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The Dog That No Longer Seems So Scary

Mariyam Suleman, 16, froze when she first saw the German shepherd in her new home.

'The first thing that came into my mind was, 'How will I spend a year with a dog?'"

In her hometown of Qwadar, Pakistan, dogs are banned from indoors. Most are strays that roam the streets.

She still can't bring herself to pet 8-year-old Rommel, but she can now walk past her host family's pooch without flinching.

'I'm not afraid now," she said, smiling sheepishly.

Getting past those differences is Mariyam's mission in America. The teenager will spend the next 10 months in Coquille as part of a Muslim exchange program created by the U.S. government after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Mariyam hopes that not only will she better grasp those differences before next June, but her fellow Coquille High School students also will better understand the Muslim world.

The big question the kids keep asking?

'They are interested to know why I wear this," Mariyam said, pointing to her head scarf and laughing.

'Many students ask me about it. One asked me, 'Do you have hair?'"

She explains to the students that her head scarf -- known as a sareeg -- must be worn as part of her religion.

Beyond the classroom, Mariyam Suleman Baloch (her formal full name, reflecting her home province) is getting involved in the Coquille community.

This weekend, the busy teenager will help her host mother, dietitian Kathy Saunders, with a class about coronary health improvement. Next month, she will deliver a speech to the Zonta Club for United Nations day.

That shouldn't be a problem for Mariyam. She was an active volunteer in her less-developed homeland.

In the coastal villages of Balochistan province, Mariyam delivered food and equipment as part of a United Nations program for tsunami preparedness.

(World Photo by Benjamin Brayfield)

In her hometown of Qwadar, she has helped doctors give seminars to expectant mothers about caring for their newborns.

She has written history articles for her local newspaper (with a little help from her journalist father) and has helped teach English and computer skills to neighborhood girls.

Her proudest achievement? Perhaps the 15-minute play about women's rights that she wrote and performed in front of 150 people.

'I was just sitting at home and thinking what to write, and it just came into my head, so I wrote it."

Mariyam wants to be a physician, and she hopes her year in America will give her skills and confidence she can take back to her homeland.

She wants to make the most of this year, because she doesn't know if she ever will be able to visit America again.

'I know this needs to be the best experience of my life. It's my first and last chance, so it has to be the best one."

Reporter Daniel Simmons-Ritchie can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 249, or at

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