Monroe High senior fled Iraq, now dreams of being an architect

MONROE — Tiba Ahmed dreams of creating something beautiful.

The 19-year-old wants to be an architect. That dream formed when she was a child living in Iraq.

Her family’s home was destroyed. Her school was bombed.

The more destruction she saw, the more she wanted to balance it with creation.

Years later, in Istanbul, her love for architecture deepened. She visited a grand building that had served as a Christian church and as a mosque over the years. People of all faiths walked in to admire the building. It struck her that no one cared who you were or where you came from or what god you prayed to. They were there for the beauty of the place.

“So the Christians and Muslims meet inside, together, and there is no racism and no hate and everyone can be together,” she said. “I hope I build something that brings the people together.”

Ahmed’s family fled Iraq when she was about 12 years old and spent four years as refugees in Turkey, waiting for permission to come to the U.S.

She now is a senior at Monroe High School. Her class schedule includes physics, pre-calculus, English and a SAT prep course. She tried taking the SAT a few years ago and did poorly because she couldn’t speak English. She didn’t start learning the language until 2013.

Ahmed lives with her parents and three younger siblings. Her father works at an auto body shop. In Iraq, he was a miller, grinding grain. Her family is Sunni, and her father was told not to sell flour to Shiite Muslims, the other major denomination of Islam. He refused. Everyone needs to eat, he said.

“The war happened and the conflict happened inside of the mill when we were there,” Ahmed said.

Her father was told his wife and children would be killed. They fled to Turkey.

“It was a safer place, but it was hard for all the refugees,” Ahmed said. “We are just waiting. We don’t know what is the future, we don’t know if we are going to get the good life. Most of the people I know, they still are waiting.”

Her dad had set aside money to help them get by, but most of the refugees struggled to survive. Parents couldn’t work and kids couldn’t go to school. Tiba studied as much as she could at home. She learned to speak Turkish, though she can’t write or read it. Her first language is Arabic. She often drew pictures inspired by Turkish architecture.

The years in Turkey weren’t the first disruption to Tiba’s education. When she was 11, the school she attended in Iraq was destroyed by a bomb. No one was killed in the blast, she said. Students were prepared for explosions and gunfire.

“It was normal,” she said. “We go to school and there are men with guns, but we study and we think it is normal. But it is so hard. Where I was in Iraq, you go someplace and you don’t know if you will make it home.”

Now Tiba is working hard to catch up on credits. She’s taken online courses and stayed after school. She applied to the University of Washington and plans to apply to other schools. She refuses to put her life on hold because of her past.

“I want to tell everybody that everyone should be in the best place,” she said. “I am not choosing to be a refugee. That is something life chose for me and my friends.”

She’s heard people say Muslims are terrorists. It makes her sad, but a teacher encouraged her to try and change their minds. She speaks in front of history classes. She tries to give a voice to refugees. Four others go to school with her and they’ve become good friends.

Art and history are Ahmed’s favorite classes. Art is her passion and history is where she gets to share her culture.

“I explain to them that when (refugees) come here, it is not terrorism. They come to study, to live a better life,” she said. “There are good people and there are bad people.”

Ahmed has an easy smile and dark eyes full of hope. She shares her dream of becoming an architect with whomever will listen. She wants people to understand.

“I come here to make something beautiful,” she said. “I want to tell them you can do this. Whoever you are, wherever you are, you can do it because you want it. The hardest things can make something beautiful in the end.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Traffic will be rerouted from a closed section of 220th Street SW just west of I-5 for overnight road repairs Wednesday and Thursday. (Sound Transit)
Overnight work to close 220th Street SW and southbound I-5

Contractor crews plan to repair 220th and need to close the freeway for light rail work.

This condo on Norton Ave. in Everett was sold Friday, June 18. (Sue Misao / The Herald)
Snohomish County home values soar in latest assessment

Lack of affordable housing put the squeeze on buyers and drove up home prices across Snohomish County.

With credit scores out, will insurers cut or hike your rate?

Lack of affordable housing squeezed buyers and drove up home prices across Snohomish County.

Lynnwood man is challenging the legality of his imprisonment

The Island County Jail inmate was temporarily sent to a state prison and allegedly held in solitary confinement.

Chris Stack and Samantha Soule film a scene of their movie, "Midday Black, Midnight Blue," on the Coupeville wharf June 14. (Photo by Karina Andrew/Whidbey News-Times)
Indie film crew: Whidbey residents are ‘generous and welcoming’

The movie makers are shooting scenes for a full-length feature at various sites around the island.

Community Transit is asking for feedback on options for a pilot program to bring a community van or microtransit, on-demand public transit, to Lynnwood in spring next year. (Community Transit)
Are you ready for public transit ride-sharing in Lynnwood?

Community Transit is planning a pilot program next spring and wants to hear what people think.

Harry Lee Jones Jr.
Man gets 31½ years for shooting Everett motel guest 12 times

Harry Lee Jones Jr., 27, beat and then shot a Farwest Motel guest in 2018 while two accomplices looted his room.

Everett's Patrick Hall was among people who put up signs in March to save the Longfellow School building.  He is now part of an advisory task force looking at options for the building, which the Everett School District had planned to tear down.  (Dan Bates / The Herald)
National register listing could be next for old Longfellow

But the designation wouldn’t stop the Everett School District from tearing down the former school.

Cars make their way across US 2 between Lake Stevens and Everett as wildfire smoke makes downtown Everett barely visible on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Wildfire smoke: A burning health issue is getting worse

As the hazardous haze increases during fire seasons, it’s time to get serious and prepare, experts say.

Most Read