One of the most moving movement for me during the DNC was when we heard about Hillary Clinton’s mother who was abandoned by her parents as child and had to grow up on her own. It made me really emotional thinking about how hard that would be and trying to imagine how she felt when her parents left her. I can’t imagine how alone someone would feel. The fact that she not only made it through to adulthood and ended up marrying a navy petty officer is amazing. The fact that she would go on to give birth to possibly the next president of the US is inspiring.
I wondered what people thought about her and her importance to society when she was in that vulnerable state and who looked out for her. Imagine what she thought of herself. I think she was only thinking about survival and making it to the next day. Never in her wildest dream would she imagine that she would give birth to one of the most successful politicians of her time.
I was moved how her mother’s experience translated into how she raised Hillary; to stand up for herself and solve problems on her own.
I could relate to her story because the Russian invasion of Afghanistan separated me from my parents for over ten years. As a kid when your parents are not around, there is an anxiety that a child carries that can only be understood by those who experience it. In Afghanistan, we were afraid to come out to our backyard. The merciless Russian planes would bomb the villages as we saw them in the sky. In Afghanistan, we would sleep outside in the summer and count stars in the skies. During the war, we would see the tracer fire. On the one hand we were numb with emotions and there was a gulp in our throats every day we woke up. For me, I also felt vulnerable because I did not even have parents to find solace in. And that is where it struck me, it is one thing to go through poverty, war or any other struggle. It’s another thing to do it alone as a child.
One day, I remember waking up in the middle of the night and being shoved into the back of a pickup truck. For hours upon hours, in the dark on rough terrain we made the journey to escape the war to another kind of anxiety in Pakistan. While our physical being was under direct threat in the Russian war, we arrived in Pakistan, a foreign land, where the strange and uneasy feeling of being in someone else land made us feel more anxious. We lived in one abandon room made of adobe which was blackened and charred from what looked like a fire. That is probably why it was abandon and unwanted. For us it was shelter and a place of solace. In that room, we cooked, slept and ate. Along with my two aunts, my grandmother and two adult cousins from my father’s side, we also had my mom’s mom and mom’s brother. We all lived in that one space. We didn’t know where the next meal would come. Again as a small child the anxiety was one thing the feeling of not having parents is another apprehension that only those who experience can identify with. When I heard Hillary’s mom’s story, all those feelings came back and I felt a very strong emotional connection with her.
Pakistan was probably the worst nightmare in my life. I remember that room was in a neighborhood with big houses. The neighbors instead of making us feels welcome were afraid of us. They would shield their kids from playing with me. They said, I was dirty and uneducated. They were right I had never gone to school. One day, I got a piece of gum, and I was so happy I did not know whether to smell it and keep it or to actually chew it. I remember going to the store and picking up a pencil and smelling the eraser. I remember looking at a backpack and saying to myself that who is the lucky kid to have something like that.
It was easy to see that they looked at us as undesirables. I remember when the neighbor took his son, I felt embarrassed. I could tell that the father was looking at me as if I had done something wrong or that I had ended up in the situation because I deserved it or done something wrong. Their interpretation of divine destiny was perverted and twisted. When I looked at Hillary’s mom in that picture, all of these emotions and all of these memories came out last night.
As I look at my children now and where I am now, I just can’t imagine how I actually made it here. I started school late. My first class was at the end of 2nd grade in Columbia, Missouri. On the one hand I had reunited with my parents, which was supposed to make me feel happy but my emotions were very complex. I did not know how to feel to have parents. On the other hand, I was in a new place. I did not know the language and had never gone to school. The first year of school (thank God there were only 2 months of school left), I used to spend lunch time and recess in the bathroom. Not because I needed to go because I did not know how to communicate with anyone. I was afraid to stick out and be made fun of. Luckily, I end up with a great ESL teacher. I would go to class and she would spend time with me one on one. It was easy to study and read because it was the only fun thing I knew how to do. I was excited to see her every day because she made me feel special. I did not want to disappoint her. For the next few years I just wanted to get by. However, I got a great teacher in California, Mr. Thacker, who paid special attention to me. Mr. Thacker looked like Jon Ritter from the “Threes Company”. He saw something in me that I did not see in myself. He let me borrow his Ukalele. I would take that home and practice it in the bathroom trying to learn the song “She will be coming around the mountain”. When I performed in class and was better than everyone else at that moment I felt important.
I mention Mr. Thacker because like him there are those special people that positively impact your life. I don’t know if he is alive or where he lives but he and the ESL teacher are two people I will always remember and appreciate. As Hillary’s speech pointed out, you don’t get to be where you are without the help of others. That is most relevant to me. Getting my Phd from UCLA was one of the best days of my life but it could not have been possible if people did not help me get there. Dr. Gasson was a wonderful mentor and helped me become a scientist and I will always remember her. I am so grateful. But it was also Mr. Rohrs in 8th grade, who saw a lonely kid and not only made me feel accepted in class but also knew I had potential as a scientist. He lobbied for me to be in honors classes. I was so scared and did not think I could compete. He was so confident in me. But, it was that year I spent with him when he would make me feel special by talking about Laker games with me that I trusted his mentorship and looked at him with admiration. I gave it my best to not let him down. He brought the best in me. May God have mercy on his soul. I don’t think I would have ever signed up for an advance class if it was not for him and thus I probably would have never gone to college. These are the forks in life. We all play a role in future of our world.
That is why it is so important, that we put kids in situations where they can succeed so they can realize their potential. During the process, I was lucky to overcome some naysayers on the way. I will not spend time discussing them. Instead, I will talk about one of my favorite mentor (at that of many) and someone I look up to Dr. Imad Bayoun who met me as a lost young man during college. He helped me find spirituality and made me think. It was not the preachy type, it was done with lots of care. He would invite us to his place for fresh fruit juice and tell us stories.
I loved science but I did not know what a career in Science would look like. One summer, I got an internship in Palo Alto and it changed the way I looked at science. Then, Carol Thiele took a chance on me and accepted me into her lab. I have never worked so hard and put so much time into a project than I did that year. I also never had so much fun. It was my time there that convinced me that I wanted to pursue science as a career and thank her for her mentorship. I talk about these experiences because it’s our interaction with the people around us that shape who we are. It is the help of many people that help us make it through life.