This refugee from Syria is now an American working man.
Four months after Ahmad al-Abboud and his brood became the first Syrian family to be resettled in the U.S. from Jordan as part of the White House-backed "surge operation," he has landed a job at a Kansas City restaurant.
Al-Abboud started last Tuesday and so far, he said in his still very limited English, "it’s good."
"He is doing everything," said Fariz Turkmani, a limousine service owner who served as al-Abboud’s interpreter during an interview with NBC News. “Everything from preparing food to cleaning pots to serving the customers food. Whatever is needed.”
The job is five days a week, six hours a day, and a source of incalculable joy for a man who has not had the chance to hold down steady work since he fled his hometown of Homs, Syria, four years ago.
“He was very much ready to work,” said Turkmani. “He was sick of not doing anything.”
Al-Abboud, 45, is a construction worker by trade. But he’s relishing the chance to learn new skills and try something different.
“They’re training him,” Turkmani said. “He’s got to get through a probationary period, but so far it’s going well.”
Al-Abboud still wears the scars of the Syrian civil war on his face. A married father of five, he fled his homeland after a bomb dropped by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s air force nearly killed him and riddled his body with shrapnel.
In Jordan, the family found itself living first in a refugee camp and then bunking in a windowless storage container and surviving on government handouts. While there, they nearly lost their 5-year-old son, who required emergency heart surgery.
In Kansas City, the al-Abboud family has leaned heavily on the social workers at Della Lamb Community Services, who have helped with everything from finding an apartment and providing English lessons to helping the dad draft his first-ever resume.
"An extensive orientation program focuses on basic English language skills, food shopping, family budget, and accessing public transportation, all with a goal leading to employment within the first 90 days," said Della Lamb executive vice president Judy McGonigle Akers. "Generally, they have to learn about our culture, without having had the benefit of living here for many years."
And while the al-Abbouds arrived in the U.S. at a time when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and many GOP lawmakers have raised fears about infiltration by Islamic terrorists, the grateful al-Abboud said they’ve experienced no backlash and have been overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness of the people they have met in Kansas City.
Akers agreed. "The community has been particularly involved in welcoming the al-Abboud family to Kansas City," she said.
One local doctor fixed al-Abboud’s nose free of charge. Another made sure his son with the heart trouble was on the mend. And dentists have lined-up to help the entire brood, which consists of al-Abboud, his wife, daughters ages 12 and 8, their 5-year-old boy and his twin sister, and 1-year-old son Mohammad.
If al-Abboud has a complaint about his new life in America, it’s that it can feel a bit lonely at times, said Turkmani.
“Language has been an obstacle,” he said. “Transportation is challenging, too, because they don’t have a car. In Syria, they could walk everywhere. Over here, they are confined to home until someone comes to pick them up and that is difficult for them.”
Their inability to speak English also keeps them isolated from their neighbors in the apartment complex they now call home.
“The neighbors, they say hello from far away,” al-Abboud said in Arabic through Turkmani. “Everybody’s nice. But everybody’s busy with their lives.”
Does he ever feels homesick? Al-Abboud nodded his head vigorously, Turkmani said. “He’s very homesick for Homs.”
But al-Abboud has no regrets about coming to America. Neither does his family.
“His kids are adjusting well and learning English fast,” said Turkmani.
Asked what he likes best about America, al-Abboud said he loves the look of the place — especially the parks filled with green trees that he’s seen but rarely visited since arriving in the U.S.
What does he like least? The saggy pants many young men seem to wear, he said.
“He understands everybody is free to dress however they want, but he thinks that in public people should dress with respect,” Turkmani said. “He mentioned to me before how some young people wear pants below their behinds.”
Al-Abboud has also taken a keen interest in the presidential contest between Trump and Hillary Clinton, Turkmani said. “He hopes whoever takes over will be good for everybody,” he said.
So who would al-Abboud vote for? "Clinton," he answered on his own while Turkmani chuckled.
The ongoing tragedy in Syria also continues to haunt al-Abboud. Like the rest of the world, he was moved to tears by the shot of a stunned boy sitting alone in an ambulance minutes after he was rescued from the ruins of his Aleppo home.
"The Syrian people are a peaceful and loving people and what’s going on there is a shame," al-Abboud said through Turkmani. "The Syrian people deserve better than that."