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Muska Haseeb, left, with her family in Phoenix, Arizona
Stories of Welcome

Birthdays and baby showers: a refugee's first friend in America

Photo: Andrew Oberstadt/IRC

At first, Muska Haseeb, a refugee from Afghanistan, was scared to come to America. “I cried so much on the plane,” she recalls. “I didn't know anyone, didn’t speak English...how was I going to integrate?” 

Years later, Muska, 24, is a business owner and a premed student in Phoenix, Arizona, working toward a career in women’s healthcare. She credits her mother, Haseeba, for the motivation to “climb out of the darkness,” and Mary Kaech, 36, her first American friend. Below, the two talk about how they first met, what they have learned from each other, and how Mary’s 3-year-old daughter thinks Muska is a princess. 

Muska Haseeb, left, met Mary Kaech at a neighbor’s house. Before arriving in Phoenix, Muska and her family spent five years living as refugees in Pakistan after they fled from Afghanistan. They left because Muska’s mother, Haseeba, was violently abused by relatives who did not approve of her working.

Photo: Andrew Oberstadt/IRC

Muska: Remember when we danced in your yard?

Mary: That was really awkward. [Laughs.]

Muska: It was the first visit to your house. I remember. It was lovely actually…Dancing, eating, hanging out together. Sharing our cultures, sharing our lives...past and present.

Mary: Muska and her mom came to my baby shower for my first child; and I celebrated birthdays and graduations with them. We went together to an iftar dinner at a mosque during Ramadan. That was fun. I learned a lot about their faith that night.

Muska: I would say Mary was one of our first friends. I didn’t think we would continue this friendship. But I have somebody who knows me and knows where I started. And she's here to see me and support me. 

Mary: I think that's very gracious of you Muska because I feel like there were so many times when I didn't show up when I wanted to, especially as life got crazy with kids.

Muska: But we are always starting off where we left off. 

Mary: It's a great honor to be one of your first friends. But I'm sorry that I'm the first. I wish there had been others.

Muska, center, with Mary’s youngest daughter, Grace.

Photo: Andrew Oberstadt/IRC

Muska: Don't be sorry. I'm happy that I have you as a first friend.

Mary: I think as a newcomer to this country and culture, everything is new and difficult. I have a lot of respect for you not giving up, progressing in your education and your business, and continuing to pursue friendships with people who are different from you. It's a great example for other women in the U.S. and around the world. What you've done and what your family has accomplished in a really short amount of time is really inspiring.

One thing that I've really learned from Muska is the idea of hospitality and being welcomed. It feels good to be welcomed by someone. It teaches me how I can slow down and I can value the people right in front of me. 

Through the IRC's microenterprise development program, Muska started a business selling imported traditional Afghan and Pakistani clothes. Photo: Andrew Oberstadt/IRC

People who believe that we shouldn't be welcoming refugees to the U.S., they don't understand the U.S. refugee resettlement program, and they haven't met someone face to face. They haven't eaten with someone who came here through the program. They don't know the extensive vetting process that people go through. They don't know the economic benefit to our country over the long term.

And I think, most importantly, they don't know that it's actually, by design, a life saving program. It's the most vulnerable of the most vulnerable who come here through this program. People don't understand that because we don't know what it's like to live in war and to be persecuted for who you are. Do whatever you can to get face-to-face with someone who came here as a refugee. 

My life would be different and much less enjoyable if I didn't have Muska as a friend. She happily embraces my babies and they love her. Rose, my 3-year-old, thinks you're a princess.

Muska: That’s so sweet! It melts my heart to hear this because I never felt that special before. I feel like this is home when I have friends like Mary. She is my friend, my supporter, and an adviser. 

Mary: I feel like all the success that you have experienced is due to yourself. You should be really proud of yourself because you've done all this. 

Muska: I wouldn't be able to do it all by myself, because obviously, whatever you want to do, whatever the goals that you have in life, you need support, encouragement and motivation, and that comes from my friends and the supporters that I have in here. Mary is one of them. You encouraged and motivated me to never give up on my dreams.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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