Inside Dr. Malka al Saadi’s home in Bustleton sits an ornate wooden chest decorated with intricate carving patterns. It’s the only remnant from her family’s Baghdad home they were able to bring with them when they came to America during the Iraq War. Saadi still gets emotional when she remembers leaving her home in 2005, but she has no plans on ever returning.
“It is not the place I knew anymore,” she said.
Leaving was not an easy decision for Saadi and her four children. Saadi was born there in 1941 and spent almost all of her life there, other than the four years she lived in the United Kingdom working in a hospital. Saadi’s accomplished career as a doctor and physician took her to many hospitals around globe, and she said she’s saved thousands of lives in her operations.
“When I left I was at the top of my career. I could have helped people,” she said. “I love Philadelphia, it is really my home now. But I remember I was needed more there.”
She planned to continue her medical career when she came to Philadelphia, but injured her ankle shortly after arriving and was unable to work. During her downtime, her children encouraged her to start chronicling her life growing up in Iraq and pursuing her medical profession.
That’s how Beyond the Sandstorm: A Woman’s Journey from Baghdad to Philadelphia came to exist on bookshelves. The book, available on Amazon and at Northeast Regional Library, follows Saadi’s life from birth to arrival in Philadelphia, recounting the highs of graduating medical school and saving lives on the operating table, to the lows of losing her sister at a young age and taking cover in her home in fear for her and her family’s lives.
Saadi will come to Northeast Regional Library Saturday, Oct. 5 to speak about her autobiography and experiences. When she sat down to write, she wanted to record her experiences, but her ambition also went beyond that.
“Although there are breakthrough improvements in science and technology in this world, humans have made a mistake,” she said. “We are yet unable to answer the question – when will a human being stop unfair behavior to others because they are different?”
Saadi recalled working in Malaysia as a professor and having a discussion with a fellow professor who was from India. The professor told Saadi she was under the impression that girls were not allowed to finish school in Iraq.
“I took it lightly at the time and joked about it, but I was appalled she believed that,” Saadi said.
Split into four sections, the book extensively covers all areas of her life, including her experiences in medical school. Later on in her career, she became a professor and was able to spread her knowledge.
“I have hundreds of my students now distributed all over the world. They are helping humanity and all of them are working in all medical specialties,” she said, saying they were based in countries across the world like France, Australia and Germany.
Though she’s found a home in Philadelphia, she still thinks about the day she and her family left the country to never return. It was the passage she was most excited to write, but also one of the most difficult.
“We left during the early hours of the morning. The darkness seemed to fuel our sorrow,” the passage reads. “My eyes drowned in tears and my lips silently uttered good-byes to all the gloomy streets and supermarkets as we drove by them, one by one. Among them was Omar Bin Abdul Aziz Street. For 45 years, it had been my route back and forth.”
But Saadi has never been one to linger on the sad parts of life. She’s using her storytelling abilities to send a positive message.
“I’d like people to know that all humans are similar, and they are equal in thinking and their rights and their duties,” she said. ••