Vietnamese woman wanders around Middle East looking for Iraqi boyfriend

By Phan Duong   January 1, 2020 | 05:00 am PT
Hai Minh, 27, waits for a phone call at 4 p.m. every day. It is from Husam Najim Abdulwahed. 

The 15-minute call would always seem to finish in the wink of an eye. Before hanging up the 34-year-old petroleum engineer at Anwar Al Khaleej company would always send her his location. 

He works offshore in Dhi Qar Province, Iraq, 6,800 km away from his girlfriend in Vietnam. 

Husam Najim Abdulwahed is a petroleum engineer in Umm Qasr, a port city in southern Iraq. Photo courtesy of Husam Najim Abdulwahed.

Husam Najim Abdulwahed is a petroleum engineer in Umm Qasr, a port city in southern Iraq. Photo courtesy of Husam Najim Abdulwahed.

They have been together for more than three years. 

In July 2016 Minh, an assistant manager at a five-star hotel in HCMC, went on a business trip to Egypt. Abdulwahed had come for a training program, and they were staying in the same hotel, their rooms next to each other.

Minh says: "I would talk loudly. So he knocked on the door and told me to keep silent." 

She gave him a pack of Vietnamese coffee afterwards to apologize. But she also told him that since it was a public place making some noise was acceptable, and he need not have brought it up.

Bursting into laughter, he told her, "It is so strange of you to say sorry and criticize me at the same time."

They often met in the lobby during the next few days. They started chatting with each other on Whatsapp. One day Hussam invited her to go around the city with him in a jeep. Small talk about careers gave way to more intimate conversations. He gave her parents Egyptian scarves and she gave him a precious stone she had bought during a trip to Mexico the previous year.

On their way back to the hotel, he took her to a majestic mosque. Suddenly he said in Arabic: "I have found my missing piece with Allah as my witness. I hope I will live happily ever after with her." 

Touched by his love, Minh said yes. She says: "I do not know why exactly I fell in love so quickly. The heart just wants what it wants." 

Seeing her off at the airport, Abdulwahed promised that they would meet again soon. 

Five days had been enough for love to blossom. Unlike other Arabic men she knew, who were sweet and romantic, Husam had a stern look. "He gave me the feeling he can protect me," she says. 

The long distance between them notwithstanding, they spent lots of time talking to each other. He sometimes taught her his mother tongue. He would say, "Ana baħibbik" (I love you) to her every day. He would often remind her to call her parents since she was their only child. He would tell her about his mother and sister, who lived 500 km away from Baghdad, the capital of Iraq. 

Whenever there was any news about Vietnam on television, he would text her immediately. They subsequently met once each in Dubai and Malaysia. 

Except when he worked offshore on the oil rig, he would contact her every day. He would always keep his word about informing her at least five days in advance if he had to work offshore. When they could not speak, he would send her photos and videos afterwards to reassure her. 

A storm tore through the relationship in July 2018. A medical report said he might have become infertile due to exposure to toxicants at the workplace. Afraid he would be unable to have kids, he did not want to marry her. But she was willing to be with him and even live in a new country if they could be together. However, he was adamant. 

"I was so confused by the thought of him being unfaithful. I assumed that if I kept silent, he would beg for my forgiveness. But a week passed by without any response."

Then she texted him saying: "I know there is a huge burden on your shoulder, but you are not alone. I’m here to share it with you." 

There was no reply. 

She contacted the mobile network operator in Iraq and found out his phone was still active. She thought he was deliberately ignoring her. Angry and upset, she blocked his number and deleted her Whatsapp account. 

A week later there was a call from an unfamiliar number informing her that Abdulwahed had had an accident. Confused, she did not unblock his number. 

She took unpaid leave and travelled to Kenya for voluntary work to overcome her sorrow.

On October 17, 2018 she reactivated her Whatsapp account and saw to her surprise that he had sent her a lot of messages and photos from hospital. 

He had been poisoned and had to be put on a respirator. Finally convinced, she tried to contact him but in vain. He seemed to have vanished. 

Needle in a haystack

Minh began to explore every possibility -- the ship on which he worked, all the ports the ship passed by -- in the hope of finding him. But it was all in vain. 

Hai Minh wanders around Middle East looking for her Iraqi boyfriend. Photo courtesy of Hai Minh. 

Hai Minh, assistant manager of a 5-star hotel in HCMC, in July 2016. Photo courtesy of Hai Minh.

On October 26, 2018, she took a flight to Egypt and went back to the hotel where they first met. But the hotel staff said they could not provide Husam’s personal information. She uploaded his photos on several Iraqi forums, and again none of it worked.

"People called me crazy, but the fear of losing him took me to Iraq. The only thing I had was his picture from the workplace, and I hoped to trace him with his company’s name and the place where the photo was taken."

In early December 2018 she left for that country. She wore a niqab that covered her entire body, Muslim style. She also wore bold make-up so that that nobody would realize she was an East Asian. 

It was a seven-hour bus trip from Baghdad to Umm Qasr Naval Base, the location of the vessel in Husam’s photo. But it was a military zone, and she was denied entry. 

Everything was written in Arabic, and it all seemed hopeless to her. Overcome by despair, she cried her eyes out. 

She showed people Husam’s photo in the hope that someone would know him. Finally she heard that his vessel was working at an offshore rig and its return date was not known. 

She hung around the place waiting for him day after day. The weather was brutal, hot during the day and cold at night and she fell sick. 

On the night of December 15, 2018 she was dozing when her host brought a person to her room. 

It was Husam!

"I started trembling. We hugged each other tightly and could not hold back our tears, not bothered by the presence of the host and photographer." 

He showed her his medical report in which he was diagnosed with oil poisoning and had to spend two weeks in hospital. He had been working offshore and was unable to call her. 

In June this year Abdulwahed came to Vietnam with his siblings and visited Minh’s parents to ask for permission to marry their daughter. 

They plan to have a traditional Vietnamese wedding. 

His father passed away when he was young, and he told Minh he always longed for a family with both parents. 

He has a new job in Singapore and would like to take his mother and her parents there. It is their responsibility to take good care of them, he says. 

Their wedding will take place in early 2020 at a hotel in District 3, HCMC.

*Hai Minh is a pseudonym.

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