My childhood was shaped by conflict. Although I was born in Mosul, the birthplace of civilization, war was a reality I had to endure. At an early age, my family fought desperately to give me some semblance of a childhood. I built forts out of dirt and watched cartoons in my home. However, everything changed when the Iraq War began. Gunshots echoed across my city, the sky turned red from the bombings, and our home changed forever.

 

I vividly remember one moment from the war. I was home, playing a car game on the computer when I heard a thunderous explosion. A powerful bang engulfed the room, glass windows shattered, and my body turned white from terror. I was overwhelmed by the dark, red sky above me. It seemed like hell had consumed my home. We prayed for this nightmare to end. I could not process what had happened until I heard the deafening screams on the streets. After that fateful day, my family took the biggest risk of our lives – to abandon our home to move to Turkey as refugees in hopes of one day finding peace.

 

Despite the hardship I had to navigate through in Turkey, I was able to create spaces of happiness for myself and for my family. We smiled in the face of hardship, we laughed in moments of pain, and we loved in the presence of struggle. After two years in Turkey, I began to feel like I found a home. I had learned Turkish and adopted some of the cultural nuances of my new environment. However, my family would soon leave the familiarity of home in an effort to find a more lasting peace; to find that prized triumph in America.

 

While my family was excited for this new opportunity, I was scared to find myself in another unfamiliar land with new people, new languages, and new challenges. It was the beginning of a new journey – our new lives in America. My identity was in a constant state of flux when I first arrived to America. I wanted to create a new home for myself, while also retaining aspects of my cultural and religious heritage. In America, I seized every opportunity I could to improve my life. After living in Maine for four years, I realized that I was losing aspects of my cultural identity.

 

My Arabic skills degraded and my Islamic faith diminished. I faced an impossible, paradoxical conundrum. Do I assimilate to my environment to be accepted by my peers, or do I live in isolation to retain my cultural and religious heritage? I feared expressing my Iraqi identity because of the Islamophobic environment I lived in. I felt I Americanized my identity to fit in; These questions haunted me for years, I struggled to find myself in this sea of confusion – drifting in the waves of doubt and bewilderment.

 

I continue to struggle to understand who I am and where I belong. Am I Iraqi or American? Can these two identities coexist simultaneously? I felt like a stranger in both worlds. However, that all changed through Seeds of Peace. Seeds of Peace – a conflict resolution organization – changed my life. As I sat on the calming lake, I learned that true peace was possible and begins with self- acceptance. I am both Iraqi and American, and I do not need to live this self-constructed binary.

 

I accepted my identities as one in the same, and learned to live with the complexities and complications that accompanied them. While my life was shaped by conflict, it does not need to define it. I am and will continue to fight to ensure that violence does not rob children of their childhoods and that war does not force families to flee their homes. My name is Salar Salim and I am the proud son of Muslim immigrants from Mosul, Iraq.

 

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