EVERETT – The Iraqi child doesn’t remember color or light.
He was blinded before he arrived in America, the victim of a horrific attack when he was 2.
Now 7, Muhammed “Hamoody” Jauda might change his name to something more American. He uses his legal guardians’ last name – Smith – but is far from settled on a first. He kind of likes Simon.
“We’re waiting, because we want to make sure he makes a good decision, what he really wants,” Julie Robinett Smith said. “He was telling me last year it was Dylan.”
In many ways, Hamoody has become a typical American boy since arriving in Snohomish, Wash., in 2006. He just finished first grade at Riverview Elementary, loves shooting Nerf guns, goes to church at Bethany Christian Assembly in Everett and keeps a baseball glove draped from his bedpost.
But he also makes calls home to Iraq, keeping in touch with his Shiite family. He hopes one day to go to Kuwait to visit them, but he said he has no intention of going back to Iraq itself.
“I don’t want to remember all the bad times,” he said.
“There wasn’t a lot of bad times,” Robinett Smith said. “Just one.”
The attack happened in 2005. Sunni insurgents shot his mother, killed his uncle and turned a gun on Hamoody at close range.
His right eye was a complete loss. He now keeps the empty socket covered with a flesh-toned bandage. He lost vision in his left eye. It was replaced with a brown lifelike prosthetic.
He came to the Smiths through Healing the Children, a Spokane-based international aid group that provides medical treatment to children from poor countries. His stay lengthened from one year to three as doctors rebuilt his face.
By the time he turned 6, the Smiths were as attached to him as he was to them.
Randy and Julie Robinett Smith won approval from his Iraqi family to become his legal guardians. All agreed he would have a better chance of survival here. In 2008, the U.S. government granted him asylum.
He now calls the Smiths Mom and Dad and wants to become a U.S. citizen after he turns 18.
“I just thought it would be a little bit cooler,” he said.
Hamoody also has adapted to life as a blind child.
He runs upstairs to his room and can walk straight down aisles at Fred Meyer, barely using his cane as he makes a beeline to the toy section.
Mary Ann Graham helped him develop those abilities through her role as a Snohomish School District teacher for visually impaired children.
Now about to retire, she has taught him how to navigate the world.
She calls him “exceptional.”
She showed him how to buy groceries and read Braille. He’s at 60 words per minute, reading above a third-grade level. She also helped him develop a sense of echolocation. He uses sound like a bat, identifying large objects – people, cars, pillars.
Graham said she’s not sure what would have happened if Hamoody had stayed in Iraq.
“He would not have had the opportunity for the schooling, and to develop the skills” that he has, she said.
Graham and the Smiths agree the boy still faces challenges. He is scheduled for more surgery in July, to keep damaged nasal passages open.
Someday, he also will have to convince people that he can cope in a sighted world.
Julie Robinett Smith said Hamoody is up to the task, happy and fierce in his approach to life.
And he’s ready to take risks. It’s OK if he gets hurt, Hamoody said.
“I just tough it out.”