Doctor and Refugee Humanitarian, Dubai
Samara has been in my friend orbit for over eight years. We volunteered together in the ER in Washington Heights in NYC. It wasn't until last couple of years that I got to see more of her story, initially over facebook posts/updates and then when we met in Dubai in '16. Samara is a doctor by day, but does incredible things with her spare time. For one she volunteered with DV & Sexual Assault survivors and in the last couple of years really dedicated her free time to the Syrian refugee crisis, traveled to Greece and helped folks literally off the boats and provided medical treatments. She never ceases to amaze me, with her 5'0'' frame she is a force to be reckoned with. One example of an email I get from Samara and I don't even blink: "Olga, I am really really interested in opening and starting an orphanage for Syrian children who lost their parents. Interested in helping me?" or "Olga, will you shoot me for a petite woman magazine contest? I want to show that petite women are powerful and inspiring...". Samara kindly took me to Abu Dhabi where we visited one of the sacred sites for Muslim pilgrims. As a devout Muslim, Samara is a product of immigrant parents; her good deeds multiply ten fold in making a world a better place. I'm proud to call her a friend.
2. Where is your hometown?
This question is always difficult to answer as I feel my hometown is among several places. Born in Italy, lived in Aleppo, Syria for the first 3 years of my life, then in Brooklyn, New York and finally New Jersey. Now my newest hometown is over 3,000 miles away in Dubai, UAE, and where I will be next is only a mystery. I guess in a nutshell, these are all my hometowns.
3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?
I am a physician by education and training, specifically an internist/hospitalist, but I do not define who I am solely by my profession. I'm a world traveler, an activist, a student of life, a humanitarian, a free spirit, and last but not least, a Muslim. While many people who know me will describe me as a simple, and easy going person, most do not know truly how spiritual and religious I have become. My soul was disturbed and confused as I grew up seeing injustices and chaos all around me. And as such, searching my soul for meaning and comfort took years but I can now feel with certainty about finally attaining peace in my heart despite all that surrounds us in the world today. It’s my inner core being that struggles daily to try to embody the best possible character in me by the examples and life of the most inspirational person who taught humanity everlasting wisdom. “Never hate each other; never be jealous of each other; never think ill of each other; always remain brothers unto each other…”, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). If we all took this approach and embodied more love and respect for each other in this world we live in, we would attain more happiness in all aspects of our life, be it in business, friendships, relationships, and everyday encounters with strangers.
4. What was the journey like to get where you are (career wise)?
It was a fascinating roller coaster! Life has a way of taking you on curves and detours you never expected. I wasn’t the traditional student who went to medical school immediately after finishing college. It took me years as distractions of life often can delay our journey. It wasn’t an easy decision nor did I have the initial support or approval from all my loved ones which I expected, and it was further faced with criticism, failures, and illnesses along the way. In fact it was one of the most difficult journeys I have ever faced, but I continued to tread forward because I knew that this was just a trial that I could handle because I knew that, “On no soul doth Allah (God) place a burden greater than it can bear (Qur’an 2:286).
And it is only in retrospect that I realize the meaning of the verse “Verily, with hardship there is relief” (Qur’an 94:6). Because truly after every hardship I have ever faced, it was always followed by relief. There is no known timeline for this “relief”, but just knowing that it will happen, eases the heart immensely. Now, while for me, the Quran comforts my heart and gives meaning and direction to my life, I think it is equally favorable for anyone to use any positive force in which they feel gives them meaning and comfort whether it be through their own form of religion, or philosophy, meditation or lack there of. It is all dependent on what comforts the soul of the individual experiencing it. In fact, I feel a spiritual experience is private and cannot be easily shared. It is a metaphysical sense that should not ever project outwardly except by good character. For me, my searches and my comfort went into the direction of Islam. For others, it might be Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, or other forms of religion and should all be equally respected and supported, in my humble and honest opinion.
