May 26, 2015     Login   
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In the 
Driver's Seat: Darlene Ballweg

Meeting the Challenge

A Life of Spice: Huma Siddiqui

The Guardian: Eileen Mershart

Moving Forward

Finding her Voice: Jean Feraca

Generation Molly

The Joy of Being Mona Melms

Shana Martin is Relentless

Deneen Carmichael: Moving forward
Jenny Wimmer: Racing toward
 a goal

Chris Hansen: Embarking on a mission
 A Kindred Spirit: Asia Voight
 As Real As It Gets: Diana Henry
Moving on up: Lisa Madson

 Jennifer Engel Moves Mind, Body And Spirit
The Chancellor is in: Biddy Martin

New Country, My Home

For safety, opportunity, love—six women look at their lives past and present, and the reasons that brought them from around the world to a new life in Madison

As told to Meagan Parrish | Photographed by Ink Photographic

Khadija ElDachach

Hometown: Aleppo, Syria 
Age: 34
Occupation: Business operations manager at Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association and MBA student at UW-Madison
I first came to Madison simply to further my education. Though I grew up in Aleppo, I had been living in Dubai with some of my family—I have 10 siblings—and working there for nine years.  After the 2008 financial crises, I quit my job and decided to go to school in the U.S. 

I had wanted to be in a big city, but I stopped in Madison first to visit a brother who lived here. Strangely, things started to work out here and I ended up staying. At first I wasn’t sure that I made the right choice, but when I look back I feel Madison was a good place to start my new life.

My last year of undergraduate school was when the Syrian revolution started. At first I was proud that Syrian people were finally able to express their right to freedom. I thought it wouldn’t take long before we get a fresh start. Then it became painful and hard to believe. The reality sunk in when my cousin was killed. His body was burned. When you see that happen to a stranger, it’s sick and painful. But when it’s your own family? It’s just worse.

Unfortunately, it’s been more than two years and there’s no hope for an end. It’s very painful, stressful, and distracting to deal with what’s happening there while being here. Sometimes I feel guilty for being able to sleep in my own bed and eat normal food, knowing that my family fled their houses without basic needs like food, heat and a safe place to survive. There are times when I can’t connect with any members of my family, which makes me go crazy. But my parents recently came to Madison. I’m glad they’re here now because they had no one to take care of them.

It’s also been an adjustment living in the U.S. because of culture. In Dubai I was a working adult in a luxurious place. Suddenly here, I was a student in a different culture with no income. I didn’t like it for the first few years. But then I appreciated how it made me a different person. I became more responsible, more simple in a good way. Using public transportation, walking a lot, the cold—it changed my perspective about life. It made me a better person. And I slowly started to fall in love with Madison. 

Being here with the shock of what’s happening in Syria made me also rethink what really matters in life: Safety! Now I appreciate being safe wherever I am. I never imagined my country would be in this situation. I don’t know if I will ever get a chance to go back to Syria, now that the fighting has destroyed everything—our future and our history. That’s why I keep myself busy and am stretching my time in Madison to the max—working full time and going to school where I can be safe. 

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