It's been said that love is never convenient. That adage couldn't hold any more truth than it did for Betu Allami and Nayyef Hrebid, two men who met and fell in love at the height of the Iraq War in Ramadi 12 year ago.
Nayyef was working as an interpreter for the U.S. Marines in Iraq in 2004, and Betu was a soldier with the Iraqi Army. They were both part of a mission to regain control of a hospital in Ramadi, which had recently been overtaken by insurgents.
"When we first met we cannot say we are gay for each other," Nayyef told Seattle radio station KUOW.
Betu remembers their early exchanges a little more vividly.
"First four days, I told you, 'I love you.' You don't answer, just you kissed me and you leave. Two days I not eat anything, I'm so excited!"
For obvious reasons, however, the pair had to keep their new love a secret. Not only were they involved in a severely dangerous military campaign still in the era of DADT; they were also both part of a culture that has less than favorable views toward gays.
"To be gay in Iraq, it's very dangerous," said Nayyef. "You lose your family and you lose your friends. You lose everything, almost."
After five years of a hidden affair in Iraq, during which their friends sometimes helped them to arrange clandestine meetings, things became more complicated for a different reason: Nayyef Hrebid was now a target of militant factions in the country due to his involvement as a translator with the U.S. forces.
"They start writing our names in the street; I cannot meet my family any more, and all my neighborhood knew I work with the Americans, so they call me traitor," Nayyef remembered.
He was soon granted asylum to enter the U.S., but this meant having to leave Betu behind. Nayyef recalled that it was a very difficult time, but Betu insisted otherwise: "I love it, he's safe. He goes safe life, he now told everyone on the outside, 'I'm gay.' He's welcome in the United States."
Still, Betu did concede that being alone again was hard. The couple were used to talking every single day, and this did not change when Nayyef settled in Seattle, in 2009. Eventually, Nayyef was able to get Betu from Iraq to Beirut, Lebanon, and from there to Vancouver. The pair lived on oppisite sides of the border for some time, eventually marrying in Canada two years ago on Valentine's Day, 2014.
Then, last year, they were finally able to make an appointment with U.S. Immigration to look into getting Betu a visa. "That was one of my biggest days," Nayyef remembered cheerfully. At that point, the couple had been together for over 10 years and they brought with them a large cache of letters, photographs, and more proving their love and relationship. After just 10 minutes they were approved.
Now, the two men live together on Capitol Hill in Seattle, WA.--a town that is, decidedly, a complete 180 from where they met.
"We could finally live together," Nayyef said. "I want to wake up to up see him in front me. And when I close my eyes, he's the last face I see."
Listen to Nayyef's own account about the first time he laid eyes on Betu: