Bothinaa Mohammed and her three children were sleeping soundly the morning of Christmas Eve. This was Mohammed's day off from her job as a housekeeper at the Ritz-Carlton in the heart of Atlanta, and her first chance to rest after having taken extra shifts over the holidays to earn additional money. Her son and two daughters were also home because of the holiday break from school.
But that morning, the smell of smoke from an adjacent apartment and the sounds of people running and yelling "Fire! Fire!" had Mohammed and the children up and outside in a hurry.
An electrical fire gutted the building where they lived. Everyone got out safely. But several families, including these Iraqi immigrants, lost just about everything they had.
Mohammed was devastated at first. She arrived in America in August, after spending four years in Jordan waiting for approval from the U.S. State Department. The International Rescue Committee got her children in school and helped her find a job.
With her first paycheck, Mohammed was able to buy a few items for her new home — among them, a Christmas tree with ornaments, red-beaded garland and two large lighted candy canes.
Mohammed loves to stop by garage sales and shop for bargains. She has bought a bicycle for her son and an old television set for the family. When I visited her in December, she dreamed of the day she would buy colorful pictures to cover the walls of her bare apartment. She told me that the next time I came to visit, her home would be "beautiful."
A day after the fire, Mohammed was able to return to her apartment building to look for anything she could save.
Everything in the family's two bedrooms was destroyed; the living room fared a bit better. Mohammed, who is Muslim, was able to salvage her beloved Christmas tree, a symbol of freedom and her new life in this country.
Mohammed and her children spent three days in a motel. On Dec. 27, they were able to move into a new home in the same apartment complex.
Mohammed was worried because she missed a day of work. She was emotional about losing the few things she had acquired for the family. Now she says her new home is "Good, very good."
After a rough few years — being displaced because of the Iraq war, threatened because of Mohammed's work for the U.S. military, then trying to settle into a new home — this resilient family is starting over again.