ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. Hamoody Jauda was living with his family in Baghdad when he was shot. He was two years old. A Washington State-based group brought him to the US for medical treatment. After two years here, his surgeries are mostly finished. By Hamoody has now lived almost half his life here, and he has all but forgotten his parents, his Arabic and Iraq. Member station KPLU's Channa Joffe-Walt has the story of Hamoody Jauda's ordeal, and also his future.
CHANNA JOFFE-WALT: There's only one place to start this story, one event that changed everything.
Mr. HAMOODY JAUDA: I came from Baghdad, Iraq.
JOFFE-WALT: And why did you come here?
Mr. JAUDA: Because I got shot. Shot by a (unintelligible).
JOFFE-WALT: Hamoody Jauda is five. He was shot in the face by Sunni insurgents when he was two years old. Now as Hamoody tells me this, he's sipping chocolate milk and swinging his legs from a twirly desk chair. He might as well be telling me he likes ice cream. This is the kind of kid Hamoody is: impossibly happy. He leaps from the chair to his toy train set.
Mr. JAUDA: Watch this.
JOFFE-WALT: I'm watching.
Mr. JAUDA: And watch me go over the lake.
(Soundbite of toy train engine)
Mr. JAUDA: Oh, mom?
JOFFE-WALT: Hamoody is not talking to his biological mom there, but to Julie Robinett Smith, his American host mother. Julie begins to explain how this Iraqi boy ended up in her family room.
Ms. JULIE ROBINETT SMITH: What happened to him, his family are Shia Muslims, and they were traveling outside of Baghdad, and Sunni terrorists attacked them, murdering his uncle, who was driving.
Mr. JAUDA: Actually, they pulled us over, and then they got us out of the car. And then they lined us up, and then they shot us.
JOFFE-WALT: The bullet tore through Hamoody's sinus cavity and optic nerve. His life was saved, but his face was severely disfigured, his breathing impaired. The doctors in Baghdad were not able to repair his eyes. Hamoody's family was frantic. They worried that without his eyesight, Hamoody would be an outcast in Iraq. An English-speaking uncle found an organization online called Healing the Children that brings kids from third-world countries to the US to receive medical care. It was decided. They'd send Hamoody to America, the doctors would fix him and send him back - which brings us to this sprawling American family room and Julie. Julie saw an ad in the paper and offered to host Hamoody for a couple months. She knew no Arab people and no Arabic.
Ms. SMITH: In the beginning - laa means no in Arabic. In the beginning, there was a lot of laa, laa. By three months, he was totally fluent, even with slang in English. I mean, he is bright.
JOFFE-WALT: Hamoody's English was progressing, but his medical care was not. He had an ever-expanding team of doctors who were overwhelmed by the extent of his injuries. More months passed. Hamoody's mother was released from the hospital back in Baghdad. She'd been there since the shooting. When she got home, the reality of her son's absence hit her hard. Julie says then the phone calls started - constant, and in the wee hours of the morning.
Ms. SMITH: But, you know, here this poor woman, she got out of the hospital, hadn't seen her son in over a year, and she would just say Hamoody, Hamoody. Hamoody's mother. Hamoody's mother. And so I just kept trying to explain to her, you know, he's sleeping. We're sleeping.
JOFFE-WALT: Meanwhile, Julie, who has two grown daughters of her own, was getting attached to Hamoody.
Ms. SMITH: He always wants hugs from everybody. In the morning, he comes in and says I want to give my girl a little hug. You know, he calls me his sweet girl.
Mr. RANDY SMITH: Hurry, bugsly(ph). Let's give her a roll.
JOFFE-WALT: It's bedtime in Snohomish. Julie and her husband Randy prepare Hamoody for their now bi-weekly phone call.
Ms. SMITH: Do you want to call your family in Iraq?
Mr. JAUDA: Not yet.
Ms. SMITH: Not yet. But you're getting tired. You know, once you've fallen asleep - if you fall asleep, you won't be able to do it.
