Student from Iraq mature beyond age
LCC student Zainalabideen Zakaria, 19, lived in Iraq until he was 10 years old. Photo by Mallory Stiles
By Mallory Stiles
Sometimes, as Americans, it is easy to ignore the situation in the Middle East. But when you know someone who calls it home, it becomes a whole lot harder to not think about.
“I came to the United States from Iraq in the middle of 2013; I was about 10.” Zainalabideen Zakaria said.
Zakaria, 19, is an LCC student who just finished taking two courses; Applications for Living Mathematics and a Spanish class.
Zakaria, more affectionately known as Zain for short, has many stories of his first 10 years in Iraq.
“I lived in Mosul for the first quarter of my life, then I moved to Erbil,” Zakaria said. “Mosul had a lot of damage from the U.S. invasion and a lot of instability after the death of Saddam Hussein. Erbil is considered Kurdistan by the Kurds, so it was left alone by U.S. troops. It was more stable with lower cost of living, but there were a lot of requirements, like speaking Kurdish.
“It was fun when I lived there as a kid. When you are a kid, there is a lot of innocence. You don’t get to acknowledge or feel a lot of the horrible experiences.”
Besides the conflicts with the U.S. and neighboring countries including Iran, there is also a great deal of conflict between the Iraqi people for religious reasons.
“So basically, in Iraq, there are two major groups of religion is Islam,” Zakaria said. “There are Shia and Sunni. I’m a Sunni. After Hussein died, the government changed. I remember my parents talking about it. The new leader was from Iran and was a Shia.
“Right now, it is not as extreme as it was, but it’s still extreme. If you are a Sunni, you can’t buy land in Mosul. You have to get permission from the government. But if you are Shia you get funded and they help you. If a Shia and a Sunni are hoping to buy the same piece of land, the Shia would be priority.”
Each branch has gone through indescribable discrimination depending upon the domination of the ruler, and the fighting is still going on with no end in sight, Zakaria added.
Zakaria’s parents realized that for the safety of their children, the only option was to keep moving.
“We moved to Erbil because my dad got a job there,” Zakaria said. “He was a Sunni so he couldn't own or buy land because you had to be a Shia or a Kurdistani. It was hard. War is a horrible thing.
“My father came to America as a student, but he already had a master’s degree in communications
back in Iraq. He came here to study electrical engineering. He has a PhD now, but
opened up a restaurant. It’s called Sparty’s Kabob Restaurant. It's next to MSU, about
a five-minute walk from campus. His plan was to bring family back from Iraq to work.”
Zakaria said his father instilled in him a great work ethic.
“I was working two jobs at 17,” Zakaria said. “I didn't need to, I wanted to. I worked at Meijer and my dad's restaurant.”
His work ethic may be ingrained, but his passions were learned. Zakaria is a psychology major.
“I was going to be a lawyer, but I ended picking psychology because I want to understand how humans function,” Zakaria said. “I had a friend who had an alcoholic mom, and she was very abusive. I was friends with him from the beginning of middle school to sophomore year, when they were on the brink of being homeless.
“In just two years after rehab, she is so much better now and taking care of the family. I believe people can change and I want to know how.”
As a backup plan, he has applied to different programs and is also considering an offer for an electrical union in Ann Arbor. He said he will do whatever can get him to where he wants to go.
“I don't plan on staying in the United States; I plan on moving to Sweden,” Zakaria said. “I hate snow.”
Zakaria speaks Arabic, Spanish, Kurdish and a little Turkish. Between his four siblings and his pets, he stays entertained.
“I own two cats; I have Simm Simm and Nimm Nimm,” he said. “My mom named them. Simm Simm means sesame seeds and Nimm Nimm means to nibble, or tiny.”
Throughout all of his trials he has held on to a warm smile and the ability to laugh. Daniel Shiu, a good friend of his, agreed whole-heartedly.
“Zain is funny,” Daniel said. “He understands the situation and he knows what will make people laugh.”
Zakaria paints, reads and plays guitar in his spare time, but always keeps his mind on his future; showing that he has wisdom well beyond his years.
“It’s the privilege of not having privilege,” Zakaria said. “It’s being mentally mature. I think that comes from not having a safe childhood.”