Saturday, February 28, 2009

Warmth for a Cold House - Faten - Feb 26 09

Our last visit for the day ended up being our longest and the most difficult one. We went to see Haten and her three little girls: Rula - 3, Ruba - 1 1/2 and the 2 month old baby, Ru'aa. Her husband, was not home when we arrived.

Haten, her husband rent a room in her in-laws house - paying 1/3 of the rent - 50JD per month. Her husband's sister and her husband with their children rent another room, Her in-laws have another. Each family is responsible for their third of the utilities and each family group cooks and eats separately from the others. Despite being a large family, there was no sense of it being a happy one.

Haten eluded that her husband's family did not like her but that her husband treats her well. Her mother-in-law sat very near to us on the sofa as we talked with Ru'aa, seeming to be listening to prevent Ru'aa from saying anything against her or in complaint about her situation. In fact, when Maha quietly told me that there were problems within the family, she interjected, "I speak English" as if to warn us.

Faten came in Jordan in 2000 with one of her brothers. Sanctions had made life very difficult in Iraq and they had hoped to leave for another country. Her brother paid $3000 to a man who promised to arrange travel visas for them. Of course, once the money was handed over to him he disappeared. She told us that she intended to return back to Iraq but the US invasion in 2003 caused her to wait. Meanwhile she married and has started a family. Now Iraq is too unsafe to return to.

Haten's two older daughters have thick mops of wavy hair and big angelic eyes. She told us that they are healthy but that the baby has "allergies in her chest". She also mentioned that the doctor recommended that the baby be tested to see if she has down syndrome. Maha and I asked if we could go into their bedroom to see her.

It was the most dismal room of any I have been in. Paint was buckling off of the walls because of moisture underneath it and gray mold covered areas of the walls. There was a large double bed frame that only had a tattered single mattress across part of it.

On a twin bed against a wall, the infant lay crying under one blanket in the cold room. One look at her tiny face told me there was no need to test her to see if she has down syndrome; it is obvious that she does.

We suggested that the baby's "allergies in her chest" might be due to the mold in the bedroom. Haten told us that they do not have a heater. She had bought an electric one but the electric bill skyrocketed the month she used it and, since she cannot afford to pay the bill, she discontinued using it. There was only one portable gas heater in the house and it belonged to and stayed in her brother-in-law's family's room. It was hard for me to understand how any group of people living in the same house, especially those bound by family ties, would not share resources - especially heat when there was a sick infant!

This is very very different than it is in the majority of families we visit. Iraqis mostly have very strong loyalty to and love within their families. However, in some others - such as Haten's, where the husband and his family are Jordanian or Palestinian - we have encountered a few instances where the wife was badly mistreated by her in-laws. They complain that the Iraqi wife is "a foreigner" as the reason they do not accept her.

Maha and I quickly discussed it and both of us agreed that we would use CRP Emergency Assistance funds to purchase a gas heater and tank for Faten and her family. Maha made it clear that this heater was to be used for Faten's family and that it was not to be sold. She implied that we would be coming back to check on these matters! We are concerned that other family members may take the heater over for their own use.

Faten received only one month of UNHCR monthly grant - three months ago. The grants are disbursed to families by issuing each family an ATM card for a local bank. Each month, the families use their ATM card to withdraw the funds for their grant. After withdrawing their first month's grant, Faten's card broke. The large crack through the card caused it to be rejected by the ATM when she went to get the following month's grant. She told the bank and they told her she should take the problem to UNHCR. She did and was promised that a new card would be issued to her. She's traveled across the sprawling city to go to UNHCR three times to check on the status of her card being reissued. They tell her that they will call her. Three months have gone by and they still have not called.

She had her baby by Ceasarian and now, because she received no help with the cost, she owes 1,250 JD - an astronomical amount to owe for someone with so little. The day before we met her, she had taken her last piece of jewerly, a gold ring, and sold it. She said that she used the money to make a payment to the doctor, pay for a prescription and to buy diapers for her baby. She has nothing else left that she can sell.

The stress of her family life, her poverty and concern about her daughter's health shows in Faten's face. She appears much older that her 35 years.

Haten's older brother, Ahmed, is visiting her when we were there. He left Iraq only three months ago.

Just prior to him fleeing from Baghdad to Amman, masked militia pulled up in 6 vehicles (three of them Mercedes) to his house. They broke down the doors in broad daylight, shooting their guns. They entered the home, smashed everything, took the family identity documents, and kidnapped Ahmed and his sister. They threw her into the back of one of the cars and tied Ahmed up into a large bag and dumped him in the trunk.

They held the two for over a week. They beat Ahmed badly and he now suffers from a slipped disc. His sister was beaten in front of him to try to get him to pay money he did not have. The militia broke her shoulder. Finally, when the kidnappers realized that their family had no money to pay for ransom, they were released. Ahmed told us that when he arrived in Amman he was shaking so badly all of the time that he was given 87 injections of tranquilizer during his initial time here.

Ahmed accompanied Maha and I to shop for a heater for his sister and helped us to bring it back to her house so that they could begin using it immediately.

We hope that the baby's allergies improve and that this terribly impoverished family can be a little more comfortable with a heated bedroom.

I will contact UNHCR on behalf of Haten to see if her ATM card replacement can be expedited.

Your generosity provided food and warmth to this impoverished family - thank you!