JOFFE-WALT: Hamoody grabs at Julie's shoulders, throws his head side to side. So Julie cajoles, and then goes for the bribe.
Ms. SMITH: Do you know what I might give you? A special treat. It's not the weekend. I'll give you a little bit of root beer.
Mr. JAUDA: Today?
JOFFE-WALT: Since he arrived here, Hamoody has undergone five major surgeries. His face has been reconstructed. His nose is a thin flap of skin that looks like it's leaping for his left glass eye. He can breath more easily, but it took the doctors two years - two years in the US.
Do you miss it at all?
Mr. JAUDA: Miss what?
JOFFE-WALT: Miss Baghdad or your family there?
Mr. JAUDA: I don't even remember Baghdad.
JOFFE-WALT: Hamoody has no clear memory of his parents. To him, they're crackly voices over the telephone. And he can't tell them I'm okay here. I'm happy and healthy, because Hamoody has also forgotten his Arabic.
(Soundbite of beeping)
Mr. ADIL JAUDA: Hello? Hello?
Mr. JAUDA: Hello.
Mr. A. JAUDA: Hi, Hamoody.
Mr. JAUDA: How are you doing?
Mr. A. JAUDA: (unintelligible) Hamoody.
Mr. JAUDA: So…
Mr. A. JAUDA: I love you, Hamoody.
Mr. JAUDA: I love you, too.
JOFFE-WALT: A few weeks ago, Julie called Hamoody's English-speaking uncle, Adil Jauda. She had to tell him the doctors say Hamoody will never regain his eyesight.
Mr. A. JAUDA: At that moment, I cried alone and I cried a lot.
JOFFE-WALT: Adil cried, he says, because blind people can't live a full life in Iraq. Julie quickly offered to keep Hamoody longer. Hamoody's father and uncles met and agreed. They asked Julie to help Hamoody apply for asylum in the US. His dad, a Amir Hussein Jauda(ph), says he pictures Hamoody's life in the US, the Smith's large home, their Braille machines and schools, and says he couldn't bring himself to ask for his son back.
Mr. AMIR HUSSEIN JAUDA: (Foreign language spoken) We cannot provide for him anything in Iraq. In America, they'd be able to provide lots of thing for him, and that we're not safe ourselves. There's no things, maybe, to help him with his condition.
JOFFE-WALT: It's unclear how much Hamoody's mother was consulted on the decision to send her son to the US. When I asked Walaa Abdul-Karim(ph), she repeats her husband's rationale, almost verbatim. She says she accepts her relationship with her son now exists only through telephone calls, using her few English words.
Ms. WALAA ABDUL-KARIM: Hello, Hamoody.
Mr. JAUDA: Hello.
Ms. ABDUL-KARIM: Hamoody?
Mr. JAUDA: What?
Ms. ABDUL-KARIM: Hello, mom.
Mr. JAUDA: Hello.
Ms. ABDUL-KARIM: I love you, Hamoody.
Mr. JAUDA: I love you, too.
JOFFE-WALT: After Hamoody has told his mother that, yes, he loves her, too three times, I ask him if he wants to return to her, to his life in Iraq. He shakes his head no.
Mr. JAUDA: I know I'm going to stay here.
JOFFE-WALT: You know you're going to stay here?
Mr. JAUDA: Yeah.
JOFFE-WALT: How do you know that?
Mr. JAUDA: Jesus told me.
JOFFE-WALT: Says the five-year-old Iraqi Muslim boy. Hamoody returns to his chocolate milk and his trains, as if to drive home the point: He's no longer the boy he once was. The Smiths haven't told Hamoody's parents, but they would like to adopt him. Last month, they filed the asylum application. That interview is scheduled for July 11th. In the meantime, Hamoody continues to settle into his new life as the Smith's child, an American kid.
For NPR News, I'm Channa Joffe-Walt in Snohomish, Washington.