Mohamed Abdalla of Kennewick will see his wife today for the first time since he married her.
It has taken 16 months to get approval for his bride to immigrate to the United States from Sudan.
That is 10 months longer than Abdalla expected. And it has meant 10 more months of balancing the exhausting schedule of working as a cook at the Pasco Red Lion Hotel and caring for his two sons, Ashraf, 8, and Amjed, 6, as a single father.
Abdalla, 41, came to the United States in 2004 as a Sudanese refugee through World Relief, an international organization that helps people fleeing persecution or war.
More than five year ago, his first wife, Arafa, died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 27.
The widower was left to raise his two sons -- then an infant and a toddler -- in a foreign city where he didn't speak the language. In his culture, men typically do not take care of children.
But thanks to the help of Shirley Mellick of Richland, who served as a mentor and helped him learn English, and Beckie Hildman of Kennewick, Abdalla decided to stay in the U.S. rather than return to Sudan. After he became a citizen, he returned to Sudan to marry his wife's cousin, Maryam Himad, 20, in April 2010.
Abdalla said he received assistance from a World Relief attorney in Spokane. But he credits Mellick and Hildman, who he met at the Children's Development Center, for acting as his family in the Tri-Cities and helping him through the paperwork and bureaucracy to get Himad here.
Even after Himad received approval from the U.S. National Visa Center, Abdalla said the U.S. Embassy in Egypt repeatedly denied her request because it was not satisfied with her documentation.
For example, Abdalla said they wanted her exact birth date, time and birth place certified. However, Abdalla said it is normal for parents in Sudan to know the year of a child's birth, but records of date and time are not kept.
Another reason for Himad's delay was that on her passport her name in Arabic -- Maryam Idrees Hamid Himad -- did not match her English name on the document, which did not include her middle names of Idrees and Hamid.
Rep. Doc Hasting's office helped communicate with the embassy, Mellick said.
Abdalla and his sons are excited to finally have Himad coming. Ashraf and Amjed never have met their new stepmother, although they said they have seen the picture their father keeps of her in his bedroom.
Amjed was born in the U.S., and Ashraf now has his American passport.
Abdalla said Himad will be able to apply for citizenship after three years of living here.
But she doesn't speak any English, so Abdalla said she will have a lot to learn. He has found a school at a Kennewick church she can attend four days a week to learn it.
And Ashraf, a second-grader at Kennewick's Westgate Elementary, said he will help. "I'll teach her English," he said. "She'll teach me more Arabic."
Ashraf and Amjed, a first-grader, are learning Arabic at the Islamic Center of Tri-Cities in West Richland.
Abdalla is flying to meet his wife in Seattle today. They will fly back to Pasco's Tri-Cities Airport, where they will be met by Ashraf, Amjed, Mellick, Hildman, and other friends from the Tri-Cities at about 7:30 p.m.
Abdalla said he thanks God for the help that Mellick and Hildman have given him.
"I've got a family here," he said.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; email@example.com