Baydaa and her husband lived in Falujar, Iraq. Baydaa owned her own salon and her husband Haitham was an accountant. “I had a family, and I used to work. We had everything we needed.” That all changed when violence occurred in Falujar that lead to an ongoing war in Iraq. “We went 120 days without food and water. People died in the streets. You could not walk outside without seeing a dead body on the ground.”
Their home was demolished by an airstrike, which led Baydaa and Haitham to leave their city. They went to Ramadi where Baydaa’s parents lived. “My parents thought we died.” A lot of people did not make it out alive, including Baydaa’s two brothers who died at the ages of 17 and 19 years old. Baydaa and her husband realized that Iraq was no longer safe to call home. In 2010, they fled with only the clothes on their backs and took a bus to Jordan. “We felt like we were in heaven when we entered Jordan. People were alive and healthy.” Baydaa worked in a salon and her husband worked at a dry cleaner’s to pay their rent. They stayed in Jordan for two and a half years until they were approved for resettlement. Once Baydaa and Haitham were approved for resettlement, the war in Syria began to happen. “We left our home fully furnished to a Syrian refugee family that moved in.”
“No matter how many kids you have, always think of yourself too. A woman is more than a homemaker and mother. Everyone has time to do something. So do something for yourself. You can help your family and yourself too.”
On December 2012, Baydaa and Haitham arrived in Indianapolis. They still remember that day and remember that Cole Varga welcomed them at the airport. “I was relaxed at the airport. Peace had entered my body.” Baydaa remembers that it was a cold day and they went home to a furnished apartment. Baydaa wonders what her life would be like if Exodus was not there to support her. “We would have slept on the streets.”
Life was not easy for Baydaa and Haitham as they adjusted to their new lives in Indianapolis. “I cried every day. I missed my family and our gatherings. It was hard to leave them.” Baydaa is grateful for all who welcomed her, including her volunteer Kelsey who she met through Exodus.
“Put yourself in someone’s shoes. Understand what it takes to learn a new language and start from scratch, leaving your own family behind.”
Exodus provided a wide variety of services to Baydaa and Haitham, including case management, English classes, financial trainings, and employment assistance. Exodus helped the couple find a job at the Marriott Hotel. They worked in the kitchen washing dishes, and when they were not at work, they studied English. Haitham already had his college degree, but since he did not have his transcripts, they both had to go back to get their GEDs.
Baydaa also came from a large family, so she dreamed of having a son. She has pregnant a few times in Iraq, but lost her babies due the toxic air that filled her lungs and body. In 2014, Baydaa and Haitham welcomed a baby boy named Omar.
It was Baydaa’s dream to open her own salon in Indianapolis, so she worked hard to do just that. She already had a cosmology degree from Iraq and Jordan, but she had to go through the process again and be licensed here. “We had everything back home, but here we started from nothing.” After learning English and getting her GED, Baydaa attended Empire Beauty School located on the south side of Indianapolis where she lives, and she now has her cosmetology degree. Baydaa and Haitham are also now United States citizens.
In March 2021, Baydaa prepared what would have been a grand opening of her new women’s only salon Baydaa Beauty Salon & Spa located on the north side of Indianapolis. Due to the pandemic, she was not able to have that opening. She officially opened her salon in July. Baydaa continues to operate under strict COVID guidelines to keep her business running. Now that Baydaa has made her dreams a reality, she dreams that her son receives the education and degree that he wants. “I wish as a mom for my son to not go through what I have been though.” She wants everyone to know that the life of a refugee is not an easy life and it is not a life anyone chooses to have. “I have not seen my family in Iraq for 9 years. No one wants to ever leave behind their life. We had it all and then lost it all.” Baydaa continued to say, “Put yourself in someone’s shoes. Understand what it takes to learn a new language and start from scratch, leaving your own family behind.”
Baydaa is not only a business owner, but is a leader in the community and supports other refugee families. “I knew what it was like. All I had was Exodus, so I want to build a community.” Her advice for others, especially women is, “No matter how many kids you have, always think of yourself too. A woman is more than a homemaker and mother. Everyone has time to do something. So do something for yourself. You can help your family and yourself too.”