KENNEWICK -- Safia Jama yearns for the day she is reunited with the children she hasn't seen in more than five years, since the day she came home from a Mogadishu market to find her husband and children had fled the war-torn Somali city.
The African nation already had been ripped apart by civil war for 15 years at that point, but she recalled through interpreter Bile Farah that things were especially bad on that day in February 2006.
The city exploded in violence in what would come to be known as the Second Battle of Mogadishu. Residents fled for their lives as warlords battled an Islamist faction for control of the ruined city.
And Jama was left alone. Her husband and children had disappeared, leaving behind no clues where they might have fled. She made her own way to Ethiopia -- more than 200 miles away. She walked 14 days with no money and only what little food people gave her along the way.
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Jama now lives in Kennewick with her new husband, Bashir Gulet, and their little boy, Jibril. With the help of the nonprofit World Relief refugee assistance organization, she hopes they soon will be joined by her four daughters and Gulet's son.
"We will hug them. We will cry," Gulet said. "It will be a very good moment for us."
That moment nearly came in March, when the five children -- ages 9 to 18 -- were scheduled to fly into Pasco.
World Relief had rented and furnished a house where the family could live. Everything was ready, and Jama and Gulet were anxious to reunite their families.
But a day before they were supposed to arrive, the flight was canceled.
Scott Michael, director of the World Relief office in Richland, said the children were delayed by a new immigration policy that required an additional interagency security clearance.
The policy is affecting all refugees waiting to enter the United States, he said.
"It became mandatory for cases even though they were just about to leave," he said. "We have a number of families who were supposed to come and had flights booked."
Michael is optimistic Gulet and Jama's children will be allowed to enter the United States, but no one knows when.
"It was a really heart-breaking delay to get that close and then say they're not coming," he said.
Jama said she worries constantly. One of her daughters has high blood pressure and isn't getting medical treatment in Ethiopia, where the children currently stay with Gulet's sister.
"I am worried about her health condition," she said. "There is no medical attention over there. We try to send them a little bit of money every month, but it's not enough to pay for everything. It's better that they will be able to get medical attention."
Jama has had some small comfort in being able to talk to the children on the telephone. She remembered the first time she spoke to them after learning they still were alive even though her husband had been killed.
"If you are a mother, you can understand how you feel -- the happiness, the emotions of talking to your child after you are separated," she said. "It was so nice."
Gulet has lived his own horrific experiences as a refugee. He escaped Somalia in 2002 with his second wife, leaving behind his young son with a first wife he had divorced.
Gulet and his then-wife wandered like nomads to Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Dubai and Libya looking for work and a safe place to settle.
They had two children together and a third on the way when in 2006 he placed them on a boat from Libya to the European island nation of Malta, where they hoped finally to be able to make a good life for their growing family.
He told Maltese news website di-ve.com in 2008 that he hadn't had enough money to buy himself a seat on the boat. He had promised his wife and children he would join them in Malta as soon as he could.
The boat sank. Gulet's wife and children drowned.
He found himself alone in a detention center where refugees were housed until the Maltese government could complete background checks and approve their requests for asylum.
Then he met Jama and a shared bond of grief turned into friendship, then love. They married in Malta in April 2007, and their son was born the following year after they arrived in Kennewick.
Now they're waiting for the day -- a day they hope will come soon -- that Jama's daughters and Gulet's son can join them, and their children can have a stable home and go to school.
"They never had the opportunity to go to school in Somalia because of the fighting," Gulet said. "If they come here, they will have a better future."
Even that day will be bittersweet and leave their family incomplete. Jama has two adult sons who remain missing in Africa.
Nonetheless, they both said they are grateful to God, the U.S. government and World Relief for bringing them to a new life in America.
"I will be very happy if I get my children here in the United States," Jama said.
For more information about World Relief, call the agency in Richland at 509-734-5477 or go to worldrelief.org.
* Michelle Dupler: 509-582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org