111-Year-Old Iraqi Chaldean Becomes Naturalized American

mother_500×2791.jpgBefore passing away Warina Bashou’s husband wished her a long life. That wish came true beyond his greatest expectations.

Bashou, 111, often tells others she hopes they live to be 100.

“She always tells us ‘This is what my husband said to me before he died and that’s what I’m going to tell you,’’’ Bashou’s relative Rafi Kajy said.

Bashou, who’s Chaldean, became the second oldest person on record in the United States to receive U.S. citizenship, according to Citizenship and Immigration Services. Her swearing-in ceremony was held Jan. 13 at her home in Sterling Heights, where she took the Oath of Allegiance with friends, family and members of the media present.

U.S. District Judge David Lawson read the oath to Bashou as family members translated it into Chaldean. With her right hand raised, Judge Lawson asked whether she was prepared to become a U.S. citizen.

Swearing-in ceremonies are only held at homes to accommodate those such as Bashou who have difficulty walking and hearing. “It’s special and exciting. I’m very proud of her,” Bashou’s granddaughter Dina Kajy said.

Warina was born in 1900. She emigrated to America in 2003, fleeing her homeland following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, which started that same year. She now lives with her only daughter Mary Shammami.

Receiving U.S. citizenship is something Bashou has wanted since arriving in America. And while she’s enjoyed the U.S., she admits to missing her old Chaldean village, Telkaif, located in the northern province of Mosul.

A vast majority of Chaldeans trace their roots to the Christian town. According to Bashou’s relative Saad Shammami, Telkaif was once dominated by Chaldeans, but very few still live there today.

Asked about her favorite memory from the village Bashou said, “It had everything. People enjoyed it, and all the Chaldeans were happy and loved each other.” She remembers gathering with other Chaldeans along the road after work and discussing the day’s news.

She said people began work at 8 a.m. and returned an hour before it got dark. “If I could go back right now I would,” Bashou said. Chaldeans are widely accepted as the indigenous people of Iraq. Bashou says many people from Telkaif have moved to the United States. Responding, her son-in-law Adel Shammami said, “There’s a second Telkaif here.”

According to a Walsh College and United Way study there are over 120,000 Chaldeans living in metro-Detroit.

In addition to their own language, many Chaldeans speak Arabic. Bashou never left Telkaif before coming to the U.S. and only speaks Chaldean.

Her husband made a living selling clothing garments to other Christian villages that bordered Telkaif. Bashou worked in the fields.

Today she spends most of her time praying and playing cards. Bashou is always quick with a joke, and has a bright, infectious personality.

She says if you want to live a long life, “work hard, drink tea and never go to the doctor.”

Relatives say Bashou doesn’t take any medication, and avoids going to the doctor unless it’s mandatory. She had cancer in her lip, but has recovered and avoids taking pills. “Once in a while when her head hurts they try to give her Tylenol, but she won’t take it,” Dina said.

Bashou is in good health but her hearing and memory is not what it used to be.

“For her to be that age, and for us to take care of her, it’s a blessing,” Saad said.

Bashou takes good care of herself. “I dye my hair with Henna every six months,” she yells out loudly. Many women in Iraq believed Henna helped keep hair healthy. If that’s true, Bashou’s two long ponytails are proof.