Wednesday, November 25, 2009

straight talk from Iraqis...

Here is a sampling of some of the words we heard while speaking to the Iraqi refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria:

"It's like a prison here."

"I have only one son and he cannot talk now"

"Just resettle me!"

"All day, we are sitting together...thinking...waiting...."

"I am sorry to not be able to offer you tea...but know in our heart, you are now family."

"Since leaving Iraq and my daughter, I have forgotten everything. We have no memory now, only sadness"

"There is no future for me. I only hope now for my children."

"Thanks for you!"

"It is normal to be scared now"

"There is no place called home now."

"We need voices. You must be those voices."

Friday, November 13, 2009


I'm home from my amazing trip abroad. Here are some thoughts:

So…one week post Middle-East-Iraqi-refugee-experience. I feel lost… a bit like a refugee myself. A bit.

Trying to wrap my brain around the experience is not easy. New York looks different. My friends seem new. All I have seems shocking. And after only three short weeks! I’m trying to spend each day growing back into my skin without losing the skin I have acquired from the Iraqis we met. I don’t want to lose what I experienced in their skin. This urban refugee crisis screams for attention, although the refugees are not. They are quietly waiting…for something to change…6 years later…

The refugees, social workers and children swirl around my head. I keep thinking about Majid and his 4 beautiful children and his brother who was shot and killed in the passenger seat right next to him. And I think about once famous boxer and artist who came from a family of artists who are now scattered all over the world. I think about his need to tell his story on his terms—the way he wanted it heard--the threatening letters, the dismembered bodies, his inability to create anything artistic anymore, the disclosure that he felt like a bat—only coming out at night. I think about the woman whose husband abandoned her and her daughter in Damascus and who wouldn’t let us take her picture, not because of fear of persecution, but because she no longer feels beautiful. I think about the poet we met, who was also a victim of intense torture, and who chose to share a love poem with us. A love poem.

And I think about the artists displaced in Damascus because art is dead in Baghdad. And I think about the hopeful Iraqi teens and young adults who are brave enough to believe in a future with education, a future of college in America. And I think about the children, always the children-- who look up at me with empty, confused eyes that have seen what children should never see.
This is what I think about now that I am back. These people who did nothing wrong but survive and flee—becoming refugees of our choice, OUR country. This is the face of our war in Iraq. This is the fallout. I feel the weight of responsibility to tell their stories as a call to action. After all, this is our mess to clean up.

I also think about the arab woman I accidentally clocked in the head at the airport in Amman and the fact I said “Shukran” (Arabic for ‘thank you’) to her instead of “excuse me” or “I’m sorry” before walking away and boarding my flight. Cut me some slack. Arabic is hard!

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