East County author shares a personal love story with some stunning twists

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WEBEl Cajon Author Amanda Matti.jpg

Whose heart isn’t warmed by a true love story with a happy ending? The tale East County author Amanda Matti has to tell of the cross-cultural romance with her now-husband, however, is fraught with unexpected obstacles and troubling difficulties.

Whose heart isn’t warmed by a true love story with a happy ending? The tale East County author Amanda Matti has to tell of the cross-cultural romance with her now-husband, however, is fraught with unexpected obstacles and troubling difficulties.

Amanda and Fadi Matti will celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary on May 15 of this year. Their love story in the midst of the Iraq War is the subject of Amanda Matti’s book, A Foreign Affair, published a little over a year ago. She describes their relationship as “one soul together in two bodies.” They have two daughters and are now living in Granite Hills. 

Amanda Matti will be one of the featured authors at the upcoming El Cajon Library’s Local Author Expo on January 21. 

The account of Amanda’s journey to happily-ever-after begins with joining the Navy as what she says today was the “typical rural story of seeking a free ride out” of her small hometown in Florida. Amanda enlisted to see the world and receive a college degree in exchange for military service. And then the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, changed that plan entirely.

Amanda was tapped as a linguist, translator and analyst, sent off for military language training in Monterey, California, to study Russian. After a little over a year’s study, she then was subsequently reassigned to Fort Meade and the National Security Agency (NSA). That assignment soon seemed to her to be a military career dead-end, and moreover she was in what she came to believe was a dead-end relationship with another NSA analyst. She volunteered for agency deployment and by May 2005 was on her way to Baghdad.

On Amanda’s second or third day in her new role as Foreign Affairs Liaison Officer in the Green Zone, she was introduced to Iraqi translator Fadi Matti (styled phonetically in her book as “Fahdi Matti”). Fadi recounted that he felt a “strong connection” to Amanda immediately and sought a plausible cause for returning to her office, because he was “curious and intrigued.” 

In an interview in late December, Amanda recalls Fadi’s return visit. “That was the big one for me,” she said. “I knew I was in big trouble.” They had fallen in love almost instantly.

Fadi came from an upper-class Iraqi family, growing up in Baghdad as an Assyrian Christian. He served as a field translator of Arabic for the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. He had bled alongside the military coalition forces during combat missions in Fallujah during the spring of 2003-2004. He received frequent death threats.

Amanda’s primary tasking was to “make friends so that the Iraqis would invite us to stay along,” while helping the Iraqis build from the ground up their secure intelligence-handling and acquisition methods for the Iraqi National Intelligence Service (INIS). The coalition allies needed functional, actionable intelligence, which she said was at that time “sketchy at best.”

Amanda and Fadi found themselves working together on long shifts, often six days each week. They served one month on forward deployment at a Marine camp near the Syrian border, where the pair were isolated, as others from their team rotated out in compliance with a 120-day limit on missions. Their love grew.

But trouble was looming. 

What transpired? Amanda said that her former NSA boyfriend hacked into her email account and reported her for having an “inappropriate relationship with an Iraqi national.” As she described the consequences, “I was kicked out of the country, ejected from Iraq.” That was at the end of August, near completion of her mission assignment. A female CIA officer escorted Amanda on a flight to Amman, Jordan, and then to Dulles Airport, where Navy MP’s were on hand to make sure she went home. Her cell phone was tapped. She was subjected to four days of “intense interrogation” from NCIS agents. She was accused of mishandling classified information and sharing national secrets.

For his part, back in Iraq Fadi was questioned by NSA and NCIS interrogators. The couple’s communications were monitored for nine months. Fearful for Fadi’s safety, Amanda violated a “no contact order.” She was punished with demotion in rank, 45 days on restriction, and loss of GI bill benefits.

The couple reunited in Jordan during the summer of 2006. Amanda began working as a journalist before Fadi sent her home for her well-being. And Fadi nearly one year later received his visa to leave Iraq, flying to O’Hare airport in Ohio. Their first daughter, Elise, had been born on March 12, and she attended her parents’ wedding ceremony.

After their ordeal, Fadi and Amanda retreated for a time to live in a house they built in a cornfield surrounded by Amish neighbors. The Mattis moved to El Cajon in 2013, to live close to Fadi’s family members who had emigrated from Iraq. Fadi currently runs a successful real estate business assisting Iraqi refugees in their relocation in East County. Amanda has what she calls her “day job” as marketing coordinator for Daytripper Tours.

And how did the book come about? Amanda started writing her memoirs about two months after her forced return under suspicion. “I realized we were being railroaded,” she related. “I began writing as stress release. I wanted to have this written down to tell our side of the story, in case I got court martialed.” She completed the book in around six years and is promoting it mostly through local outreach and interviews she can conduct without leaving her young family. (The manuscript was reviewed by the NSA and CIA.)

“This book is not a political statement,” as Amanda Matti summed up her literary account of this story of love amid war. “Fadi and I were told that the deck was stacked against us, that we had nothing in common and our marriage would never last.”

What would she like readers to take from the couple’s story? “Even when you think all is lost and everything is dark, you can get to a happy ending.” She concluded, “We are stubborn people, after all we’ve gone through, we believe there’s nothing we can’t overcome together. We’ve been a team from the beginning.”

More information about Amanda and Fadi Matti, Amanda’s second book in the works, and how to order copies is available at AmandaMatti.com.

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