TWIN FALLS — Sporting slacks and a camouflage jacket, Ali Abdulhadi watched from the sidelines last week when the Canyon Ridge High School boys soccer team beat Burley in penalty kicks.
Abdulhadi is a sophomore at Canyon Ridge High School. He was born and raised in Baghdad, moved to Turkey for two years and settled in Twin Falls through the College of Southern Idaho Refugee Center.
Abdulhadi plays defensive midfield, but he’s been relegated to the sidelines as a team manager this season because of poor grades. He plans to bring his grades up and make the Riverhawks’ varsity soccer team next season, but his main goals are not focused on sports.
“Future. … That’s why I got here,” Abdulhadi said. “There’s no future where I’m from.”
To Abdulhadi, the biggest difference between Baghdad and Twin Falls is safety. He grew up during the war between the United States and Iraq, but the U.S. Army was hardly his biggest concern. His home country was practically a mine field.
“Back in Iraq, you have no idea. You might die any time,” he said. “We had fun there, but it gets dangerous at night. It gets really dangerous at night.”
Abdulhadi never experienced a close call, but his brother was once in the vicinity of a car bomb. He nearly died, Abdulhadi said, and the blast left permanent scars on his back.
The Canyon Ridge sophomore lives with his brother, his two sisters and his mother in Twin Falls. He’s never known his father.
Abdulhadi sometimes hears about Iraq’s still-ugly conditions from cousins back home, but that’s the extent of the information he cares to gather. He’s more focused on improving his grades and joining Canyon Ridge’s successful boys soccer team, which is full of refugees like himself.
Though his English is strong, Abdulhadi still struggles to pick up the intricacies of the language. His classes include English, biology, health and U.S. history, and none is specialized for refugees. They’re the same courses any American would take. He can carry on a conversation in English with little trouble, but he has a hard time keeping up with the fast-paced speech of his teachers.
To help get up to speed, Abdulhadi often spends lunchtime with tutors.
Classmates haven’t always made acclimating easy. In the halls, some have yelled “Allahu Akbar” — an Arabic phrase that means “God is the greatest.”
“The way they say it, I don’t know, they think it’s funny or something,” said Abdulhadi, a Muslim. “I just don’t like it when they say it. They think something racist, like only terrorist people do it.”
As Abdulhadi has settled in to American life, the racist remarks have waned.
Soccer is one of Abdulhadi’s favorite activities, but he has no plans to pursue it as a career. Instead, he wants to join the U.S. Army and become a police officer, his dream job since he was 3 years old.
His military aspirations stem, in part, from his desire to improve the war-torn Middle East, specifically Iraq.
“I want to be in the American Army so I can help my country,” he said, “and I can help America, too.”