Interview of Azzam Al-Adhal Transcript


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Interview of Azzam Al-Adhal Transcript
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Revealing Florida’s Arab Immigrants Phase II: The Arab Business Community

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Azzam Al-Adhal April 20, 2013 Islamic Understanding Institute Panama City, Florida Esam Alhadi, Interviewer and Translator for University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries Edited by Jardee Transcription Also present, Richard Saltzburg Alhadi: Thank you Dr. Azzam fo r giving us this interview. Al-Adhal: Thank you very much. Alhadi: My name is Esam Alhadi. I am a lecturer at the University of Florida in Gainesville. This is my colleague Richard Saltzburg from the university library. Today is Saturday, April 20, 2013. It is now 4:20 PM. This interview takes place at the Islamic Understanding Institute in Panama City, Florida. It is my pleasure to welcome you to this interview Dr. Azzam. Al-Adhal: Thank you. Alhadi: We usually begin by asking you to revi ew for us your personal data including your place of birth, early upbringing, and edu cation, before coming to America. Al-Adhal: I was born in Aden which is known to have been a British colony. I joined the American University in Beirut after finishing my high school study in Aden. I was on a scholarship from the World Health Organizati on. I studied pre-med for three years. I also benefited from another scholarship that I received from the World Health Organization and moved to Baghdad to study medicine at the Un iversity of Baghdad where I obtained my degree in medicine. I went to Baghdad because there wasn’t a school of medicine in Aden at the time. Wh en the socialist regime took over in Aden, I


moved to North Yemen where I worked for two years and then made the decision to migrate to America in 1977. Alhadi: Where did you work in Yemen? Al-Adhal: I worked in a coastal ci ty called Al-Hudayda for two years. Alhadi: Did you have a chance to work in Sanaa? Al-Adhal: No. Alhadi: Let us now move to the phase of your life after arriving in America in 1977. Al-Adhal: I arrived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, wh ere I started my training in internal medicine at UPMC Shadyside Hospital. I worked for two years at the Veteran’s Administration hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, befo re moving to Panama City in 1982. Alhadi: You have been in Panama City since 1982? Al-Adhal: Correct. Alhadi: Why did you choose to come to Panama C ity? Is that due to personal or professional reasons? Al-Adhal: I was on my vacation to Disney [World ] when I decided to make a stop and visit a friend here. I found it to be a very small tow n. I met with a number of fellows, including Brother Kamel. All those who I met advised me to come to this city. They all described it as a sweet city. One of the things that lure d me here is that it is a coastal city like my hometown of Aden. The sea and fishing have always held an attraction for me. Alhadi: It seems that you didn’t find any big differences between Aden and Panama City in terms of natural surroundings. Al-Adhal: That is true. Both citi es are situated along the coast. Alhadi: I want to ask you to tell us a little bit about your field of specialty.


Al-Adhal: My field of specialty is internal me dicine. I obtained the board certification in internal medicine after finishing my training in Pittsburgh. I have been working in this field here since 1982. Alhadi: I want to know about your relationship with Yemen. Y ou left your country in 1977. Do you still have any connection to Yemen since that date? Al-Adhal: My relationship with Ye men is on hold. I made a short visit of less than a week in 1987, and another one in 1997, in addition to two ot her visits in the last ten years to see my father when he became sick. Alhadi: Does that mean you are settled here with your family? Al-Adhal: True. Alhadi: You mentioned that you have moved from Pennsylvania to Florida. Are these the only two states where you have lived here in America? Al-Adhal: Yes, I lived only in these two states. Alhadi: Did you have the opportunity to tr avel to other places here in America? Al-Adhal: Yes I have been to many places in America. Alhadi: Did you notice any difference between Pennsylvania and Florida in terms of work conditions and cordiality towards non-Americans? Al-Adhal: Pittsburgh is a big metropolitan city and has a big immigrant community of Arabs and non-Arabs. The university there is open to everybody. When I first came to America, I had the opportunity to become a chief resident. When I came here, the number of Arab immigrants was very small. There were no more than six Arab families. Activities such as public lectures were ve ry scarce, compared to what we had in Pittsburgh.


