Before Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha Became Famous

by Weam Namou

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It was December 1, 2012, and I was covering a story about a family reunion at Taza Restaurant in Sterling Heights. While doing a family tree, Dr. David Hanna, PhD, stumbled upon 500-year-old manuscripts that were found in a monastery in one of the villages. The manuscripts were written by Nestorian priests between 1550 and 1800 in Sureth, the various dialects of the Neo-Aramaic language that is still spoken today.

There were over 200 manuscripts worth $400 million and housed in different parts of the world, including the Russian Academy of Sciences. He corresponded with six professors from around the world who taught Aramaic and tried to attain photocopies of these manuscripts from Russia. Through this process, Dr. Hanna discovered that two families from different neighboring Christian villages, Telkaif and Alqosh, in northern Iraq were separated 300 years ago and then reunited here in Detroit.

I sat beside Dr. Hanna’s his wife as I took notes. She and I had a lovely conversation and then her daughter, Mona Hanna-Attisha, came to our table. She knelt beside me and offered her views about the reunion. I’ll never forget how, as I asked her questions, she was also asking me questions, sincerely wanting to learn more about me. When I learned she was a doctor, I was a little surprised because she had a youthful way about her that made her look much younger than her age and she had an unusual humbleness for someone so successful.

Years later, I watched her father continue to do great work and then, one day, I saw her name all over the news. She was the doctor who fought to expose Flint’s water crisis. I was impressed and proud that a woman from our community used her talents and courage to do good in the world, that she would serve not only the people affected by the Flint water, but be an inspiration for others and a great example for our children.

Today I came upon one of the pictures taken that one December night of me, Dr. Hanna-Attisha and her mother. I remembered the doctor’s humble ways and I this quote by Oscar Levant came to mind, “What the world needs is more geniuses with humility; there are so few of us left.”

 

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