Madison Murphy Barney
(Left to right) Berivan, Tara, Abdullah and Kameran Ali during their early years as Mandan residents. (Submitted photo)

Berivan Ali and her family in 2014: Clockwise from top left are Ali's son, Kameran; her husband, Abdullah; Ali; her son-in-law, Pawan Dhakal; and her daughter, Tara; and grandchildren Kevi, Kiran, Ashti and Priya. (Submitted photo)

Berivan and Abdullah Ali, Kurds originally from Iraq, talked about their bittersweet feelings around the U.S. war with Iraq for a Bismarck Tribune article in 2003. At the time, they eagerly anticipated Saddam Hussein's fall from power. (Tribune file photo)

The Kurdistan region comprises parts of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. Kurds, an ethnic group, number more than 40 million people worldwide. (Wikimedia Commons)

Berivan Ali arrived in New York City 39 years ago with a 25-day-old baby, her husband, brother, sister, brother-in-law and a family friend. In a matter of days, her role in life changed from the daughter of an ambassador to the mother of a family of refugees.

Ali's family fled the Kurdistan region of Iraq due to the repressive regime of Saddam Hussein. Kurdistan continues to be a disputed area covering regions of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. Ali's father was an ambassador working toward Kurdish independence.

When Ali's son was born in Iraq, she was surrounded by the loving, helping hands of her family. Less than a month later she was staying in a hotel surrounded by strangers whose language and culture she did not understand.

"I had no clue how to take care of the baby," Ali says. "My mother did everything until we left. When you are in that culture, after you deliver (the baby) you are supposed to take care of yourself first."

The Alis and those traveling with them left the Middle East with almost no notice and without knowing if they would ever be allowed to return.

"I kept looking at my husband and saying, 'You brought me here; what are we doing here?' 'Why are we here?'" Ali remembers. "It was not his fault we had to leave, but it was so difficult."

After a month in New York, the Alis were sponsored by Bismarck's Catholic Church of St. Anne to move to North Dakota.

"When we heard 'North' we were OK because we came from the north, North Iraq," Ali says. "I thought when we came here we would find mountains and go hiking ... but we did not find any mountains. What we found were hearts bigger than mountains. It has been wonderful here."

St. Anne's provided sponsors from their congregation to help the Alis gain footing in their new home. The Alis began their new lives as North Dakota residents in Mandan and later moved to Bismarck.

"The first two months were really, really hard," she says. "This was my place to live in, but this was not my home. I was not surrounded by family. But most of our sponsors made us feel like family. It took six or seven months until it felt like home."

Ali gave birth to a daughter about a year and a half after moving to Mandan. She had more than just a new culture and motherhood to adjust to -- she also had to learn a new language.

"TV helped me a lot. I would watch cartoons with my kids," Ali says. "My English was almost zero, which was not an easy way to start raising a family."

Home was far away, and when the Alis sent letters back to Kurdistan, correspondence would arrive three months later already opened. Phone calls were close to impossible, and family members had to write to each other in code. Ali managed the best she could in the States by learning from other Kurdish families who were also making their way in an unknown community.

"While my children learned from me, I learned from them," she says.

As her children grew older, Ali discovered more challenges of being a mother. She did not recognize the teaching methods used in her children's public school in Mandan, and she had to learn to drive and adjust her night work schedule to meet her children's needs. The family relied on each other as they grew into their new environment.

Ali soon found that her children's friends enjoyed the perks of having a Kurdish friend.

"All of their friends used to come to our house," Ali reflects. "Food was always ready. They would come and call me 'Mom' and open the fridge and ask if there was any rice. They were always at our house. Now my grandchildren are doing to same. They all come here."

Ali has made an effort to preserve her Kurdish culture with her children and grandchildren. The Alis speak Kurdish in the home.

"In the evenings we would talk (with our kids) about how we grew up and what we used to do, and who their grandparents were, and we always had pictures to show them," Ali says. "It is so sad for me because my kids grew up without a family, and in Kurdistan family is the most important thing. Here it was just Mom and Dad. Their Kurdish family were all strangers to them."

Almost 40 years later, Ali has been able to visit family who moved to Iran only once. Her father was assassinated by the Hussein regime about a year after Ali fled to the United States, and her family members' names remain on a wanted list due to their role in the Kurdish plea for independence.

When the Alis first left home, they thought they would be able return after time passed and the situation became less hostile. However, due to intermittent war and the current presence of ISIS in the region, that time has never come.

"We made a home here," Ali says. "I am so lucky for all the love and support from the surrogate family that I have been adopted into here."

Madison Murphy Barney is a student of international relations, international studies and communications at Saint Louis University in Madrid, Spain. She is a Bismarck native who is obsessed with her siblings and seeing the world.