By Monique Mansour
Maryam Ramzi recently turned 14. She’s nearing the end of her seventh grade school year, is the eldest of three siblings, adores her two younger brothers, and loves reading mystery books. She’s invested in her hobbies and is excited about meeting and making new friends. From the looks of it, it seems as though Ramzi is an ordinary teenager. She is an ordinary teenager with an extraordinary story, and extraordinary abilities.
Ramzi was born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq. Her father, Amir, was a writer, and Ramzi often marveled at his work ethic. The time and dedication he took to hone his craft was not lost on her, even from a young age. Some of Ramzi’s other memories of the old country are of food, family gatherings, and of belonging; there were always people to come home to in Iraq, always people over at your house or you over at theirs. Life seemed grand, until an unexpected tragedy struck the Ramzi household when little Ramzi was just five years old.
Amir suffered a heart attack and passed on as a result of the trauma. Ramzi, her mother, and her two very young brothers were left scrambling with the pieces…no father, and a country which was becoming increasingly less safe with each passing day. Ramzi’s mother made a decision and first moved her family to Jordan, and then eventually all came to Michigan, where they have recently celebrated their seven-year anniversary of immigrating to the United States.
Ramzi plugged into her new life in the best way she knew how. She was going through the motions of school, home, and family until her fourth-grade teacher took her aside to tell her something.
“I took a test on a computer and the results showed that I was at a college level of reading and writing,” said Ramzi. “I knew from then on that this was a gift from my Dad, and that I wanted to do everything to make him proud and to continue on from where my Dad left off. I write not only for me, but for him as well.”
It wouldn’t take very long for another teacher of hers to stop and marvel at Ramzi’s work. Ms. Yaldo at Grissom Middle School in Sterling Heights noticed Ramzi’s storytelling abilities after students were asked to write a piece about a significant moment in their lives. Ramzi wrote about her father’s untimely death, and how her life changed afterwards.
“I think the fact that Ms. Yaldo is of Iraqi descent herself is really what made me more comfortable to share my ideas and my story. She’s really helped me,” said Ramzi. The first time Ramzi read her story out loud to the class was a formative moment for her.
“I don’t like pity, and I was worried about that, but my classmates didn’t give me pity. Only love and support,” she explained. “It felt good to show my peers where my anxiety comes from, so that they understand. I’ve come away from this experience stronger and more confident in myself and in my writing abilities.”
Ramzi credits her old soul as helping her to write. “I’ve always been an old soul; I’ve always loved to give advice to others. I like to tell people that bad times and bad moments happen to us all. Everything happens for a reason. My Dad never wanted to leave Iraq, he always said this, and after he passed and our country became a more dangerous place to live in my family and I made our way to the United States. I want everyone to know that your problems are never too small for anyone. Tell people how you are feeling. For kids and teenagers…if you can’t talk to your parents, talk to your school counselor. Talk to someone.”
Not only is Ramzi a writer, but she is also a budding public speaker. She has now read her essay twice out loud to her class. “I used to get nervous about speaking in front of others, but then when people come up to me afterwards I’ve realized that my words help others so now I don’t get nervous.”
Not only has this experience reminded Ramzi of what she wants to do with her life – write – she wants to major in English in college and minor in criminal justice, but it has also strengthened her relationship with her mother and her family. “This experience has given me new ways to talk to my family about what has happened to us, and how we can all move forward.”
One of the first lines in Ramzi’s memoir essay is, Thus, I have learned one lesson, life is certainly unpredictable. “But it still moves on,” said Ramzi.