My journey was filled with bittersweet struggles and storms but it was all worth it. I’ve been so blessed and privileged to have the opportunity to live in multiple states in the USA as a student, and as a professional working in different industries including retail, business, pharmaceutical, and more, and as a domestic abuse/rape crisis counselor, and finally as a traveling doctor which has now taken me to a life thousands of miles from home to the city of Dubai. I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer in different parts of the world to help refugees. Which has truly humbled me and helped keep me grounded. It has changed my perspective on life and has allowed me to make changes in myself to try and continuously work to purify my heart and soul. This should be the goal of all humans. Working toward purification of our hearts.
5. When was the mental shift to start the journey?
The mental shift to start the journey was as early as my childhood years. I can remember sitting and contemplating my existence and meaning of life. I think when you start to grow up, you realize you have obligations that being human requires you to serve humanity in some way. To help each other, to help your country, to help the world. It has been a work in progress and will always be till the day I leave this world. One of the biggest and latest impacts of this journey was my experience in Greece, where reality was played out right in front of my eyes! These eyes were the frontline camera in real time and unedited footage! To say this experience was a challenge is an understatement! It was like no other experience I had ever faced! It was both numbing and exhilarating all at the same time! Between listening to incredibly humble and beautiful refugee stories of their struggles, successes, and failures, to providing medical assistance and compassion where needed, it was a tremendous blessing to be a part of it all. This experience was a human experience I longed to feel and experience. I am grateful to God for the opportunity and the blessing my soul gained in return from being a part of it! Having to work in less than stellar conditions to help heal the sick was really a challenge and once again allowed me to reflect on how different our human conditions can be. In fact, whenever I am faced with a situation of what may appear as a hardship, like being stuck in traffic or spilling coffee on my “new” shirt, I have to remind myself of the extreme impoverished yet content hearts I have met during my time in Greece.
6. Biggest accomplishment since making the (physical/mental) move?
Living abroad, traveling, and working with people from different cultures/religions and with refugees has allowed me to see the beauty of true loving kind hearted humble and beautiful humans beings every where (people of all religions, cultures, ethnicities and races). Truly heartwarming and good natured people both from refugees, and the volunteers, and residents/citizens of the region themselves. I can read about people, I can watch media and even documentaries and try to understand people, but truly the best way to know people is to meet them, get to know them, befriend them, and live among them. And it is this that has really helped me gain a different and well rounded perspective of life and how many wonderful amazing souls are out there in the world. Through this understanding, I have learned to have not only complete complacency with my life and my short comings with a daily struggle to better my soul and strive to be my very best but also how to really appreciate the countless blessings God has given us all. The blessings that come to us, night and day, are beyond numeration. These blessings come in all forms—what we can see and touch (by way of material goods: food, clothing, shelter, wealth, and the like), as well as what we cannot see (such as safety, friendship, love, health, and protection from harm and calamity). And that in every situation, no matter how horrible it may seem, there is some form of blessing in it, even if not quite so obvious on the surface.
7. What was biggest disappointment and plan to overcome it?
“And it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you… (Quran 2:216). I have had and continue to have many disappointments in life. Things that at the time seemed so unbearable and felt almost impossible to overcome, but these “disappointments” are only a test and the lessons I needed to endure in order to help build a stronger character in me and have truly made me appreciate all the blessings in my life. If we know that misfortune can produce a desirable thing, we would not lose hope of delight to come from harm, for we do not know the outcome of things. Keeping this attitude is the anxiolytic agent which helps keep my heart at ease.
The people that history regards as the most successful generally experienced great failures. What made them go down in history as brilliant successes was only that when faced with repeated disappointment and failure, they didn’t quit.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” People who are destroyed by disappointment and failure crumble because of hopelessness. It is true that we will not get everything we aim for in life. Maybe you will face a debilitating injury, or you will divorce, or you cannot conceive a child, or you will have to drop out of your dream college to support your family, or you will fail in running your own business. But none of these will bar you from contentment or a bright future. The only thing that robs you of either of these is hopelessness. “…and despair not of Allah’s (God’s) Mercy…” (Qu’ran 12:87)
Through disappointments, the mystery of the interplay between free will and destiny reveals itself in our lives. We plan, but God is the best of planners. Your disappointment may just be the best transition into the next great chapter in your life.
