The Washington Post: “A renowned scientist wants to thank the stranger who helped him stay in America”  

by Joseph McKeown


Mahmoud Ghannoum, a prominent scientist and the director of the Center for Medical Mycology at Case Western Reserve University and the leading microbiome gut researcher in the world, wants to thank a generous travel agent who was instrumental in helping him immigrate to America almost thirty years ago. It was 1990, and Ghannoum’s country, Kuwait, had just been invaded by Saddam Hussein. With his family staying in a dorm room in England, and his town in Kuwait destroyed and financial assets frozen, Ghannoum traveled to Washington, D.C. for a conference where he had planned to speak. He believed his best chance for establishing a new life was in America, and he hoped to find a job through the conference. But the scientists there told him it was the wrong conference for job hunting, and if he could wait in D.C. for one week, he’d likely get a job at another conference.

But he couldn’t afford to wait one week. “There was truly no money,” Afif, Ghannoum’s son, said. “He was eating apples out of the hotel lobby. There was no way to just Venmo him some cash or anything. He had nowhere to stay, no place to go.” The family had one friend in Milwaukee, so Ghannoum stopped at a travel agency and he told the agent his story, and asked if he could reroute his return flight to Milwaukee. The agent told him he’d lose his job if he did that, and instead bought Ghannoum a round-trip ticket to Milwaukee and gave him $80 cash.

Ghannoum went to Milwaukee for a week, and returned to D.C., where he received two job offers. “When I returned to London, I was crying. It all happened because of that man in the travel agency,” Ghannoum said. “This man, this travel agent, he is the good of America. I go to Europe and they ask me ‘What’s going on in America?’ And I tell them, America is good. It’s still good. The people are good. And I tell them this story.” He added: “The U.S. is the best place in the world. They welcome you, irrespective of your background. I am just one example of how immigrants enrich this country.”