I arrived in the United States in March 2013 as a refugee from Iraq. I resettled in Houston, Texas, where two of my brothers lived at the time. A few days after I arrived in this country—of which I am now a permanent resident—I started searching for humanist and freethinking clubs in the local area.
I found a group called Houston Oasis and another called Houston Humanists, and I attended their events. These were the first times in my life that I experienced a public humanist gathering. While I have known multiple humanists in Iraq, Lebanon, and Malaysia—where I lived for most of my life—these were the first times I saw humanists and atheists meeting in such an open way. They listed their venues of their gatherings on meetup.com—amazing!
A few weeks later, I made friendships with some of the locals there and they drove me to American Atheists’ fiftieth anniversary convention in Austin, Texas. There I encountered a far larger crowd, all openly atheist and composed of people not just from all over the United States but all over the world. I felt huge happiness in my heart just walking around the venue, talking to people, and listening to their stories. Few knew me back then, at least in these circles, and I felt a huge happiness in simply being unknown. No one I met hated me. No one called for my death, a common occurrence in the places around the world that I had escaped from. Most of all, no one thought negatively of me because I was just inquiring and curious about the life of nonbelievers in a domain previously outside my experience.