8. Advice for other women?
Mother Teresa once said, “If your eyes are positive, you will love the world. But if your tongue is positive, the world will love you.” In this current world we live in, we should resist the temptation to blame others and should look into our own hearts and begin the process of purification. Until we change first in our selves what we desire to see changed in the world, nothing else will change. “For surely, Allah (God) does not change a people’s condition until they change what is in themselves.” (Quran 13:11).
Realize that everything happens for a reason. If you are facing a hardship or a difficulty in life, know that better times will come. Every hardship teaches you a lesson and every lesson forms and shapes your character. Strive for chivalry which seems to have become diluted with each generation that passes. Just keep one foot in front of the other no matter how hard it seems. This is a lesson I learned from war torn refugees who were in worse situations than I ever could imagine being in. And if it seems too difficult to bear, look up to the sky and ask for help. Realize that our trials and tribulations are more of a gift and blessing than misfortune. And that there are blessings in every difficulty we may face. Ultimately, it’s the choices we make, and the efforts we put into our life, our situation, no matter the destiny or cards we are dealt that matters most. It’s our willful desire to never stop learning, always seeking truth and justice, displaying love for one another with acts of kindness, no matter how small it may seem. Because we must always try and struggle for a just and equitable society through merciful and generous ways. Now, while we all may play a different role in this moral obligation, it is still our duty as human beings to try to make the best of the time we have in this world. It is my belief that we all have the same God, just different belief systems. Therefore, we have all come from the same God. And just as children who live in the same household need to be respectful and caring for their siblings, so should we as brothers and sisters in humanity.
The following are amazing and enlightening words from two of the greatest prophets of the world that if were internalized by everyone of us would truly make a difference, especially in the world we live in today! “None of you will believe until you love for your brother what you love for yourself” Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). This hadith is strongly correlated with the Golden Rule which records Prophet Jesus (PBUH) saying, “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31) I think if we can start to see the similarities between what our beloved prophets taught, we will all realize how truly similar and connected we are and that we should all love each other as brothers and sisters. In fact, few people may actually know and understand that there are Quranically based visions of multiculturalism and inter-religious relations. “We have made you nations and tribes that you may get to know one another.” (Quran 49:13). We need to all truly start getting to know one another and in turn showing tolerance and love for one another.
9. Where in the world do you feel “tallest”?
Anywhere in which I can feel useful/helpful to someone else in some way, whether it be through my skills as a doctor, a simple smile, a kind word or gesture, laughing or making funny (though corny) jokes, just about anything that will bring a smile to someones face or will make another person’s day just a little bit brighter. Because as the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) once said, “even a smile or a kind word is an act of charity.”
10. What is the future goal/challenge (career goals in 5-10 years)?
To be the best person I can be, to never stop seeking truth, to keep an open mind and heart, to always strive for the best that I can be and leave the rest up to God. And one of the most important of all, to show love to everyone, no matter their skin color, faith, ethnicity, or social status. As Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) once spoke, “You will not enter paradise until you have faith. And you will not complete your faith until you love one another.” This is what the world needs now more than ever before. We all need to unite together and truly begin to love one another.
11. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?
