SALT LAKE CITY — Many of the hundreds of Iraqi refugees who've arrived in Utah the past three years have had a hard time here. Because of the language barrier and the lack of work, they feel isolated. Perhaps it's the women who are most isolated of all.
Jinan Muftin couldn't sleep.
"You come here as a refugee, and you see a new environment, you see new people, new language. Everything is so new. And you feel ‘Oh, my God. I'm lost," explained Ehdaa Abdulmetteleb, Muftin's caseworker at the International Rescue Committee.
The Iraqi refugee needed a job. "Finding a job is essential to me. I feel lifeless without a job," Muftin explained through an interpreter.
So, she went to school. In a few short months, Muftin improved her English and got a job. It's part-time work tutoring Arabic-speaking high school students in math and science. In Iraq, Muftin was a math teacher.
"When she start working, she's completely different. She's so optimistic," Abdulmetteleb said, adding that among Iraqi women refugees, Muftin is the exception.
"When I try to count how many women, how many Iraqi women are working right now, you just count them: three or four or five," Abdulmutteleb said. "They visit with each other. They don't mix with other communities. They don't mix with other women. It's only them, and that's why they don't learn the language even if they stay here for 20 years."
Muftin came to Utah to escape oppression and sectarian violence, some of it aimed at women who don't behave or dress the way some groups think they should.
"Each time you go out from your home in Baghdad, you have this thing in your mind that probably you will never come back," Muftin said.
"I've been facing a lot of problems there, especially if you wear pants there. It's a problem for a lady to wear pants," she added. "I was almost facing termination from my work if I kept on wearing pants."
Now life is different. Muftin is safe and she can pursue her career.
"I can find chance here, better, more than Iraq," she said. "I can find chance here."
Muftin says once she completes her ESL education, she hopes to get a teaching accreditation and then a full-time teaching job. She also plans to pursue a graduate degree — something she says was too dangerous to do in Iraq.
Written by Peter Rosen with contributions from Bruce Lindsay.