Afternoons in southern Iraq are hot. Working in his university’s research gardens, Safaa Alshuwaili was sweating when he noticed an interesting ant and followed it back to its hive. That ant belonged to the first of five ant species he found, classified, and named while studying there. In 2010, Safaa graduated with his master’s degree in environmental science.
He took a position at another university, where he taught insect taxonomy and classification for seven years. Then he received a scholarship to continue his studies in the United States. Safaa left his parents and five siblings in Iraq, landing in Cincinnati, Ohio, at Christmas time in 2013. He spoke almost no English.
Twelve heads bent over the table, seven of them covered by scarves. Sunlight poured over the space from a wall of windows. Six cultures were represented. On this day, they were making potholders: tracing a mitten shape onto colorful fabrics and liners, then hand-sewing the pieces together with strong, white thread.
Several conversations were always going, participants shifting between them without missing a word. One lady stacked her cut pieces on the table, saying, “I can sew at home by myself. I came here to talk.”
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