Eid Mubarak: Deaf Iraqi refugee gets special help as Ramadan ends
By Dianne Solis
August 8, 2013
Today is Eid ul-Fitr, the end of the Ramadan holy period for Muslims around the world.
For some here in North Texas, this month of reflection meant helping Ahmed Al Ghazawi, a 40-year-old Muslim from Iraq who landed in Texas about 16 years ago as a refugee.
That’s when he met a Dallas refugee resettlement volunteer named Anne Marie Weiss. Al Ghazawi is deaf and so vision-impaired he uses the white cane of the blind to guide him.
Through the years, Al Ghazawi’s problems multiplied.
He bounced from different facilities for the deaf in Fort Worth and Lincoln, Neb., and back to Fort Worth to a facility that’s not specially equipped for the deaf. Weiss, who knows some American Sign Language and has lived in the Middle East, used to speak to Al Ghazawi frequently using a special videophone device.
Then, communication stopped.
She finally found him at the Downtown Health and Rehabilitation Center in Fort Worth and grew concerned over his seclusion in an Alzheimer’s unit. A center spokeswoman says they can’t address case specifics due to privacy concerns for Al Ghazawi.
“He’s an intelligent man, a gentle giant,” says Weiss, who now directs the DFW International Community Alliance in Dallas.
Weiss, along with other advocates, got Al Ghazawi out of the “memory care” unit and back into a regular room at the Fort Worth nursing home. All of them were moved by Al Ghazawi’s story and his isolation.
Last week at the Fort Worth center, Al Ghazawi grew animated when Weiss and an interpreter caught up with him as he was about to get his curly hair cut. There were hugs and hand-holding so that he could feel the sign language being spoken.
“Boring” is how he describes his situation. “I am out of the jail part,” he said, moving his chunky hands and graceful fingers in sign language.
Alia Salem, who works at the Irving-based Baitulmaal charity for Muslims, said Al Ghazawi’s case is complex. Nursing home administrators seemed concern that Al Ghazawi would leave the facility and get harmed in the process, she said. That’s what prompted them to place him in the Alzheimer’s unit, Salem said.
“I understood that he might have been there for his own safety,” said Salem.
Salem organized volunteers from Dallas and Fort Worth to get Al Ghazawi to Iftar suppers that break the traditional sunrise-to-sunset fasting of Ramadan with bites of dates.
“I ate the rice and the fish and other goodness … and I was ready to pop,” Al Ghazawi said through an interpreter. Then, he rubbed his belly.
Hadi Jawad, a fellow Muslim and a Dallas businessman, took state Rep. Lon Burnam to visit Al Ghazawi, too. Like Weiss, they’ve been reviewing the legal rights of Al Ghazawi.
At the health and rehabilitation center, spokesperson Annaliese Impink said all concerns are taken seriously. “We are trying to address each concern as quickly as possible. Our goal is to provide Mr. Al Ghazawi with quality care in an environment that is safe and comfortable”
Jawad was born in Pakistan. But he has an Iraqi father, and a huge affinity for those who suffered through the war and strife in Iraq. Al Ghazawi spent about five years in refugee camps because of the violence.
Did Ramadan with its ramped up focus on charity move him to assist?
“It is Ramadan for me all year,” Jawad said. “That is just the way we roll. Every day is a special time for being charitable and generous.”