Essentially the struggle within my own soul. To continuously try to improve the purification of my heart and soul. This is a human struggle that all of us should never stop striving for. I have always been searching to learn and understand the beauty of the message my Creator has blessed me with through his guidance and how I can live by it to the best of my ability. Essentially, the only way to do that, is to never stop learning. To continuously seek the truth, keep an open heart and mind, and keep educating oneself. And through non mainstream avenues, I have found absolute treasures and examples of amazing people with wonderful insight and scholarly and educational resources/books/lectures that have helped transform my state of loss to a state of closer connection to my spiritual soul and to God. Currently, I am reading an amazing book by Sheikh Hamza Yousef called Purification of the Heart. Essentially, the very fear I and many other souls are hoping and striving to overcome. For Christians it is similar to training your heart to avoid the 7 deadly sins. It is a must read for anyone looking to purify your souls whether you practice any religion or not. It will enlighten you in ways you cannot imagine.
12. What inspires you?
Seeing real content and love of people who are broken and rock bottom but who despite the most inhumane conditions they have and continue to suffer, still maintain a smile from ear to ear and truly believe they are blessed! They never lose hope and are stronger than ever. There's something quite amazing about that! They have resilience in the face of calamity and always seem to have complete faith and display a contentment of their heart that all will turn out just fine! Now that's real inspiration! I’ll relay a story on my journey volunteering with refugees in beautiful Greece which will never be forgotten.
I along with other volunteers helped an elderly man off a boat. He was frail, thin and shivering wearing drenched and wet clothing in the middle of a cold winter night who required two volunteers just to hold him up from falling over. And when asked if he was okay, without a flinch of an eye, this amazing older gentleman whispered “AlhamduAllah” (An Arabic expression of relief, meaning "Praise God", and it is commonly uttered when achieving something out of hardship) and effortlessly gave us a painful smile while ushering us to attend to the women and children. Later we learned he truly needed medical attention and was suffering from an acute medical problem due to his multiple co-morbid medical conditions. This man among others I had the privilege of meeting that day were so inspirational, I could not leave without being changed forever.
13. Who is a “WOW Woman” in your life who inspires you (and why)?
All women are inspirational! And when you sit and learn their stories, it can only but inspire you! I believe that in each and every woman, there is inspiration and it is in those whom have struggled the most, where you will find the biggest inspiration. We can all learn from each other, if we just remove the veils in our hearts. If we can see beyond the things that make us different on the surface, than we can see that we can all be an inspiration to each other and in essence, we all look alike deep under the surface. If we desire goodness for one another, and we show love and mercy to one another, we can only spread this like a domino effect. Upon initiation of the movement, it will continue it’s journey one block at a time.
14. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?
The only social outlet I own is Facebook (Samara Khatib) and Instagram (patience_and_prayer). Though I am not as active on social media as I once was. I enjoy volunteering and doing various humanitarian projects. I am hoping to soon be joining “Najdeh Association” in Lebanon to work with Sabrah and Shatilla Refugee camps which houses many Palestinian and now Syrian families. I also hope to return to Greece to work with Health-Point Foundation in providing refugees in Lesvos with medical care. In addition, I would like to join a great humanitarian Canadian group called “Maasai friends 4 good” on a volunteerism project to help the Maasai people in Makuyuni village in Tanzania in building a school/classroom for education of their children. And finally, one of my biggest dreams in life is to one day be able to open and run an orphanage for children who’ve lost their parents in war.
I was asked to fill this questionnaire by a dear friend of mine. And I must thank her because through her persistence did I gain the courage to finally complete it. :) I was a little apprehensive as I am sharing many of my inner thoughts and beliefs that may be reciprocated differently by each person who reads it depending on their background and beliefs. But I knew that in order to fill this out, I had to be truly honest with myself even if that should potentially make me feel vulnerable in front of the world. I hope they are taken in a positive note, not to offend anyone or be misconstrued in any way. These words are my own personal belief, experiences, and interpretation based on my own encounters in life. If it’s one thing I understand about life today, it is that we should always be evolving in our thoughts and respect each other despite our different beliefs and way of living our life as long as it doesn't harm anyone. I hope to keep evolving and learning going forward as we all should. Life teaches us through experiences and when we keep an open mind to understand each other, we can only grow exponentially. Cheers!