Alhadi: Do you remember any of the pe ople who were here when you arrived? Al-Adhal: Most of those who were here when I arrived are still he re. One of them is Dr. Kamel El-Zawahiri. Alhadi: How about the Arab immigr ant community in Panama City now? Al-Adhal: It has grown exponentially It may ha ve reached two hundred families. They are all residents of this city. We don’t have people who are here for school or just to visit. Those who reside here are mostly docto rs or professionals in other fields. Alhadi: Are they from all the Arab countries? Al-Adhal: They are from all the Arab countries. Alhadi: You are a professional doctor here in Panama City, but I wonder if you have kept up with the scientific research being done in the medical field in Yemen after the late changes that have taken place there? Al-Adhal: My knowledge of the standards of medi cal services in Yemen comes from a personal experience when my father was sick five year s ago in one of the hospitals in Sanaa. Medical services there are offered through either government or private hospitals. Private hospitals have a very high standard. My father was in one of these private hospitals where he received ve ry high quality attention. The medical services in the government hospitals are not up to the require d standard. You can easily discern a big difference between the two categories of hospita ls there. When I was in Yemen in my early days, there wasn’t any school of medi cine there. Now there are many of them either in the private or public schools in th e country. All in all, medical services in Yemen are still very backward. Alhadi: What do you know about medical services in areas othe r than big cities in Yemen?


Al-Adhal: I had a job when I was a high school st udent in a hospital in Aden called the Queen Hospital, which was built by and named after Queen Elizabeth when Aden was a British protectorate. For that time, it had very high st andards. I paid a vis it to the same hospital recently and found that services have badly de teriorated. This shows that there is a noticeable deterioration of medical services even in cities like Aden. Alhadi: I want to move one more time to talk about Panama City. You may be one of the best witnesses to how the Panama City Arab co mmunity has evolved and grown from seven families to the current day two hundred. Woul d you please share with us some of your thoughts about the Arab community and how it has managed its inte ractions with the surrounding community? Al-Adhal: Our community is firmly integrated into the surrounding commun ity. We are highly regarded as doctors of Arab descent and we are truly appreciated for what we do for the American community. We have never felt any discrimination between American-born doctors and Arab-born doctors such as in my case [being] born in Yemen. Let me give you an example. I currently se rve on the Panama City Hospita l Board of Trustees. I had a similar opportunity at another hospital. To me, this is a ge sture of respect to us. We work in the American community and offer our services and they respect us. There is no feeling of discrimination based on place of origin at all. We offer free services to patients here in Panama City regardless of ethnicit y, gender or religion. Some people might come to our offices and have no money. We don’t ma ke a big issue out of such a situation. I warmly applaud the services offered by my co lleague Dr. Kamel, may God bless him. I, personally, have never refused to see a pati ent who may happen to have no money to pay or have no health insurance. I have never se nt anyone’s name to a collection agency. All


colleagues present lectures in the university to make the American community aware of Arab civilization, the Arab community, and th e Arab language. The community is very understanding to what we are doing. Alhadi: How do the people react to these deeds? Al-Adhal: You can say that most of the people ha ve a very positive attitude and they show us respect. None of us feels any discrimination. We are no le ss than fifty doctors of Arab descent here in Panama City in all fields of medical specialties and we all feel appreciated for everything we do. Alhadi: I asked you earlier if you feel there is a generation gap w ithin the Arab community here in Panama City. Al-Adhal: I think this gap exists everywhere. For my generation, we are more attached to our countries of origin. We also have less of a sense of freedom than the youth have. This is apparent when someone from my generation se es a police car tailing him. For them this means nothing. They have a more fundamental sense of freedom and stronger relationships to the surrounding community given their ability to speak English like a native. Alhadi: The advantages the second generation has and their mentality perhaps gives them a better opportunity to reflect on Arab culture and relate to the outside community. Al-Adhal: This is in addition to the relationshi ps and friendships that they have created in schools. These relationships created a social setting for th em, and as a result they are known and respected. I have seen many of my colleagues’ children visiting us at home and they had the opportunity to see how we live and manage our lives. They have a pretty good idea about us.


Alhadi: This is excellent. You told us earli er about the qualifications you have obtained after coming to America. What else do you f eel America has given you, and in exchange, what did you give back to America? Al-Adhal: America has given us li fe, work, and feelings of settlement. When I left my country, it was still a communist country where to c onfiscate a person’s po ssessions was a very common practice. This country kept all doors open for us and gave us work opportunities, homes and citizenship. These are things that I was una ble to enjoy in the country where I was born and that is wh at makes me proud of this country. Alhadi: This should make us realize, the Arab immigrant community, that we have become an integral part of this community. Al-Adhal: We have truly become part of a co mmunity that gave us the opportunity to be educated, to work and have our lives es tablished, and it has become part of us. Alhadi: Thank you very much, Dr. Azzam, for thes e good details. These will be of great benefit to our students and will give them th e opportunity to know more about the Arab community in Panama City and its contributi ons and participation in public life. Thank you. Al-Adhal: Thanks to you. [END OF INTERVIEW]