Oct 132008
Authors: Cece Wildeman

Editor’s Note: In the following article, Libya was spelled incorrectly. The mistake has now been corrected.

Walking into the Lory Student Center, a woman opens the door for Elmahdi Omar, an international Ph.D. student from Libya.

“What happened,” she asks him.

“I did not know what she was asking,” he said. “She said ‘I’m sorry,’ and I said ‘It’s just polio.'”

Omar walks with a limp, using two crutches to support him. And although he has had polio since he was six months old, he is humble, happy and independent.

A love for life

Omar said that despite his polio, he looks at his life in a positive light.

“I have done everything I have wanted to do. There have been challenges, but I deal with them then,” he said with a shrug. “Going to normal schools, living in my family, living a normal life has never made me feel disabled.”

Omar has traveled to Asia and Europe, as well as to various states in the U.S., sometimes alone and sometimes with friends.

“I love traveling. I go whenever I have a chance,” he said. “. It’s always good to travel. You see different places, people, culture and perspectives.”

As a child, Omar’s bedroom looked out over the Mediterranean Sea. When he was a young boy, he swam and dove in the sea, a hobby that he has kept alive during vacations all around the globe.

A family of 17

When Omar went swimming in the sea, it was not a lonely affair. He had 14 brothers and sisters tagging along.

In a house of approximately 3,000 square feet, each of the Omar children had their own room, making it quite a feat for the young children to get around.

“When we were kids, we’d have a bike on one side of the house,” Omar said, bursting with laughter. “It’s faster to take the bike across the house.”

Omar said having so many siblings was amazing because he would never get lonely, and there were always people to talk to, creating quite the “loud and crazy” environment, enough to drive any parent crazy.

“My mother is the most amazing person in this world, I think,” he said. “My father is a business man. He gave us everything we need and some of what we want.”

Experiencing America

Omar arrived at CSU in August of 2007 and has since been taking classes for his computer science Ph.D. program.

“It’s been amazing,” he said. “People here are friendly and nice. Life is slow a little, but I like it.”

Since arriving in America, Omar has been a volunteer at Special Needs Swim, organized by the office of Student Leadership, Involvement and Community Engagement. He was also a volunteer with the Office of International Programs and a cultural mentor.

Tawfiq Jarrar, a cultural mentee of Omar’s, said having Omar mentor him was helpful when arriving in America.

“It was so helpful to me, and it helped me so much,” he said. “We had an overview about what’s happening, what my options as a student are, and it got me involved with community activities.”

Plans for the future

Currently, Omar is taking classes for his Ph.D. program and hopes to graduate in the next three to four years.

He hopes to return to Libya, but is unsure of what kind of job he will take, noting that he would like to work in his industry, not as a teacher, a job that he has done in the past.

Entertainment Editor Cece Wildeman can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

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