Nine thousand three hundred and ninety kilometers separated two girls for almost 18 years. One would suspect that a friendship was certainly out of the question, and yet, 18 years later, two young women encounter each other on move-in day in the Nation’s Capitol, and the rest? Well you guessed the cheesy cliché…the rest was history. The story of their beautiful, yet unlikely, friendship begins with the horrifying experience of growing up under Sadam Hussein’s regime in downtown Baghdad, Iraq.
It is 2006, just five short years after 9/11, and Noor Laith has a bodyguard outside the front door of her home. Noor’s family is Shiite Muslim, and under Sadam’s extremist Sunni regime, she and her loved ones were continually at risk.
What is the difference between Sunni and Shi’a?
In Islam, the Qur’an centers on the teachings and revelations of the Prophet Muhammad. When Muhammad died in 632 AD, a clash between Muslims broke out: who would take over as Muhammad’s successor? Thus, the two present day dominations of Islam emerged. While the Shi’as believed the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin, Ali, should take over, the Sunni’s believed there was no rightful successor and one should be elected. Today, Sunni’s make up about 90% of the Muslim population, while Shiites (The Party of Ali) are the minority at 10%.
Flash forward to present day, and Her Campus CUA sits down with freshman Noor Laith to discuss her childhood experience growing up. She recalls nights where her family slept in the same room for fear they would need to flee and desperately wanted to be together if that time came. She also shares stories of being tailed while in her family car. Her father was forced to drive erratically in order to lose the tail. Safety was always a concern for them.
“It was scary. I would sit quietly in the back seat, as my dad would speed through downtown Baghdad. We were targeted by Sunni’s simply because they knew we were Shi’a based on our last name. There was no rhyme or reason to it. If you were Shi’a, you were the enemy,” explains Noor.
Then, one summer day in late 2006, Noor’s family decided to vacation in Jordan, with every intention to return to Iraq. However, they never went back. With only the clothes they had packed for their two-month vacation, they stayed in Jordan for safety reasons and began a new life. In 2008 they finally took the steps to move to the United States. Eventually, when it came time to make a decision about college, Noor chose the The Catholic University of America.
Meanwhile, a young girl named Kristina Pinault was growing up on the other side of the world in the small town of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Like Noor, Kristina had an extraordinarily close relationship with her family. Kristina, her mother and her sister were practically inseparable. Often times, their family dynamic included her cousins as well.
“We are like one giant clan of a family. I feel as though I have three sisters. I am very lucky,” states Kristina.
When the time came to choose a university, Kristina decided at the last minute to attend Catholic University, site unseen. With several political internships under her belt, she was ready to take on Washington, DC.
As I sit down with the two of them, they laugh and make fun of each other throughout the interview, which sparks my curiosity:
“Were you two random roommates?” I chime in.
“Oh that’s a great story! Yes, we were,” explains Kristina, “The day we got the notification from Cardinal Station, Noor had let me know she was actually trying to room with someone else. When that fell through we essentially said ‘LOL guess we’re roomies!’”
Move in day came before either could believe it, and they found themselves moving in bed sets that matched perfectly (and totally by accident!).
“We should have known then we would be great friends,” says Noor.
Both are actively involved in the Pre-Law Society and College Democrats, and the unlikely pair explain that they keep their living environment as healthy as possible with gentle honesty and an open line of communication.
One hailed from Iraq and one from Rhode Island, but at the core of this friendship is a love for family. On opposite sides of the world, they were raised to put family first, both families having never been separated until college came. CUA provides the perfect environment for this fundamental value to be shared, allowing the girls to bond. At The Catholic University of America, a very improbable friendship was born, and together the two face the challenges of adjusting to a new school and a big city.
“ It was 18 years too long. We have a lot of time to make up for. And we can’t think of a better place to get started than here at The Catholic University of America.”