It was love at first sight when young American Steve Sosebee 24 years at that time, met 27 year old Palestinian Huda Almasri in Jerusalem. Steve was starting up his Palestine Children’s Relief Fund; a nonprofit humanitarian relief organization that provides free medical care for sick and injured children in the Middle East, regardless of their religion or nationality. Huda was a social worker for the YMCA helping arrange support for injured kids in the first Palestinian uprising (Intifada). “It wasn’t hard to fall in love with such a smart, strong, beautiful, independent and kind woman with a heartwarming smile and a great sense of humor” said Steve.
The love of social work and wanting to do something to support the cause of freedom, justice and peace in Palestine brought them even closer together. Eventually they got wed in 1993. But as fate had it, it disrupted their harmonious life and good deeds taking away Huda abruptly in 2009 after her battle with cancer.
Huda’s life is one worth celebrating, worth knowing, and worth remembering. Steve Sosebee gave us the honor to get to know his late wife and shared with us a glimpse about the wonderful, strong woman she was.
“Huda’s characteristics as a person were a combination of traditional Arab culture – the modesty, respect and dignity that is common, but also that she was a Palestinian woman who was raised under military occupation. She was strong, independent and focused on helping others. I was the first non-Arab American to be married to a Palestinian woman in Ramallah. Huda was a strong woman and followed her heart. She wanted what we had to be lasting, and she prepared her family, who were all educated people. I respected the culture and the religion, so they accepted me and continue to accept me as a member of the family until this day.
We were completely compatible as a couple, despite our differences in background. We worked together 24 hours, 7 days a week, so it really takes a special woman to tolerate being around a man that long and not having major stress in the relationship. I respected and honored her as my equal in all aspects of the relationship, and I think she appreciated that very much. We were completely happy as a couple and as a family.
Huda was a natural mother, and the happiest day of her life was the day our first child Deema was born in 1996. She knew exactly how to care for a child, how to love and raise a child and it made her very happy. She also was very proud as an educated woman. She was teaching at the age of 20 social workers in Jerusalem, who were only a year or two younger than her. She later went and got her master’s degree in Public Health in the USA. She worked very hard and was respected by everyone who had the chance to interact with her on a personal and professional level. As a wife, she was a perfect partner, knowing when to guide and direct me, and when to comfort or support me, and when to tell me I was wrong. She was very smart and even more so wise, and I respected her way of thinking, as it was usually right. She was a perfect combination of traditional and modern in her mentality, and was a wife who was respectable and loving in all aspects of her personality.”
Tell us how Huda dealt with her illness?
“Huda was diagnosed on Christmas day, 2008 in Dubai while we were there treating children from Palestine. We immediately went back to the USA and began treatment. Both of us were optimistic that she would beat it, partially because she was a very strong, healthy Palestinian woman who knew how to fight, and also because we both had a faith in God, that He would not take a woman in the prime of her life, who just had a baby two years earlier (Jenna), and who had helped to care for so many thousands of other injured and sick children who were not hers. We thought it was a test that with enough love, courage and determination, and the good treatment that she was getting, she would recover. Through the months of winter and spring of 2009, we never thought that she would not get through it, even after the bone marrow transplant, the chemo, and after the relapse. I never thought until the final couple of weeks, when the cancer came back and nothing could be done, that she would not survive. I did my best as her husband to love her and care for her, to support her and to always be optimistic in front of her, and she was always strong. During the Gaza war of December 2009 and January 2009, in which hundreds of children in Gaza were injured and killed, Huda worked from her hospital bed every day trying to help arrange care for children who were being injured by bombs there. She was getting sicker, losing her hair, losing weight, but she never stopped trying to help others. It’s that spirit that we honored by building the cancer department in her name.”
How did you deal with her loss? And how do you manage as a single parent?
“Huda was the center of our family. We rotated around her, like planets around the sun. I was devastated because Huda was loved by me as much as a man can love a woman. It was deep, complete and absolute. To lose that suddenly broke my heart and damaged my soul and mind. Part of my healing was that I have two beautiful, loving, smart girls to raise, who deserve a life of happiness and hope, not grief.
I made a decision to find happiness again in my life, and to repair my relationship with God, who I blamed for a long time for taking her from me, and to keep on loving through my work with the PCRF. I believe this life is temporary and that life in this material world is to face our challenges in a positive way. My challenge is to find a way to be a loving and healing man after having such a terrible personal tragedy, to love my daughters, to love the kids we serve in Palestine and the Middle East, to love myself, my friends and family, mother earth, and most of all, to love again God and the belief that things happen for a reason. This was my challenge and I am feeling better now, that I want to live again and to continue to serve humanity with love in my heart for justice, peace, freedom and to heal those who need healing. I hope only that I am granted the chance to continue to do that.”
Huda with her husband Steve Sosebee and their lovely daughters Deema & Jenna
How do you want Huda to be remembered?
“As a loving, strong, kind humanitarian who worked hard to help not only her children in Palestine, but all over the Middle East and to heal them with love and compassion. She was brave, courageous, a good mother, an amazing wife, and person who put the needs of others ahead of her own. She symbolized not only the spirit of Palestinian and Arab women, but as women all over the world, who are mothers, wives, daughters and sisters and also leaders who show us men what true love and courage look like. That was Huda.”
For more information on the PCRF and their many projects visit: http://www.pcrf.net/
For this interview in Arabic click here:
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