Mushtaq Jihad is an optimistic guy.
He tries to look on the bright side. To stay positive.
But the last several months have been hard.
You can see it in his weary eyes. In his face, which is thinner than it’s been in some time.
You can hear it in his voice.
“I almost lost now 15 pounds for myself again. No eat good. Sometime no sleep good,” he said in his broken English. “Sometime I’m sad, I cry.”
But Jihad’s inner steel, which helped him survive a brutal insurgent attack in his home country of Iraq, which sustained him on his refugee journey to the U.S., which buoyed him as he dealt with lingering injuries, with loss and grief, with cancer — it’s still there.
You can hear that in his voice too.
“Sometime I’m tired. ... (But) when I see my picture of my kids, (I think), ‘No, I’m try, I’m try, I’m try,’ ” he said.
The 45-year-old has an apartment in Richland with his wife, Adela, and their four daughters. The family came to the U.S. as refugees in 2008, settling in the Tri-Cities with help from the local World Relief office.
But for the past several months, Jihad has been staying on his own in the Seattle area, driving for Uber and Lyft and sending money back home to his girls.
It’s a lonely life — Jihad works long hours in the unfamiliar city, sleeps on a pile of blankets in a sparse apartment, doesn’t get to see his family much.
But it’s his best option, he told the Herald. He must support his wife and daughters.
Jihad is no stranger to struggle.
In Baghdad, he was a wealthy man who owned a string of electronics stores. But in the lawless environment that followed the disbanding of the Iraqi army, armed groups began kidnapping businessmen to extort ransoms.
Jihad was snatched one night in April 2005 while driving home from one of his stores.
“They used every kind of torture, hitting with wires and with electricity. I was close to death,” he wrote in a narrative of his experiences shared with the Herald.
After several hours, Jihad was able to escape. He decided to pursue his kidnappers in court, but that brought more trouble. He received death threats and even was shot at while leaving court one day.
Then in April 2007, on the day a court decision was due, he suffered the worst blow yet.
He and his wife had just welcomed a baby boy. Jihad bundled up the week-old infant for a trip to the doctor and stepped outside with the child in his arms.
“I heard the bomb and saw nothing but a big cloud of dust in my face,” he wrote. “After that, I lost (consciousness) and I did not know what happened after that until later when my friend and neighbor told me.”
The blast took Jihad’s right leg. His baby died.
“The neighbors called the Iraqi police; they did not come. Then they called the American troops. They came, they were thinking I am dead,” wrote Jihad, who also was shot multiple times as he lay injured. “When they found out I am alive, the paramedics started to help me, and they took me to the hospital and the baby’s body to the morgue.”
Jihad spent months in the hospital. When he was well enough, he and his surviving family left Iraq.
In the Tri-Cities, Jihad began building a new life. He and his wife made friends, they studied English, they raised their girls.
Then, in 2013, came another blow: Jihad, still dealing with lingering health issues from the blast and shooting, was diagnosed with leukemia.
He was hospitalized and started chemotherapy.
He remains in treatment now.
Despite his struggles, Jihad has worked hard to take care of his family. He got a job stocking and cleaning at some Richland 7-Eleven stores. Then he went to work at Apollo Mechanical in Kennewick, though he was laid off as the need for his type of labor slowed.
He eventually started driving for Uber and Lyft; Uber even featured him in a short online article.
Jihad moved to Seattle because he’s able to get more fares and earn more there, he said.
Money has become a particularly pressing issue recently because Jihad lost his Supplemental Security Income benefits, which helped his family get by.
That happened because he’s been in the U.S. more than seven years and isn’t yet a citizen. He wants to be — and he applied as soon as he was allowed, back in 2013. But, in yet another struggle, his case has been held up, dragging on years past the average wait time for naturalization processing.
Tom Roach, a Pasco immigration attorney who represented Jihad, said in 2015 that he suspected the case was “just stuck on somebody’s desk.”
He noted that — like other refugees — Jihad was investigated before being allowed into the U.S., and he’s been living in the country legally and without any issues since 2008.
Jihad has been working, contributing, “doing the types of things that we want people to do who come to this country” Roach told the Herald in 2015.
Jay Gairson, a Seattle attorney who handles many stalled citizenship cases, now represents Jihad.
We are waiting for copies of his immigration records from (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services), and suspect it will be necessary to take the case to litigation this year in order to get him the certainty of a final result in this case.
Jay Gairson, Mushtaq Jihad’s Seattle attorney
“We are waiting for copies of his immigration records from (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services), and suspect it will be necessary to take the case to litigation this year in order to get him the certainty of a final result in this case,” he said.
Gairson called Jihad “a solid example of someone who’s attempted to follow the American dream.”
Asked about the holdup, a USCIS spokeswoman said the agency doesn’t comment on specific cases.
For now, Jihad will keep driving.
He wakes up early in the morning and often doesn’t hit his bed of blankets until late in the night. He makes his way on unfamiliar streets. He ferries strangers. He misses his kids.
He’s tired. But that inner steel remains.
He looks at photos of his girls and knows he must keep trying. “I’m a strong guy,” he said. “I try.”
Photojournalist Kai-Huei Yau contributed to this report.