advocate for refugees, but her personality made her a great one. I met Haiffa while at the African Community Center and we worked together on various outreach activities designed to educate the people of Denver about refugee issues. She was willing to tell her story to the broader public and declared as much while interviewed on NPR’s Colorado Matters. I got to know her well while developing the Voices of Refugees lecture program. We spent numerous hours together going over her presentation. She told me several times how nervous she was to speak in front of hundreds of people, but from the audience you could never tell. She stole the show that night with her amazing charm, powerful words, and ever-present humor.

I miss Haiffa but I am grateful she was able to have the impact that she did.
Kevin Mohatt

One of my favorite memories of Haiffaa is from when we went to the jewelry show together. I had been her teacher for several months and had learned that Haiffaa was beginning to make jewelry with the refugee group on Saturdays. Having a jewelry background, I was planning to go to the show and I invited her to go with me.

The first trip to a jewelry show can be a little overwhelming for almost anyone. It is huge and there are about 100 booths selling jewelry and all of the things you need to make jewelry.

When we first arrived, she acted like a child in a candy store going from booth to booth exclaiming over the beads and jewelry. I had given her some money to purchase items for the refugee group, and she went right to work looking for exactly what she thought that they needed. She would bargain with the merchants very carefully to get what she wanted; however, when she found what she wanted for her own jewelry making, there was no limit to what she would do to get it. She went back and forth between several booths and eventually the booth owners would laugh when they saw her coming because she was so good natured about her bargaining. Needless to say, she walked away with the best deals of the day.

One of the impacts of Haiffaa in my life has been flowers. She used to bring flowers to her teachers on a regular basis. Sharon promoted her to my class and I began to get to know her. She would bring flowers to me and tell me that I should always have beautiful things around me. She struggled in my class and returned to Sharon’s class after a week; however, she continued to bring me flowers.

Sharon sent her back to me later and she not only stayed in my class, but quickly became a class leader. Her thirst for knowledge was unstoppable. She eventually progressed on from my class into GED classes, but would come to see me and frequently bring flowers.

I came to the conclusion that she was right. Life is too short to not surround yourself with things that you love. Thus, she inspired me to keep fresh flowers in my classroom all of the time. In this way, she has spread her beauty to all of my students.

Dana Harper

Haiffaa was the link to one of the most rewarding experiences I have had. She facilitated my introduction into her family, with the goal of teaching English to her husband. My husband and I had dinner a few times with Haiffaa and Majeed. The first in a restaurant to facilitate reading menus and ordering food, and the second within the warmth and hospitality of their home. Haiffaa made an incredible dinner with a multitude of choices. A truly exquisite meal.

During the dinner, we asked how Haiffaa and Majeed met--they were neighbors in Baghdad. We heard some funny stories about their relationship. My favorite was Majeed’s story that Haiffaa was described as having a “long tongue” (meaning she talked a lot) by his father. Additionally, Haiffaa’s father told her mother, “she can never be a teacher of young children, she doesn’t have the patience.” I don’t know if that is true, but she was a great teacher of people. She was persistent, strong, caring and clearly goal directed. She knew how to get things for herself, her family and others, all of whom are better for the experience of being in the “eye” of the Haiffaa tornado. Her “long tongue” was a gift to all who she showered with care.

I am a better person for my experience with Haiffaa and her family.

Sandy Hittman

I was so shocked and saddened to hear of this great loss to us all. I am very grateful for the posts on this blog which are beautiful stories that keep Haiffaa with us. I just want to share a quick one of my own-- I used to work at Safari Seconds and Haiffa came to shop there sometimes. She was the master bargainer. Even when she had a gift certificate she somehow managed to bargain and you just couldn't refuse her, especially when she would be so pleased once you gave in! It was always a pleasure when she stopped by and her radiance was certainly contagious. I send my love and support to her family and friends throughout the world.

--Emily Huston

Denise Lines said...
what a loss to the world, an amazing, talented, and brave women, we are all better for knowing you.