The sixth floor conference room at the City Heights Center was redolent of falafel and baklava and Indian flatbread Wednesday evening, as well as abuzz with chatter — listen closely.
Homing in on the conversation of Mohammad Khajehpour, you would have heard, in cautious but steady English, this: “I would like to get into the workforce. I had to leave Iran to save my son from arrest because he converted to Christianity. I am a chemist.”
Or this from Zina Jassim: “I am an architect, but I will take any entry-level job.”
Or this: “I was a victim of the U.N. bombing in Baghdad. I was working as a communications engineer. I woke up five days later in a hospital in Germany.”
Ibrahim Matee still bears the scar from the wound inflicted on the day he was whisked from Iraq to Germany to save his life, never to return to his country. It runs from the back of his neck, along his left jaw line to the front of his chin, and evokes, he said, final memories of the torn country he left behind.
Matee, 50, arrived in San Diego as a refugee in 2008, but has been unable to find work as an engineer. Instead he relies on $800 in monthly welfare income, the help of his two children aged 22 and 21, who work part time at a car wash and as an insurance biller, and on a small stipend he receives for teaching a weekly Arabic class at the Grossmont Adult School in El Cajon.