Computer Engineering major Karrar Khudhair said he misses the food the most, particularly lamb kebabs. And, like most who go away to college, he misses family and friends too — particularly with the current turmoil occurring in his home country of Iraq.
All that aside, he said, he’s happy to be at OCCC.
Khudhair has traveled far to pursue his education. He was born in Iraq and spent most of his 29 years in Baghdad, the capital city. He finds himself now at OCCC and works at a local retailer. Khudhair says he looks forward to furthering his education and beginning his career in the U.S.
Iraq, he said, has been ravaged by war throughout his entire lifetime.
Sanctions levied between warring governments in the 1990s left Iraq’s civilians without food and basic necessities well after the war had ended.
Khudhair said nights were lit by candlelight and life in Baghdad was harder than it had ever been. Khudhair was still only a child.
He said electricity didn’t return to Baghdad until 1994, when he was 9 years old, but that it remained rationed and intermittent at best.
Amidst it all, Khudhair said, he began learning English as part of his school’s regular curriculum when he was young. Fortunately so, he said.
In 2003 war descended upon Iraq once more before Khudhair’s education was complete.
Khudhair said although he had lost friends and family, the horrors of war had become so commonplace in his lifetime that they’d become routine.
“When I finished school in Iraq,” he said, “there was no work because of the war.”
Khudhair said without many other prospects ahead of him, he agreed to be recruited by the U.S. Army.
“This is a good opportunity for you,” an Army general had told Khudhair.
The general, who would quickly become his friend, told Khudhair his service would be rewarded with the safety and educational opportunities of the U.S.
Khudhair served for three years as an interpreter and then was brought to America.
“I didn’t know much about the United States,” he said, “I thought all of it would be like in the movies … like New York City.
“When the plane took us toward Lawton, where the general lived, I was like, ‘Where are all the buildings?’”
In acclimating himself to his new surroundings, Khudhair said he was drawn to OCCC by its reasonable cost and smaller classes.
Khudhair said after he graduates, begins his career and earns some money, he may visit Iraq from time to time to see his family but said this is his home now.
He said he worries about his friends and family as he watches the news and sees the deadly threat of the extremist Islamic State group operating in Iraq and Syria. He worries about war but said he agrees with any solution for eliminating ISIS and supports U.S. airstrikes. Khudhair said there will always be a part of him that is a U.S. soldier.
“Ninety-nine percent of Iraqis are also against ISIS,” he said, “but they don’t have the capability to prevent them. They need help.”
Khudhair pointed out that ISIS exploits young people who have lived in poverty — people who are desperate and angry — to back their cause. He said education is the most powerful weapon against extremism. Without education, he said, young people are manipulated. They are misinformed and lack the knowledge or ability to question what they are told.
It is education, Khudhair said, that improves the world and prevents exploitation.
He said the interesting and warm weather is his favorite thing about living in Oklahoma. He said people also tend to be friendly here.
Khudhair said he also has discovered some of the comforts of his former home in Oklahoma — kebabs at Zam Zam Grill in Warr Acres.