Her brown eyes dance with excitement when she talks about freedom in her homeland ever since Saddam Hussein was ousted and the Iraqi people elected leaders for a new democracy.
But when the conversation shifts to the memories of her family and why she came to Las Vegas, tears trickle from swollen eyes.
For Ameera -- the name she goes by to protect her identity -- life has been a roller coaster since May 2004. That's when militants killed her best friend and threatened to retaliate against her for being loyal to Americans and working for a U.S. company that prepared Iraqi officials for the 2005 elections.
"When the uprising happened in 2004, I started getting threatening calls on the land line," the 39-year-old Ameera said Thursday.
She told her regional director about the threats, explaining that she didn't know who was behind them.
"They just call me and they said, 'You are working for the Americans. You are a spy.' Or, 'You are Jewish,'" said Ameera, who is a Shiite Muslim.
"And one day I found, in fact my family found, an envelope ... with a bullet inside. That means you are targeted."
Ameera's friend, another well-educated Iraqi woman, also had reported threats. At first they both ignored them because they were so focused on helping their people for the elections.
"We were suffering for 35 years under Saddam," she said. "Now, it's time to help. It's time to get together. But unfortunately, some of the people didn't understand this. They accused us that we were agents working for the Americans, giving them more information about the country. But this is not the truth. We were helping the government to stand up."
After she resisted verbal threats, the militants tried to terrorize her family.
"I was scared about myself, my family," Ameera said. "I don't want anybody to hurt my family."
Two militants tried to kidnap her younger brother when he answered a knock at the door. "But he was strong enough to get rid of these bad people. He struggled. He pushed them and (they) couldn't capture him. ... One of my sisters started screaming. All the neighbors (went) out of their doors so the bad people took their cars and flee."
The situation for Ameera and her friend soon took a turn for the worse.
"One day the management told (my friend) to stay home and don't come to the compound," Ameera said. "But one day she received a call saying that she has to come to the compound for some necessary work.
"Once she stepped out from her house they killed her. They shoot her several times."
With her life on the line, Ameera and her friend's 24-year-old daughter were evacuated to Kuwait.
It wasn't long before they learned from a television broadcast that an Iraqi driver who worked for the same company had been kidnapped. Three days later, his body was found in a southern Iraqi city.
For most of the next six years, Ameera stayed in Kuwait under a political asylum arrangement. But she wasn't comfortable there.
"I was alone living in Kuwait with no family, no support," she said. "And you know, the Kuwaitis, their reaction to the Iraqis there, they still have this mentality that the Iraqis one day invaded them and destroyed the country. So I said to myself, it's better to go or to apply to the United States as a refugee."
Through sponsorship programs, the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations since 2006 have relocated about 20,000 asylum refugees per year from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ameera spoke about her asylum ordeal on the condition that no details be revealed that would leave a trail for possible retaliation against her family. She came to Las Vegas at the end of January, sponsored by the Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada and a Las Vegas man with an extensive background in military and diplomatic affairs. He provides her moral support, and the Catholic Charities support her housing and financial needs.
She is one of about 20 Iraqi women refugees in the Las Vegas Valley, Ameera said, and there are also a number of Iraqi men here. At Catholic Charities, she helps the contingent with communications and paperwork while waiting to land a job, hopefully in human resources or teaching language, which is her expertise. In Iraq, she earned a master's degree, majoring in phonetics and English literature.
Since arriving, she has had to make adjustments in her lifestyle by learning how to use the local bus system, and find ethnic foods acceptable for her Arab heritage. She owned her own car in Kuwait and is studying to obtain a Nevada driver's license.
But living alone has been tough.
She talks to her mother, father, brothers and sisters on weekends by cellular phone. She called them March 7 to discuss the recent elections.
"They said they elected the good people who will build the country," Ameera said.
She hasn't seen her family since 2008. A request she made with the Kuwaiti government to see her mother after a heart operation was rejected.
"I miss my mom, my parents. ... I miss the streets. I miss my friends there. I miss my sisters and brothers," Ameera said, her voice trembling. "I like (palm) dates. I miss the dates there."
While it took nearly two years to secure a protective visa to come to the United States, she is determined to return to her homeland. She said she is "very positive" that the democratic government will hold its ground and the country won't fall under the grip of another dictator.
"Now the people know what does the dictatorship mean," she said. "Now they feel the freedom to talk to express what's in their minds and their hearts. It's different than before. When we were under Saddam, even you can't say a word in front of a mirror. The wall may hear me. ... We have a freedom now it's different. We will never have a dictator. The people will rise up."
While views vary in the country on whether Iraqis are better off since Saddam was toppled, she believes this month's election will change the minds of those who tried to shrug off democracy. Her hopes for the Iraqi people are "to live in peace, to love each other, to forgive each other and to forget the past and start a new page and look for a strong Iraq."
Her fears are that Islamic extremists will occupy enough seats in the parliament to block progress.
Like most Iraqis, Ameera said, she is anxious for the Americans to withdraw but appreciates the sacrifices American military personnel have made. The withdrawal is expected next year.
"It's only months they are counting down now. They will maintain security, I'm sure," she said, because the U.S. government is helping Iraq build a strong army to fight al-Qaida and other militants, and to secure the borders.
"I'm confident that one day, yes, it will be pretty soon, maybe say within four years, five years, I will go back. The government will be strong enough to protect me, to protect others and the country will be settled. Everything will be safe there. ... I will get a degree from here and I will go back to help building the country again."
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at email@example.com or 702-383-0308.